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Zoophilia has been partly discussed by several sciences: Psychology (the study of the human mind), sexology (a relatively new discipline primarily studying human sexuality), ethology (the study of animal behavior), and anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interactions and bonds).The nature of animal minds, animal mental processes and structures, and animal self-awareness, perception, emotion in animals, and "map of the world", are studied within animal cognition and also explored within various specialized branches of neuroscience such as neuroethology.

Confusing the matter yet further, writing in 1962, Masters used the term bestialist specifically in his discussion of zoosadism.The Kinsey reports rated the percentage of people who had sexual interaction with animals at some point in their lives as 8% for men and 3.6% for women, and claimed it was 40–50% in people living near farms, but some later writers dispute the figures, because the study lacked a random sample in that it included a disproportionate number of prisoners, causing sampling bias.Martin Duberman has written that it is difficult to get a random sample in sexual research, and that even when Paul Gebhard, Kinsey's research successor, removed prison samples from the figures, he found the figures were not significantly changed.Usage of zoosexual as a noun (in reference to a person) is synonymous with zoophile, while the adjectival form of the word – as, for instance, in the phrase "zoosexual act" – may indicate sexual activity between a human and a non-human animal.The derivative noun "zoosexuality" is sometimes used by self-identified zoophiles in both support groups and on internet-based discussion forums to designate sexual orientation manifesting as romantic or emotional involvement with, or sexual attraction to, non-human animals.Nancy Friday notes that zoophilia as a fantasy may provide an escape from cultural expectations, restrictions, and judgements in regard to sex.

Masters (1962) says that some brothel madams used to stage exhibitions of animals mating, as they found it aroused potential clientele, and that this may have encouraged the clients to engage in bestiality.

Three key terms commonly used in regards to the subject — zoophilia, bestiality, and zoosexuality — are often used somewhat interchangeably.

Some researchers distinguish between zoophilia (as a persistent sexual interest in animals) and bestiality (as sexual acts with animals), because bestiality is often not driven by a sexual preference for animals.

By 1974, the farm population in the USA had declined by 80 percent compared with 1940, reducing the opportunity to live with animals; Hunt's 1974 study suggests that these demographic changes led to a significant change in reported occurrences of bestiality.

The percentage of males who reported sexual interactions with animals in 1974 was 4.9% (1948: 8.3%), and in females in 1974 was 1.9% (1953: 3.6%).

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