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Genetic Sexual Attraction
January 12, 2004 1:53 PM   Subscribe

A new brand of incest. "You're 40, happily married - and then you meet your long-lost brother and fall passionately in love. This isn't fiction; in the age of the sperm donor, it's a growing reality: 50% of reunions between siblings, or parents and offspring, separated at birth result in obsessive emotions. Last month, a former police officer was convicted of incest with his half-sister - but should we criminalise a bond hardwired into our psychology?"
posted by Hildegarde (51 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
As discussed before...
posted by falameufilho at 2:01 PM on January 12, 2004


Aw, Jesus. I searched and searched...dammit. Remind me not to post with a migraine. DAMMIT.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:03 PM on January 12, 2004


I was once involved with a women who was thirteen years older than me. During this time, she was reunited with a son that she had given birth to and put up for adoption when she was sixteen. There had been no contact from the day of his birth until he called her on the phone. He and I were approximately the same age.

When she and the son met, they were immediately very strongly physically attracted to each other. This went on for some time, and was distracting enough that they discussed sleeping together "just to get it out of their systems." I don't know if they ever did that. According to this woman, this is a very common though little talked about reaction when birth parents and children are reunited: you want the physical bonding that newborns and parents normally get, but of course the kid is no longer a newborn.

As for my relationship with her: it was pretty casual and we quickly drifted apart as this new preoccupation entered her life.
posted by alms at 2:05 PM on January 12, 2004


should we criminalise a bond hardwired into our psychology

No. There's no good reason for incest (between consenting adults) to be illegal. There is a somewhat increased risk of genetic abnormalities in a child from such a union, and as such genetic counselling should be available if a pregnancy should result, but this is really not much different from the risks for couples over certain ages, couples with family histories of genetic problems, etc. If both parties are consenting adults, it's nobody's business if they should choose to sleep together.
posted by biscotti at 2:16 PM on January 12, 2004


What biscotti said.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:35 PM on January 12, 2004


"...should we criminalise a bond hardwired into our psychology?"

Hilarious. Why isn't the same question asked about homosexuality?
posted by FormlessOne at 2:47 PM on January 12, 2004


what FormlessOne said. Unless you were implying there is something wrong with homosexuality, then no.
posted by tcaleb at 2:51 PM on January 12, 2004


Before I'm misinterpreted, the point I was making is that nothing should prevent it other than the simple fact that there is increased risk of genetic abnormality. Similarly, what should prevent homosexuality?

As far as I'm concerned, if both consenting adult partners are having a good time and harming no one in the process, have at. I never understood why the government feels it needs to regulate sex.
posted by FormlessOne at 3:00 PM on January 12, 2004


Heck, you could reword that to say "all consenting adult partners" - why limit it to two?
posted by FormlessOne at 3:07 PM on January 12, 2004


What about homosexual incest?
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:15 PM on January 12, 2004


I seem to recall a study being published a while back that found that, among first-cousins who had kids, the chance of deformity in the kid was only a couple percentage points higher than with an unrelated couple. Now, the chance is porbably a few percentage points higher than that for mother-son relationships, but the basic idea is that our association between incest and genetic abnormalities is exageratted.

Now that that's taken care of, should we move on to horses or chicks with dicks?
posted by kaibutsu at 3:22 PM on January 12, 2004


I think our association between incest and genetic abnormalities is based on a rather longer term view than one generation. The increased possibility may be small in one generation, but it grows rapidly as the generations add up. So sure, a brother and sister who want to be more than just friends is no big deal, but an enclave of families who never mate outside the clan rapidly developes small feet and hemophilia.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:30 PM on January 12, 2004


Much of the commentary assumes giving birth when there is this reunion match. What if the two do not have or want babies? Is it then ok?
posted by Postroad at 3:43 PM on January 12, 2004


A provocative sf story on this subject is Theodore Sturgeon's "If All Men Were Brothers Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" (in Dangerous Visions).
posted by languagehat at 3:58 PM on January 12, 2004


I think in general incest taboos have more to do with interfamily harmony than anything else. When I was in college I lived in a coed dorm on a coed floor. People who shared the same floor almost never looked at each other romantically-we were all like brothers and sisters.

Having said that I have Biblical problems with incest-although I see nothing wrong with cousins marrying. Last time I heard that was legal in North Carolina (although I suppose that could have changed at some point.)
posted by konolia at 4:02 PM on January 12, 2004


Whatever yanks your chain.
posted by The God Complex at 4:08 PM on January 12, 2004


Biblical problems with incest

What, by the way, is the explaination for the alleged growth of the human race from just Adam and Eve? Surely their children would have had to have some incestuous stuff going on in order to continue to reproduce...?
posted by Jimbob at 4:09 PM on January 12, 2004


> Heck, you could reword that to say "all consenting adult partners" - why limit it to two?

Two whats? My life partner is a Mutton-American and it's absolutely outrageous that we can't marry. I would be even more outraged except that I'm sure it's just a matter of a couple or three years and maybe a trip to Vancouver.
posted by jfuller at 4:15 PM on January 12, 2004


>What, by the way, is the explaination for the alleged growth of the human race from just Adam and Eve? Surely their children would
>have had to have some incestuous stuff going on in order to continue to reproduce...?

The Bible doesn't say Adam and Eve were the only humans created - it just says that they were the first

There was an adjacent city of Nod
posted by cinderful at 4:26 PM on January 12, 2004


you're killing me jfuller
posted by tcaleb at 4:34 PM on January 12, 2004


You can also marry your first cousin in New Jersey - or at least you could back when I was living there.
posted by jalexei at 4:43 PM on January 12, 2004


What, by the way, is the explaination for the alleged growth of the human race from just Adam and Eve? Surely their children would have had to have some incestuous stuff going on in order to continue to reproduce...?

Incest wasn't a sin until God gave the Law to Moses.
posted by kindall at 4:56 PM on January 12, 2004


Whatever yanks your chain.

Or pushes your button, as the case may be.
[/anti-boyzone]
posted by kaibutsu at 5:15 PM on January 12, 2004


If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was. We do not possess anything in this world, least of all other people. We only imagine that we do. Our friends, our lovers, our spouses, even our children are not ours; they belong only to themselves. Possessive and controlling friendships and relationships can be as harmful as neglect.
posted by Frank Grimes at 5:17 PM on January 12, 2004


I guess I'll have to admit the idea of legalized incest makes me squirm. On one hand, the government has no right to interfere with its citizens privacy, but on the other I think the generations of social taboos should carry some weight in making moral choices. It seems that sexual relationships with family members could lead to, or express, mental instability. I understand the idea of yearning after some physical contact with long lost birth-parents or siblings, but sexual contact is just too far. Even though the acts are committed by consensual adults, there are still familial power issues that may leave both people feeling very guilty, or worse, used.

I also think the concept of consent is stretched very thin in cases of incest.

Many mothers still think of their children, grown to consensual age, as still being their children. Grown children (ie adults) often still feel strong loyalties and dependence on their parents. I think there are too many power dynamics within even the most distant families to allow for incest. Would a home schooled 18 year old be considered a consensual adult in a situation of incest? Legally perhaps, but morally, not at all.
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:26 PM on January 12, 2004


eeew.

Don't any of you people remember this, for Pete's sake?

C'mon, two things that almost every human from every society knows: don't eat your own poop, and don't screw family members. Just cause some people do these things dosen't make it sane.
posted by jonmc at 5:40 PM on January 12, 2004


People are not attracted to people that they grew up with. Regardless of the actual genetic relationship. In fact, this is true of most mammals and birds, so obviously it's genetically hardwired and not done for any social reason. It most likely has to do with genetics (i.e. inbreeding causes enough genetic problems to be an evolutionary factor).

In any event, if the whole point of the law is to prevent genetic problems, then there shouldn't be a problem with people having safe sex, I would think.
posted by delmoi at 5:48 PM on January 12, 2004


I think the various taboos against incest are related to worries about older relatives taking advantage of younger relatives. I'd guess that the vast majority of incest is nonconsensual sex, mature vs. underage, made easier by the power of uncles/fathers/mothers have over children. I think this is a valid taboo. Those unlucky few I know who have had incest were not willing partners.

Now, this very new possibility of sperm donor relation seems to be a very different thing, but it's too damn close to regular old incest not to make me uncomfortable. I can see "obsessive emotions" between long-lost relatives, but sexual attraction surprises me. I wonder why there would be such an attraction, when there probably isn't an attraction between known that individual and their other known siblings.

Oh, yeah, if your looking for Sci-fi "incest is rational and natural", Heinlein's your man.
posted by superchris at 5:49 PM on January 12, 2004


btw. Does anyone think it's "Gross" for 'long-lost' siblings to fuck, as opposed to family members who grew up together?
posted by delmoi at 5:54 PM on January 12, 2004


Yes.
posted by jonmc at 5:57 PM on January 12, 2004


I think the various taboos against incest are related to worries about older relatives taking advantage of younger relatives.

Yes. But that's sexual abuse of a child, whether it's incestuous or not, it's still child abuse, and that's a whole other issue than incest between consenting adults. The fact that incestuous sex between consenting adults makes some of us uncomfortable isn't really a good enough reason to have it be illegal, I still fail to see why it's anyone's business.
posted by biscotti at 6:08 PM on January 12, 2004


biscotti: Don't you think the idea of consent is skewed when applied to acts of incest? Under the law, an 18 year old is considered a consensual adult, but the power dynamics between parents, children, siblings or other family members are too complex to dismiss sexual acts as being consensual. Many adults still have strong feelings of loyalty towards their family members that could lead them to "consent" to acts they really don't want to do - like when I go home for Christmas. To legalize incest is to open up a whole new kind of family abuse and seems ignorant of the dynamics that occur between family members.

delmoi: yes.
posted by elwoodwiles at 6:19 PM on January 12, 2004


I know marrying one's first cousin in legal in Canada and Great Britain. I thought it was legal everywhere.
posted by orange swan at 6:27 PM on January 12, 2004


Off topic and in regards to the Dueling Banjos link...

If anyone has seen "Big Fish", there is a man playing the banjo on the porch in the first visit to the town of Spectre. And yes, he is the real honest to gosh Banjo kid, Billy Redden, of "Deliverance" fame, all gorwn up.

As for the movie, I have both good and bad things to say about it - but on the whole I'd say it is a good show.
posted by John Smallberries at 6:32 PM on January 12, 2004


/groans

That should read G-R-O-W-N, of course.
posted by John Smallberries at 6:34 PM on January 12, 2004


When discussing incest, can we please distinguish between sibling incest and parent/child incest. I hope most people would agree that the power dynamics are quite different. I'd be much more inclined to look favorably on consensual sibling incest than parent/adult-child incest.

Also, for all you geneticists out there, please remember that incest is generally illegal among siblings who are related by adoption, and even when they are grown to adulthood and even when the parents who adopted them (and thereby made them related) are dead. So there's a taboo for you.

I'm not sure what the deal is with incest between genetic siblings who were separated at birth and don't know their siblings. Probably pretty uncommon, though.

And if you want pretty pictures of all the variations, check out Exogamy and Incest Prohibitions.
posted by alms at 6:49 PM on January 12, 2004


My life partner is a Mutton-American and it's absolutely outrageous that we can't marry.

On the other hand, you can legally kill and eat her or him right now.
Now that's having your cake, ain't it?
posted by y2karl at 6:59 PM on January 12, 2004


Moll Flanders.
posted by MisterMo at 7:29 PM on January 12, 2004


Is there any data about this being tied to the people actually _being_ related? Or could I cook a scam to get laid by pretending to be someone's long-lost relative? Do they just have to look remotely the same? Or is there more to it?
posted by Space Coyote at 7:39 PM on January 12, 2004


elwoodwiles: I do see what you're getting at, but I still don't know that the legislation needs to be about the relationship, rather than the consent, if you see what I mean. I'm of the opinion that generally, those who'd coerce someone into having sex with them, would do so regardless of whether or not something was illegal. I see a big difference between coercing you to go home for Christmas, and coercing you to bump uglies with your siblings while the turkey's cooking. Abuse is abuse, I don't know that we should be making laws to protect people from abuse from specific people, rather than just abuse period. At some point we have to accept that people are capable of making their own decisions without help from the law - I don't see how you can logically support making a special case for incest - if we decide that someone can legally vote, drink, join the army and consent to sex after a certain age (which is its own argument), then why would we decide that that same person cannot consent to sex with certain people? I suspect that the vast majority of us find the idea of sex with our siblings icky, but I don't know that that means we're right to impose that opinion on everyone else.
posted by biscotti at 7:47 PM on January 12, 2004


When discussing incest, can we please distinguish between sibling incest and parent/child incest. I hope most people would agree that the power dynamics are quite different. I'd be much more inclined to look favorably on consensual sibling incest than parent/adult-child incest.

I know some victims of sibling incest who would take issue with your favourable approach. Siblings usually vary in age, and an older sibling is impossibly powerful to to some younger kids. Hence all that "I wanna be just like my older brother/sister" stuff.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:59 PM on January 12, 2004


biscotti: OK, I've been drinking, but I'll try my best to make sense.
•I worry that psychological damage will follow acts of incest. Incest has long been a strong social taboo and I worry that relatives who engage in sexual acts with one another will quickly regret it. We base family relationships(beyond wife, husband) on non-sexual terms and to suddenly throw sex in the dynamic is playing with more than fire.
•I worry about the issue of consent as I've already explained. The power dynamics of families could be compared to those in the workplace where sex is often frowned upon. While workplace sex is not illegal, sexual harassment is, and at some point sexual harassment would become an issue in families once incest is considered socially acceptable (legal). I used the Christmas example as both humor and something I figure people will identify with. People do many things that effect their lives in order to please their families way beyond Christmas visits, but the point would be the same.
•I worry that a backlash will occur in regards to the recent Lawrence Decision by the supreme court. The language of the decision could easily be used to argue for incest to cynically undermine the ruling about sodomy - see Rick Santiorum or however that's spelled.

I don't think this is a law or idea based in pure logic, but in that long neglected metaphysical space known as Morality. I realize how archaic that sounds, but moral issues have to be considered. relativism (I don't mean that as a slam, really) can only be applied so far before we come up against certain ideas and then we need to let go of it. The buck has to stop somewhere and incest is where I am willing to draw a line in the sand.

on preview: what Hildegarde said.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:03 PM on January 12, 2004


I can see "obsessive emotions" between long-lost relatives, but sexual attraction surprises me.

Not I, especially after numerous and lengthy "Frodo and Sam *must* be gay -- right?" conversations.
posted by namespan at 9:19 PM on January 12, 2004


I've finally found a home!

For many years I've considered myself a societal outcast, shunned by the thoughtless masses who have no compassion for the love I share with my sister, cousin, and mother.

Thanks to MeFis such as biscotti, ynoxas, and formlessone, I realize that there is nothing wrong with porking Sis while blowing Aunt Mae (and fingering dear old Mom). I mean, if I'm wearing a condom, why shouldn't I fuck the women closest to my heart?

Thank you, MetaFilter!
posted by F Mackenzie at 1:18 AM on January 13, 2004


Not surprising, this is one of the worst threads I've ever read on Metafilter. I say this because of the gut-reactions and inattention to detail.

Power relationships do not enter in to this topic, as their is no familial relation other than genetic. The parents who have any power over me are my adoptive parents, not birth parents. In psychological terms, the family with which one was raised is the 'real' family. Did you read about the study on relationships in kibbutzim?

Yes, I'm adopted, as an infant. I have not found my birth family. I've never put any great effort into it, either, although I am interested.

As a gay man, I can easily imagine discovering such an attraction to a male relative, even my birth father. Equally, I can't imagine such an attraction to my mother or sister.

The legal question I find intriguing. My birth certificate lists my adoptive parents as my parents. How can the law then claim my birth family are legally related? It was amusing when, in Germany, I formed a lebenspartnershaft (life partnership) with my lover, and they needed to be sure we weren't related, lest the relationship be incestuous. I assured them we would not be getting pregnant, and explained there was no provision for finding my genetic background in my home state. For once, a German saw the humor of the situation.
posted by Goofyy at 2:40 AM on January 13, 2004


jfuller - you and your mutton can marry. So when's the big day? :)

Goofy, good point about adopted kids, and with egg and sperm donations on the rise, there will be more people like you who can't find their genetic parents.
posted by dabitch at 3:23 AM on January 13, 2004


I find that a nice combination of street drugs bring youth and love, without the failings of interpersonal relationships.
posted by the fire you left me at 9:07 AM on January 13, 2004


Does anyone think it's "Gross" for 'long-lost' siblings to fuck, as opposed to family members who grew up together?

As the recipient of numerous long-lost siblings in my life, I can say without reservation "Dear god, yes". But that is likely because our reunions were more of an "oh well isn't this annoying, especially since I don't like you very much" nature than the all-wonderul "filling that emotional void I didn't even know I had" nature.

I can see where some long-lost siblings might be drawn towards each other sexually, in like a basic, carnal, physical way to fill that emotional void.
posted by jennyb at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2004


I knew a girl in junior high school who had a brother a year or two younger than she. Her grits-for-brains mother still had them sleeping in the SAME BED. So they actually tried sex just to see what it was like. In this case it seems like proximity was the only factor.

None of us who heard about this (from her) had the sense to tell an adult about it.

I am still saddened by this years later. She in all other respects was a really nice person and a good friend...I can only imagine what the emotional ramifications for both of them turned out to be.
posted by konolia at 12:08 PM on January 13, 2004


Why should there be any emotional ramification, konolia?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:58 PM on January 14, 2004


She was conflicted about it right after it happened.
posted by konolia at 9:30 PM on January 14, 2004


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