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ATTENTION: brothers and sisters.
October 29, 2002 2:03 PM   Subscribe

ATTENTION: brothers and sisters. Does the thought of your siblings naked send a shiver up your spine? Well, according to psychologists and people who study adoption, siblings and other close kin who reunite after being separated at birth often experience 'Genetic Sexual Attraction', a potent and embarrassing lust for the estranged relative. You may have heard that 'opposites attract', but scientists have long known that people are, as a basic rule, attracted to physically similar people. Now let the chorus of 'ewww' commence...
posted by dgaicun (42 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Eeewww...

No, this doesn't let Luke and Leia off the hook.
posted by RubiX^3 at 2:09 PM on October 29, 2002


Well, as someone who is adopted and who's met his six blood brothers--who were also all adopted out--rather late in life, I will say there was an inordinate ... and somewhat juvenile ... amount of bodily comparison going on during our reunion.

None of it was *overtly* sexual, even though two of my sibs are bi and a third gay, but I'd be lying if there wasn't an undercurrent of that going on.

No "ewwwwwws" going on, though, it was pretty innocent and we all looked at it as doing something we didn't get to do when we were six.
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:25 PM on October 29, 2002


A few years back there was an article in Esquire about this exact same thing which occurred between two reunited siblings in Wisconsin who were in their early thirties. They declared to each other what they considered "love" and set out across the country in a truck (the man was a commercial truck driver). Along the way they had several children and were extremely happy. Eventually someone ratted them out and the children were taken away, while the siblings were imprisoned in Wisconsin. The whole story really made me think about why they were serving time for their "crime". While in separate prisons they wrote many love letters back and forth to each other promising to reunite once again if they were ever freed.
posted by dhoyt at 3:01 PM on October 29, 2002


I have read that kibbutznik children marry outside the group of children with whom they grow up, so it may be childhood propinquity that creates platonic siblings.
Ah, upon Googling, I find it's called the Westermark effect, after the Finnish sociologist Edward Westermark.
posted by y2karl at 3:15 PM on October 29, 2002


Actually, I don't think that "the attraction of similarity" is the operative factor here (and what of the "attraction of difference"?): The mechanism behind the phenomenon described in this post is simply, really. There is no mechanism - through pheremones or other such subliminal signalling method or through some sort of unconscious genetic recognition - which keeps siblings raised together from sexual attraction.

In terms of overall genetic "fitness", too much inbreeding is a bad thing: genetic errors multiply, resulting in birth defects, other abnormalities, lower resistance to disease, and so on. Evolution - that is, in this case, lower rates of survival (to breeding age) of the offspring of "incestuous" sexual unions exerts a pressure against inbreeding. A mechanism, but not exactly an innate taboo against inbreeding with genetic relatives, has evolved.

Here's the way it works, from what I've read of recent studies in the subject (no time to buttress argument - go Google it yrself) -- Humans, and many other (at least) mammals have an instinctually based (genetic) aversion to "siblings" (other children) they are raised with. Meaning: you will tend to feel much less sexual attraction towards a sibling you are raised with, from an early age, even if this sibling bears no genetic relation to you. Conversely, if you are separated at an early age (or at birth) from a sibling and then are reunited with that sibling as an adult..............LUST!

Your genetically driven instinct assumes that you bear a close genetic relationship to children you have been raised in close proximity with.

An urge to "incestuous sexual deviance" has nothing to do with it. Lust or indifference are triggered by early childhood exposure - or the lack of it.
posted by troutfishing at 3:56 PM on October 29, 2002


Thanks, Y2karl, for teaching me the name of this "effect"
posted by troutfishing at 3:58 PM on October 29, 2002


I always just figured it was that the social taboo against incest was stronger than whatever natural attraction may exist. When siblings sense the beginnings of an attraction, they immediately, perhaps even subconsciously cut it off before it is given voice. Yes, this implies complicity between free will and whatever that thing is we call love.
posted by Hildago at 3:59 PM on October 29, 2002


I wish I could find the story for better clarification.

Anyway this one large family was broken up at an early age and were adopted in surrounding small cities. Two of the brothers had been best friends most of their adult life and even seemed like brothers to most. So was no surprise when they found out the truth per their wives.

The strange part of the story. Turns out when they met their sisters, they had dated some of them, both of these brothers. But at the time, none of the siblings knew of one another.

PS your not strange to have an odd encounter with a sibling if your adopted. We are a strange society from hiding siblings from each other.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:02 PM on October 29, 2002


scientists have long known that people are, as a basic rule, attracted to physically similar people.

OK, so could someone let all those tall skinny girls know about this one? Thanks.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:38 PM on October 29, 2002


There was a psychological study of pigeons which showed that they were most attracted to a previously unmet cousin. In my own experience I have found this to be true.
posted by jeffbellamy at 4:40 PM on October 29, 2002


scientists have long known that people are, as a basic rule, attracted to physically similar people.

could the scientists point this out to the fashion / image industry? I fear the day that aliens from a lower-gravity planet come down to take brides from Madison avenue.
posted by condour75 at 5:25 PM on October 29, 2002


Does anyone else think consensual incest between siblings/cousins should be allowed?

The 2 arguments against incest are:

1) Biological - 2 close relatives (primarily siblings) have an increased probability of having a child with a homozygous recessive disorder since they likely both received the recessive allele from a parent. If this "distaste" for genetic disorders is our reason for outlawing incest, we might as well outlaw unions between people who both have the recessive genes regardless of their relationship. Once they're in bed, they have pretty much the same probability of having a kid with the genetic disorder as do the siblings/cousins. The possibliity for genetic disorders is everywhere. But we can't very well order everyone to have genetic counseling before intercourse. So why blame siblings/cousins for their unavoidable "familial" proof of their genetic (in)compatibilities if non-relatives aren't required to show proof? It's a wicked double standard.

2) Social - Some religions don't like it. But religion doesn't belong in regulation of civil life, so there's no ground there (whether or not you think incest is moral, our laws don't have to be moral).


For a more discussion of consensual sibling/cousin incest see this FindLaw article.
posted by superfem at 5:26 PM on October 29, 2002


Well stated, superfem. And what happens in a few years when such genetic disorders are curable and, therefore, trivial?
posted by rushmc at 5:50 PM on October 29, 2002


An even more convincing point, rushmc.
posted by superfem at 6:08 PM on October 29, 2002


"It's... Just... Wrong!"
posted by Dirjy at 6:12 PM on October 29, 2002


Superfem: Plenty of people live with their siblings, especially during puberty, and I'm sure a reasonable number do mess around a bit. Lots of people practiced kissing with their siblings and/or cousins, for example.

I can't give a reference for a survey (can anyone?) but it would be interesting to see the results of an anonymous questionnaire about incestuous fooling around during puberty. I suspect it's hundreds of times more common than people talking about it.

Anyway hetero-sex rarely results in pregnancy. Ask a couple 'trying to conceive'. As I recall there's about a 4% chance of conception for a random couple at a random time, so even full unprotected sex between brother and sister isn't likely to lead to pregnancy, unless it's done often.

As for 'first meeting in adulthood'; my opinion is that these people, like a never-met parent, are relatives only in the genetic sense, to be called upon for kidney transplants rather than a loan of $100 and help to move house. Your father and mother are the man and woman who raised you (assuming you're raised by a man and woman), and your sisters and brothers are the kids you grew up with. Genetics is a different issue, and I'd recommend a genetic test to anyone wanting to have kids. And if you don't want to have kids, and take precautions, then it doesn't matter. You may be legally prevented from marrying, but you are not (and probably couldn't be, practically speaking) legally prevented from having consensual sex.

Anyway to me the subject is of purely academic interest. My sister's kind of cute, and definitely meets my 'type profile' (hmm - another interesting question arises here), but I've never actually been attracted to her. I suppose it's the 'kibbutz effect' referred to by Troutfishing. I've been attracted to two of my cousins, but as far as I know it wasn't mutual :).

As regards other people, consensual sex doesn't bother me, and just as with homosexuality, I am more concerned by the actions of people it does bother than by the actions of people who do it in the first place.

(On preview: Rushmc: The 'curability' of a genetic disorder is very, very questionable. You might be saved from the effects of it, but I think the question of whether you 'still have it' or not comes down to whether you can still pass it on. The kind of thing you're talking about allows for designer superbabies, which opens another ethical box entirely :)

Dirjy: Nothing is 'just wrong'. Ever. If it's wrong, it's wrong for a reason. In most cases of wrongs, that reason is obvious. Here, it's not. Can you give a reason?)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:37 PM on October 29, 2002


Y2Karl gets the $35 prize bucket for naming the incest avoidance mechanism: 'The Westermark Effect'.

'When siblings sense the beginnings of an attraction, they immediately, perhaps even subconsciously cut it off before it is given voice'

Hidalgo your alternative theory (not accepted today) was actually first formulated by Sigmund Freud. Frued concluded that our earliest sexual feelings were for our family (particularly our mothers), and that, as you say, we develop incest taboos as an unconscious method to suppress these latent urges. Westermark, on the other hand, said almost the opposite, that the incestuous urges never develop. What method did he propose for this?

Imprinting.

The scientist Konrad Lorenz (1937) discovered that newly-hatched chicks would follow the first colorful moving object that they encountered, regarding it as their mother (realized after Mr. Lorenz himself unwittingly became the mother of some baby geese). They mentally 'imprint' that object as their mother, with a pre-programmed set of rules regarding it (follow, imitate, etc.). Imprinting had to occur within the first 25 hours of hatched brain development; and the sooner the more reliably it was imprinted This mother identification is known as 'filial imprinting', but the birds also avoided mating with their siblings by a similar mechanism of 'sexual imprinting.' Like the fake mother, those avoided as mates don't necessarily have to be genuine siblings, just anything 'imprinted' as a sibling, which it will be if it shares the correct combination of sibling-like traits (proximity, motion, etc..) As troutfishing said, all this 'sexual imprinting' is for avoiding the harmful effects of inbreeding.

Westermark then proposed a 'sexual imprinting' model for humans, that has received much support through the years. To name some good evidence: A) Unrelated children raised together in communal Israeli kibbutzim, seldomly pair bond as adults, despite a lack of discouragement to do so. And B) In Taiwanese arranged marriages, the female is raised together with her future husband. Looking at data from over 14,000 of these, Anthropologist Arthur Wolf compared fertility and divorce rates from these marriages to traditional arranged marriage cultures, and decided there was a significant amount of greater dissatisfaction.

What's even more, it appears not only that children 'imprint' their siblings and parents, but that grown adults 'imprint' children as well. Looking at evidence from sexual abuse (no links, damn.) , it can be seen that the more removed from a child's infancy a step-parent enters into the family unit, the more increased the likelihood of eventual sexual abuse. This is not only true for step-parents, but for actual parents as well, who may be missing from a child's earliest years for whatever reason, and later return.
posted by dgaicun at 7:01 PM on October 29, 2002


Actually, I don't think that "the attraction of similarity" is the operative factor here

Please. I'd hook up with me. In fact, I do it all the time. Most of the women I've dated have shared a lot of my characteristics. I was told on a number of occasions that the last girl that I dated "could be my sister." There's something there.

Thank God I don't have a sister.
posted by Samsonov14 at 7:09 PM on October 29, 2002


PS- Superfem: Amen. No law should ever interfere with any act of consensual sex, in any way. Period. Of course no one should be forced to celebrate any act of consensual sex either. So to all you kissin cousins':

*blech*
posted by dgaicun at 7:15 PM on October 29, 2002


None of it was *overtly* sexual, even though two of my sibs are bi and a third gay, but I'd be lying if there wasn't an undercurrent of that going on.

My thought has always been the main reasoning behind avoiding sibling-relations was to prevent possible birth defects from inbreeding children.

Now, given this, you have some brothers, gay and bi, who are meeting each other. Assuming they were attracted to each other, and wanted to get it on, what would be the major issue? These are people you wouldn't know as brothers in a familial sense, but rather in a biological only sense. Since no inbreeding can occur (and if it does, well, we've got a whole new pot of issues to deal with), then more power to them.
posted by benjh at 7:34 PM on October 29, 2002


Science fiction fans may remember Lazarus Long dealing with this problem (repeatedly) in Time Enough For Love.

... which perhaps should have been called Time Enough for Lots of Editorializing With Occasional Sibling Porking to Make Sure You're Still Paying Attention.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:52 PM on October 29, 2002


Dirjy: Nothing is 'just wrong'. Ever. If it's wrong, it's wrong for a reason. In most cases of wrongs, that reason is obvious. Here, it's not. Can you give a reason?)

No Howard Stern fans here, huh?
posted by Dirjy at 8:38 PM on October 29, 2002


Does anyone else think consensual incest between siblings/cousins should be allowed?

The 2 arguments against incest are:


Actually there is a third, at least for siblings. The third arguement goes something like this:

In family situations, there get to be all sorts of ties, loyalties, pressures, etc. In such a situation, it could be easy for one (older) sibling to pressure a younger sibling into a "consensual" relationship, that in reality isn't consensual at all. I'm no just talking about child molestation here, although that could be the start of the relationship. Could be 18yo and a 23yo....

I hear about so many cases of women being pressured into things by boyfriends or other make friends, people who aren't related to them. Add to that the pressure of it being an older brother? No way.
posted by kayjay at 8:48 PM on October 29, 2002


Any human being can in some instances pressure any other human being into activities or behaviors of less-than-complete consensuality, kayjay. Where do you draw the line, and according to what criteria?
posted by rushmc at 8:52 PM on October 29, 2002


What, this is supposed to be something we don't do? Hell, I made out with a few of my cousins, and always thought my sisters were hot.
Oh, wait, I'm from Texas.

carry on.
posted by bradth27 at 9:18 PM on October 29, 2002


Speaking from personal experience, one of the strongest physical attractions I've felt was towards a third-cousin I met for the first time when we were 18. With that degree of separation, I'm not sure how much GSA would play into it, but I can assure you the incest taboo was still very strong.

Two of the brothers had been best friends most of their adult life and even seemed like brothers to most.
I remember that story too, tsc. I found it in the Richmond Times-Dispatch archive, but you have to pay to read the whole article. Here's the abstract:

SHOCKING, THRILLING REUNION RESTORES LONG-LOST CONNECTION
Author: Bill Lohmann; 10-22-1997; Page Number: D-1; Section: Features
Eddie Hyman was 4 when he went to live in an orphanage 500 miles away from home. The youngest of six children from a Richmond family, Hyman had experienced the death of both parents by the time he reached an age when most kids are only. . .


In Taiwanese arranged marriages, the female is raised together with her future husband.
The Chinese film Girl from Hunan is a great depiction of a variation on this practice. A 12-year-old girl is married to a 2-year-old boy, resulting in plenty of sexual role confusion. The boy comes to view his wife as a mother, while she has an illegitimate child with a farmhand and raises the child as her husband's brother.

And is anybody else having a flashback to "The Royal Tenebaums"?
posted by hippugeek at 10:53 PM on October 29, 2002


Whoops! I meant tcs, of course.
posted by hippugeek at 10:55 PM on October 29, 2002


Dude, gay sex between brothers, like, always comes up in Dan Savage's syndicated sex column, Savage Love. Savage's reaction to gay-reunited-brother-sex led to this brief discussion on GSA (see bottom of column), in which he... quotes exactly what dgaicun already linked to. Interesting, nonetheless.
posted by jennanemone at 10:59 PM on October 29, 2002


The Witching Hour. Family love through the generations. I imagine Anne Rice would have some interesting things to say on this topic.
posted by Ron at 11:35 PM on October 29, 2002


And is anybody else having a flashback to "The Royal Tenebaums"?

That, plus a flashback to "Say It Isn't So".

Favorite line from that one: "You know what the Bible says about having sex with your sister? DON'T!"
posted by Dirjy at 11:37 PM on October 29, 2002


You have brought to mind the Lepcha, who I first encountered in MacAndrew and Edgerton's Drunken Comportment, described therein as the most sexually active people on Earth, for whom adultery is practice--not concept, and yet, no matter how drunk, never violate their incest taboos--which allegedly extend to nine generations. We're not even talking seventh cousins here, kids.
posted by y2karl at 12:24 AM on October 30, 2002


superfem:

2 close relatives (primarily siblings) have an increased probability of having a child with a homozygous recessive disorder since they likely both received the recessive allele from a parent.

Despite your ability to spout large biology related words, you're wrong.

Genetic defects caused by inbreeding are caused by translocation.

As you should know, Chromosomes are stored in pairs. Each pair holds instructions for the same things. One side of each pair comes from each parent. Your sperm or eggs have randomly selected chromosomes from each pair.

The more similar the Chromosomes are in the pairs, the more likely translocation becomes. After a couple generations of inbreeding, you start to end up with more and more people with the same, or very similar chromosomes in their pairs.

The problem is that translocation is not gene specific, it can happen anywhere, and in fact break apart important genes.

Of course, you'll also up the chances of getting a recessive trait as well, but that could be anything from blond hair and blue eyes to sickle cell anima. If you don't have a history of rare genetic diseases in your family, you would actually be less likely to get burned by this with inbreeding, but your 'genetic stock' will gradually decline generation after generation as you start to lose various genes.

One generation won't hurt anyone though.

(btw, this is why it's good to fuck people from other races. The more dissimilar your parents DNA, the healthier and stronger, more attractive, etc the kids are :P)
posted by delmoi at 1:27 AM on October 30, 2002


A few years ago I was dating a woman who was quite a bit older than me. A couple of months into the relationship, she was reunited with a son who she had given up for adoption at birth. He was about my age. When they met there was an immediate intense sexual attraction between them. This went on for several months, and they even talked about having sex just to get it out of their systems. As far as I know, they never did.

On the subject of consensual sex between siblings, did you know that this is illegal even if the siblings are related by adoption (i.e. not blood relatives)? And of course it's still illegal even when they're grown up and not living with their adoptive parents anymore.

And on the subject of translocation, an organization of geneticists recently came out with a statement that it was fine for first cousins to marry and have children.

(sorry, no links. no time this morning.)
posted by alms at 7:24 AM on October 30, 2002


And on the subject of translocation, an organization of geneticists recently came out with a statement that it was fine for first cousins to marry and have children.

Yes, Alms I know of this. The decision was somewhat politically influenced. First-cousin marriage is common in the Arab world, and with increasing immigration from these countries, we were forced to respond to their imported cultural behaviors. In this case we responded poorly*. Don't get me wrong, people should be allowed to breed with whom-so-ever they choose, but it is a lie to say that children produced from those unions are as healthy as any other -birth weight, intelligence, and immune function, among many other traits are all lowered in children from first-cousin marriages.

*Because offending another culture will hurt that culture far more than any deleterious behaviors practiced by that culture ever could.
posted by dgaicun at 9:13 AM on October 30, 2002


Any human being can in some instances pressure any other human being into activities or behaviors of less-than-complete consensuality, kayjay. Where do you draw the line, and according to what criteria?

So, rushmc are you saying that an older brother/uncle/cousin etc. pressuring a young girl into a sexual relationship is no different than anyone else? Maybe to some degree, but I would argue that the agressor is playing off a lifetime of family ties and loyalty. I'd say that it is a deeper issue than you are making it out to be. Over the course of a lietime, who exerts more influence: your freinds or your family?
posted by kayjay at 11:03 AM on October 30, 2002


Picture it: here's me, a repressed little Mormon high school kid in suburban Provo. I've got a cousin a couple years older than me: a junior, tall, blonde, pretty, a national-level cheerleader in fact. It's a halloween party. She's wearing a plastic pig nose. A pink bodysuit. A twisted-up pipe cleaner tail. And EIGHT BABY BOTTLE NIPPLES, two placed appropriately and the rest in rows down her ribcage.

It's fifteen years later and I'm still fucked up about it.
posted by lumpley at 12:08 PM on October 30, 2002


(btw, this is why it's good to fuck people from other races. The more dissimilar your parents DNA, the healthier and stronger, more attractive, etc the kids are :P)

Actually, I seem to remember a study that found that there is less genetic similarity within any one race (esp people of African descendent) than between any two races. (Posting on the fly--will look for supporting link later.)
posted by hippugeek at 12:56 PM on October 30, 2002


I'd say that it is a deeper issue than you are making it out to be.

I'm not making it out to be anything. I was simply asking the question, since it seems to be so much clearer and more straightforward to you than it is to me, based on your comment.
posted by rushmc at 7:51 PM on October 30, 2002


Now what comes to mind is the ageold question: If all men were brothers, would you want one to marry your sister?

lumpley, I don't know whether to forward you all my animal porn (eeyew!) spam or send you to a plushie page.
posted by y2karl at 9:19 PM on October 30, 2002


but it is a lie to say that children produced from those unions are as healthy as any other -birth weight, intelligence, and immune function, among many other traits are all lowered in children from first-cousin marriages.

dgaicun, what are you talking about? The very reason that this arab culture accepts and even encourages first cousin marriages is that it *creates* a super race of inbred ├╝ber-warriors... Were you not aware of this?

seriously though, let's not be afraid to effend any culture if it'll prevent a new generation of 'tarded kids
posted by Captain Supermarket at 8:35 PM on October 31, 2002


obviously, I'm a 'tarded kid...
misspelled "offend" incorrectly above
posted by Captain Supermarket at 8:36 PM on October 31, 2002


dig redundancy too
posted by Captain Supermarket at 8:37 PM on October 31, 2002


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