Incest: Taboo or not taboo?
July 15, 2008 5:43 AM   Subscribe

I had sex with my brother but I don't feel guilty. An interesting article in The Times written by a woman who'd had a sexual relationship with her brother that started during their teenage years and continued through to their twenties. Many societies have an incest taboo, but anthropologists have differing views as to how the taboo arose. Claude Lévi-Strauss believed it to have arisen as a method to encourage the practice of marriage outside of one's immediate social group, so that unrelated households or lineages would form relationships through marriage, thus strengthening social solidarity.
posted by electricinca (131 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite


 
Just as I thought. There's nothing wrong with inbreeding.
posted by Xurando at 5:51 AM on July 15, 2008


I'm pretty sure it's still taboo -- unless I missed something on the news this morning.
posted by chunking express at 5:52 AM on July 15, 2008


So, Xurando...how about a banjo solo?
posted by jonmc at 5:55 AM on July 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


I wonder if the author and her brother were separated or frequently apart early in life? The Westermarck effect certainly seems to have passed them by.
posted by xthlc at 5:56 AM on July 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Cute name for the post. I remember a really wonderful passage on this kind of love affair in a book called "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy. The name makes it sound like a self-help book but it's actually a really beautiful piece of literature and really worth your time as a read.
posted by ignorantguru at 5:58 AM on July 15, 2008


I seem to remember hearing something on NPR about court marriages of the middle ages being disasters if the couple had lived together as children (groom fostered in bride's household). I suspect that there is an inbuilt evolutionary mechanism where pre-pubescent familiarity kills mating instincts. Also, ewww.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:00 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


And I should have previewed, thanks xthlc.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:00 AM on July 15, 2008


I think in ancient Egypt brother/sister marriage was common and encouraged.
posted by stbalbach at 6:01 AM on July 15, 2008


ignorantguru, I haven't read the book in a while, but haven't you given away one of the bigger plot points in the story?
posted by chunking express at 6:04 AM on July 15, 2008


Back on topic: this is a pretty fascinating story. Cousin marriage is pretty common in some parts of the world, but I can't think of any modern place where sibling union is tolerated. I can't imagine that changing any time soon. There are all sorts of strange dynamics at play when you have two siblings forming a sexual relationship together.
posted by chunking express at 6:11 AM on July 15, 2008


I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but this story reads like fiction.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:13 AM on July 15, 2008


On the plus side: no in-laws!
posted by ColdChef at 6:15 AM on July 15, 2008 [24 favorites]


I think in ancient Egypt brother/sister marriage was common and encouraged.

Aaaand Egyptology just fell to the dreaded Rule 34.
posted by DU at 6:16 AM on July 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


I saw a documentary years ago that said there was a higher proportion of brother/sister incest where they had been raised separately from each other and then met each other in later years - kind of a reverse Westermarck effect
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:19 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I was extremely sleepy when he crept into my room and curled up on my bed, which was something we'd both done for years, especially if we wanted to share some snippet of gossip. When he started stroking my hair and face it was a surprise, but I could feel myself drifting pleasurably back to sleep as he caressed me gently. Then I became aware of his hand drifting lower and suddenly I was wide awake as he stroked my neck and started sliding his hand down my vest top."
Yep, that's creepy.
posted by lullaby at 6:20 AM on July 15, 2008


brother/sister marriage was common to polynesian royalty because of the spiritual status
given to them. to marry outside the socially elevated family would weaken their power.
posted by kitchenrat at 6:25 AM on July 15, 2008


a higher proportion of brother/sister incest where they had been raised separately from each other and then met each other in later years - kind of a reverse Westermarck effect

According to the link I just read (thanks xthlc) wouldn't that be the forward Westermarck effect?
posted by DU at 6:26 AM on July 15, 2008


I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but this story reads like fiction.

Agreed, I got a very Penthouse feel from her description of her first night with her brother. It reads like some sort of male fantasy, being able to seduce and make every woman jealous, even his sister. She sort of glossed over the feelings of guilt that come with breaking such a strong cultural taboo. Even assuming that, abstractly, what they did was not intrinsically wrong, the fact that physical pleasure overrode any doubts is creepy. The ability to dispense with emotional baggage like that so easily reminds me of interviews with serial killers.
posted by geoff. at 6:28 AM on July 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Eww.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:29 AM on July 15, 2008


the queen of england and prince philip are second cousins once removed god bless
posted by baker dave at 6:32 AM on July 15, 2008




It's Jody Foster and Rob Lowe!
posted by billysumday at 6:40 AM on July 15, 2008


See also: genetic sexual attraction (the "reverse Westermarck effect" that fearfulsymmetry refers to); also known to occur in parent/child couples, as with the author Kathryn Harrison (detailed in her memoir, The Kiss). Google "genetic sexual attraction" or "GSA" and you'll find support groups, etc.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:42 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


From Xurando's link: Livestock breeders often practice inbreeding to "fix" desirable characteristics within a population. However, they must then cull unfit offspring, especially when trying to establish the new and desirable trait in their stock. So, yes, there is nothing wrong with inbreeding, just make sure to cull your unfit offspring.
posted by caddis at 6:43 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dear Penthouse Forum:

I never in a million years thought I would be writing to you, but the other day...
posted by neat-o at 6:56 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


"I was extremely sleepy when he crept into my room and curled up on my bed, which was something we'd both done for years, especially if we wanted to share some snippet of gossip. When he started stroking my hair and face it was a surprise, but I could feel myself drifting pleasurably back to sleep as he caressed me gently. Then I became aware of his hand drifting lower and suddenly I was wide awake as he stroked my neck and started sliding his hand down my vest top."
Yep, that's creepy.
Totally. Who wears a vest to bed?
posted by abulafa at 7:00 AM on July 15, 2008 [22 favorites]


A very Heinlein-esque article...
posted by tadellin at 7:07 AM on July 15, 2008


i wonder if part of the Westermarck is from having your sibling picking on you as a child. I'd totally never marry anyone that put my barbie dolls in the microwave, or led me to believe I was actually adopted away from the circus. DEALBREAKER!
posted by fuzzypantalones at 7:22 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


My first summer out of college, I worked as a garbage collector (early 90's, pre-Internet porn). It was common to find porn in the garbage, but there was one house which always had a huge pile of pretty uncommon porn magazines left on top of their other garbage. One day the stack of Reader's Digest-sized books was: Family Incest Taboo magazine. Pretty good read.
posted by Auden at 7:27 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying incest doesn't happen, but this "article" is a load of crap.
posted by amro at 7:34 AM on July 15, 2008


Who wears a vest to bed?

If you're willing to violate the taboo against having sex with your brother, that formal attire as sleepwear taboo is pretty easy to ignore too.
posted by mullacc at 7:35 AM on July 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


I feel bad for their partners.
posted by lunit at 7:36 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Who wears a vest to bed?

If you're willing to violate the taboo against having sex with your brother, that formal attire as sleepwear taboo is pretty easy to ignore too.


My English friend says "vest" when she means "tank top". Confuses the heck out of me.
posted by 100watts at 7:42 AM on July 15, 2008


I love that the older article snippet at the end of this set of comments reads "In the little town of Enterprise, Alabama"...somehow reinforces the stereotypes of this topic.

Anyway, I knew a brother and sister who were sleeping with each other throughout their teens. What was even more disturbing once I found this out is how much they look like each other...I didn't want the mental images in the first place, but that made it 10 times worse.

...and from the back of the car..."Mom! Jimmy's touching me!"...
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:45 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my English friend says "jumper" when she means "sweater," and "pram" for "stroller," and "lift" for "elevator," and "the colonies" for "United States of America." Those crazy English!
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:47 AM on July 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


I wonder how often homosexual sibling sexual couplings occur.
posted by billysumday at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2008


Sure it's taboo.

That's what makes it hot!











what?
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I call shenanigans.

Reread it under the suspicion she is living out her fantasies, vicariously, through her writing and it'll make you chuckle*.

*It may be a snigger, chortle, cough, or a quick exhalation out your nasal passages, depending on your comfort with the topic.


Somewhat related: Famous Cousin Marriages
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:49 AM on July 15, 2008


I'm surprised Lévi-Strauss didn't say it's all in your jeans.
posted by yhbc at 7:50 AM on July 15, 2008 [7 favorites]


I didn't think this would be cool, but after seeing the video, I am converted!

Uh...wait. This is the Mario 3 thread, right?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:58 AM on July 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


I wonder how often homosexual sibling sexual couplings occur.

Well here is your portal to gay triplets getting it on. [Possibly NSFW] Mainly for the money I would guess.
posted by binturong at 8:03 AM on July 15, 2008


I had a friend who would frequently mention that since the advent of effective birth control and family planning, the adverse genetic consequences of incest could generally be avoided. With the proper precautions, the taboo on incest is outmoded.

It was hard to disagree with him: his sister was awfully cute.
posted by logicpunk at 8:10 AM on July 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


I thought I was looking at the AskMe feed when I saw this post and all I saw was the first sentence and the fact that the poster wasn't anonymous. It was quite jarring.
posted by camcgee at 8:12 AM on July 15, 2008


DTSFA.

sorry
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:22 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Pictures or it didn't happen.
posted by tits mcgee at 8:23 AM on July 15, 2008


Wall Street Journal fans take note: this is what happens when Murdoch gets hold of your newspaper.
posted by jamjam at 8:29 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


On the plus side: no in-laws!

“She’s my mother.” SLAP “She’s my mother-in-law.” SLAP “She’s my mother …”
posted by NorthernLite at 8:33 AM on July 15, 2008 [9 favorites]


I had a friend who would frequently mention that since the advent of effective birth control and family planning, the adverse genetic consequences of incest could generally be avoided. With the proper precautions, the taboo on incest is outmoded.

Is it though? The Wikipedia page suggests that the taboo did not arise as is commonly thought due to birth defects in children who were the result of incest, but instead was due to other reasons.
posted by electricinca at 8:42 AM on July 15, 2008


I wonder how often homosexual sibling sexual couplings occur.

well, my little brother was always a pain in the ass.
posted by quonsar at 8:46 AM on July 15, 2008 [10 favorites]


I was going to come in here and defend sister fucking until I realized that we were talking about siblings and not nuns. That's just icky.
posted by quin at 8:47 AM on July 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


Claude Lévi-Strauss believed it to have arisen as a method to encourage the practice of marriage outside of one's immediate social group, so that unrelated households or lineages would form relationships through marriage, thus strengthening social solidarity.

All this dude ever thinks about is genes.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:53 AM on July 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


Incest: Taboo or not taboo? Or just relatively boring?
posted by punilux at 8:53 AM on July 15, 2008


Billy, go wake your sister up for breakfast.

OK DAD!!!

cue cheezy porno music...

Quonsar, you just had to go there...damn! Nasty!
posted by a3matrix at 8:53 AM on July 15, 2008


Come on, admit it. Some of you read this story with "growing" interest....
posted by Rogalian at 8:58 AM on July 15, 2008


I'm with Dan Savage on this. Because even if making incest babies isn't part of the equation, there's plenty of other issues to not make it good.

"What you don't seem to understand, SAY, is that the incest taboo is all about protecting people from the abuse of trust and power. All families--even the healthiest families--are swept by swirling currents of obligation, guilt, mind games, and emotional blackmail. How can children--even adult children--freely consent to sex with their parents? Likewise, older or more domineering siblings can hold enormous power over their brothers and sisters. How does one divine consent when one sibling is having sex with another, or a son is having sex with his mother, or a father is having sex with his daughter? In those situations it's simply impossible to define where "family life" ends and "consent" begins."

I also seem to vaguely recall him saying something along the lines of "Do you really want to run into your ex at every family reunion for the rest of your life?", but I can't find that column at the moment. That logic alone does it for me, thanks.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:09 AM on July 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


I wonder how often homosexual sibling sexual couplings occur.

I knew a guy who admitted to this. He dated my roommate in college. I was doubly shocked because he did not seem otherwise that weird; he was a really popular gay man, very good looking, intelligent and socially adept. I don't know what the stereotype of incestuous homosexual is, but he didn't fit it.
posted by Falconetti at 9:09 AM on July 15, 2008


Who wears a vest to bed?

Snakes.
posted by rokusan at 9:14 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


The thought of this makes me sick. What a great way to ruin a familial relationship. Also, nth-ing that there's something off about the article.
posted by xammerboy at 9:18 AM on July 15, 2008


So, The Times is contributing to asstr.org now?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:35 AM on July 15, 2008


I call shenanigans too. Do you see the links to other "similar" articles, all written by supposed "readers"? They're all like little Lifetime movies.
posted by schroedinger at 9:36 AM on July 15, 2008


There is a massive abuse of trust and power thing going on throughout our culture, so I don't buy the argument that it is disproportional in this case.

I'm going with "leave consenting adults alone to do what they like". I know, it can be difficult to suspend your little moral judgements and stuff, but, like, its life, liberty, and pursuit people, not your little brady bunch fantasy. No, i'm not talking about that kind of fantasy. Pervs.
posted by ewkpates at 9:48 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]




C'mon people... it's not like they're ordering their espresso over ice or something.
posted by Kabanos at 9:59 AM on July 15, 2008 [13 favorites]


Who wears a vest to bed?

See My Vest, See My Vest
nothing to do
with Incest...
posted by jonmc at 10:01 AM on July 15, 2008


Hey Astro Zombie! If Eve and Wall-E had been built in the same factory, would that be robo-incest?
posted by Caduceus at 10:07 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm curious as to whether or not disgust at brother/sister incest has anything to do with having a sibling of the opposite gender (or of whatever gender you're attracted to).

I'm not even slightly disgusted by it. In fact, it bores me. The other night, I saw a play in which two consenting adults -- brother and sister -- had a sexual relationship, and I thought "THIS is the conflict? Biiiiig deal."

I'm not claiming to be more liberal or "advanced" than most people. There are plenty of sexual practices that disgust me. For instance, many of my friends are gay, and I have zero intellectual problems with homosexuality (I support gay marriage, etc.), but I do get disgusted when I think about the details of two men screwing -- especially when I imagine myself involved.

But brother/sister stuff doesn't bother me (or excite me). It just leaves me cold.

But I don't have a sister. I can't even really imagine what it would be like to have one. Are there other sisterless (or, if you're female, brotherless) folks here who would like to weigh in? Do you feel disgust when you think about brother/sister incest? For those of you with siblings, do you imagine yourself and your sister/brother when you hear about incest?
posted by grumblebee at 10:18 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Stephen Fry attributes it to Sir Arnold Bax, but it's a good start whoever said it:
"In this life you should try everything once, except incest and folk dancing."
posted by imperium at 10:19 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder how often homosexual sibling sexual couplings occur.

Relatively frequently, based on anecdotal information from people I've known, both gay- bi- and straight-identified. In the latter case, my understanding has been that it's (anecdotally) kind of a bonding thing between brothers to mess around together.

I'm with whoever it was who said "let consenting adults do what they want". There's obviously some icky potential power issues if they're teenagers or younger, of course.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:22 AM on July 15, 2008


What triggers my bullshit detector is a 14 year old girl and a 15 year old boy doing some drunken fondling and having no awkwardness or embarrassment whatsoever the next day. That does not happen, family or no. Early teens get embarrassed and awkward over, like, shoelaces and hair. Let alone vest-rummaging. This is an adult fantasy of an idealized sibling relationship, presumably presented to up readership ("We've upped our readership, so up yours!").













Totally hot though.
posted by rusty at 10:29 AM on July 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


jenfullmoon I was going to invoke Savage to indicate that the story was a fantasy being presented as reality, but Savage can only be invoked once per thread or else his awesomeness will produce a singularity.

But, ignoring whether the woman in question really had sex with her brother or not, the topic of incest in general is interesting. Er, in an academic sense that is.

Genetics provides a reason why a strong prohibition on reproductive incest is a good idea, but non-reproductive incest is an entirely different can of worms. There's some cases where its an obvious and blatant example of power abuse, if not outright rape. Anything involving an adult parent and a minor child, I would argue, falls into that category.

The problem is that other stuff falls into a gray area. On the one hand its possible that the incest is engaged in with full mutual consent and the people involved are all happy, and its possible that the incest is the result of power games, abuse of position, and is basically rape.

Which, I argue is the reason why we've got the taboo. Its too difficult to try to produce a cultural matrix where happy incest can exist while simultaneously forbidding unhappy incest so we take the easy way out and just ban all incest. This, I think, is the same reason behind a ban on sex with minors. It *might* not be rape, but trying to determine whether or not it is rape is so close to impossible that the only reasonable action is to simply forbid it.

That said, if both parties are adults and its non-reproductive how can it be anyone's business but their own? It may very well be an ugly power game, but sex between unrelated people can go that way too. There comes a time, and I argue its when a person becomes a legal adult, that the only involvement the state should have in their sex lives is in the case of rape. And I'm enough of a lower case "l" libertarian that I figure society should butt out too.
posted by sotonohito at 10:34 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are there other sisterless (or, if you're female, brotherless) folks here who would like to weigh in?

Brotherless female here. Personally, I find the idea of brother-sister incest revolting. I went into the article thinking "hey, let's not be judgmental," but by the end I was thoroughly grossed out. I guess the incest taboo is particularly strong in me.
posted by 912 Greens at 10:54 AM on July 15, 2008


God no.

It's the McPoyles! I mean in high school we thought it was merely amusing rumors. But then it turns out to be true.

Never underestimate the effect of inbreeding on the McPoyles.

"You think we're bluffing!? Okay. We'll see if the McPoyles are bluffing... Ryan! STAB SOMEBODY!"

"EEEEEEEYAH!" [stab]

"Aaargh! Noooo Ryan! Not me you idiot! I meant one of them! Stab one of THEM!"

"Sorry."
posted by tkchrist at 10:56 AM on July 15, 2008


Hm, no, doesn't bother me a bit, despite I do have a sister. Falls squarely in the category of things that aren't for me, but seem OK for others, if they want it.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:03 AM on July 15, 2008


Hm, no, doesn't bother me a bit, despite I do have a sister. Falls squarely in the category of things that aren't for me, but seem OK for others, if they want it.

Yes. I can see this as a bold new front on marriage rights. Perhaps a winning platform for the Democrats in 2012.
posted by tkchrist at 11:20 AM on July 15, 2008


The rubber of my moral relativism just doesn't ever meet the road of sibling incest.
posted by kosem at 11:21 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not too proud to admit having had my fair share of dry spells here and there, but can't say the prospect of fucking my sister ever tempted me.
posted by The Gooch at 11:23 AM on July 15, 2008


Multiple siblings here, but I don't feel any revulsion about the general idea. Just that it would be (awkward, complicated, embarassing etc.)^16. John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire and several Iain Banks novels help to understand circumstances when it could work.

Theory two: If you are generally more attracted to people like yourself and believe that good relationships are based on having many shared features, this is not so bad.

Or, if you think that opposites attract and that good relationships are between two very different people with features that complement each others, then this is revolting.

I am often disgusted how unlike me people are. A female clone of me is all I ask.
posted by Free word order! at 11:28 AM on July 15, 2008


I'm not too proud to admit having had my fair share of dry spells here and there, but can't say the prospect of fucking my sister ever tempted me.

That's really weird. Because I've had my fair share of dry spells as well, and the prospect of fucking your sister tempted me quite a bit.
posted by Justinian at 11:33 AM on July 15, 2008 [22 favorites]


(Psst! hermitosis! This is how you deal with it! Write a sexy article about it!)
posted by Greg Nog at 11:41 AM on July 15, 2008


I'm sisterless, and while idly wondering about whether having a horny-for-brother sister who looked like a hollywood starlet would have been so awful, I glance in the mirror and realize that whatever qualities I have as a man, I make a pretty frightful woman. So put me down as "against" purely on aesthetic grounds, aside from the squick.

Step-sisters, though. Yeah, baby.*

* Never had any step-siblings, though I have extremely strong suspicions that a friend of mine was boinking his step-sister. His dad remarried and his new wife brought her ultra-hot 17-year-old daughter to live with them. We were 18 at the time. I also have a friend who married the son of the man her mother married, though everyone was an adult when they first met, so no worries.
posted by maxwelton at 11:51 AM on July 15, 2008


That's really weird. Because I've had my fair share of dry spells as well, and the prospect of fucking your sister tempted me quite a bit.

Walked right into that one, didn't I.

Slightly more serious for a second: I would think a lifetime of unselfconsciously sharing the same toilet, smelling each other's morning breath and farts, listening to each other chew cereal loudly, being intimately aware of each others hygiene habits or lack thereof would be enough to nip something like this in the bud. I realize what I'm describing isn't all that different from married couples or couples living together, but in those cases, since the relationship is often intimate and sexual before living together, there is usually at least the attempt to not be quite so open about the grossest parts of ourselves even when cohabitating. Isn't what I describe above at least in part why some guys and girls are shocked to discover someone finds their sibling attractive?
posted by The Gooch at 12:00 PM on July 15, 2008




The problem with these kinds of pairings, as I see it, is not necessarily the arrangement itself (which already many may be offended by) but the dealing with the attachment afterwards and its cost of longing and comparison to newer loves. She touched on that a few times. This is perhaps not uncoincidentally the same argument I will raise against premarital sex. Hot sex with someone who would make a poor choice for a mate and who you will have to cut things off with at some point is only going to bring you (or maybe some portion of you) long-term pain and difficulty.

I dated a woman I considered "severely hot" or "way out of my ballpark" for several years on and off. On for a while at first, then whenever I got lonely (she made herself available for me, sweet girl that she was), off when I realized (again) that she was too irresponsible and underintelligent to realistically marry (and I also hated her friends, and felt embarrassed with her around my friends, who are all highly intelligent and successful). Her mere presence also seemed to bankrupt me, but I didn't care because when I was in the same room with her, the chemistry absolutely overrode every intellectual obstacle and there was seemingly nothing that could humanly stop the always-satisfying sex from occurring, short of being observed by her parents (which happened by accident once, long story). I haven't seen her in 3 years and I am STILL waking up with longing sometimes and making subconscious comparisons in newer relationships who can never quite measure up in this or that area (it is hard to compete physically with a woman who ran 3 miles a day... and yes, us males do (unfortunately for the much smarter women, and for us) attach some weight to the "perfect legs and ass" sort of property of women). While I do not regret anything that has happened (even before anything with her happened, I knew that I just "had to have her" and if I hadn't, I'd regret it till the end days) but in some ways I feel that I am genuinely hampered in a "healthy relationship" sense, and I don't know if I'll ever "recover"...

And I'm dating someone who would kill me if she read this. I hate getting over (or not getting over) stuff...

The author looks fairly well-adjusted but perhaps not everyone can deal with the repercussions and THAT is why this sort of stuff may need to be kiboshed... BECAUSE it is so hot.

I am also a little confused as to why I was a little turned on by reading the story, even though it's abhorrent to think of something like that with my own sister. Anyone else? I mean, it sure would have taken the edge off high school...
posted by Lectrick at 12:09 PM on July 15, 2008


There was an exhibit on Cleopatra at the Field Museum a while ago that I think was the first time I'd ever seen a kinship diagram go in a square. Of course, in the case of the Ptolemies, I think they practiced pretty strict gender segregation in childhood, which may have served to overcome the Westermarck Effect.

I believe that in Egypt (particularly among the Ptolemies, who took to the Egyptian religions with the zeal of the converted) there was a strong religious encouragement for sibling marriage within the royal family. This may also have been the case for the Mayan kings, although I think there is some confusion over that due to kinship terminology.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:13 PM on July 15, 2008


sotonohito, i never read that but it is full of awesome. Didn't realize Isaac had that sense of humor ;)

I also need to give one edit to my previous post. Replace "hot sex with someone" with "repeated hot sex with someone". Those one-time things can probably be walked away from fairly unscathed.
posted by Lectrick at 12:16 PM on July 15, 2008


Only child here. The idea doesn't squick me out at all, which I guess is understandable because to me a "sister" is just another female that lived in your house.

We're talking about four things which are mostly unrelated.

The first is "sexual experimentation", which I would expect happens at well over 50% of siblings, regardless of same or different genders. Meaning "I'll show you mine, you show me yours" or touching other parts to see, that kind of thing. Probably at young ages, and perhaps even long forgotten by adulthood. I would imagine this is so common as to be commonplace and hardly worth mention, but still prohibitively taboo and embarrassing to discuss in polite company.

Second would be "experimental sex" where a true sexual act (oral, penetrative) occurs, maybe only once or partially. I imagine this too happens all the time, but there is again a basically insurmountable amount of taboo to even suggest someone participated. Probably never mentioned to another living soul.

The third is "non-reproductive, regular sexual congress", which I have always suspected happens in a smaller, but not vanishingly small, number of siblings.

The last would be "reproductive long term relationships" which I think are vanishingly small, just because of the difficulty of concocting such a situation. I think this was more common maybe 130+ years ago, when you could move to a new town and basically "declare" who you were. "I'm John Smith, this is my wife Jane Smith". If paperwork was ever even found, it would check out. But brother and sister, not husband and wife.

Interwoven in all this is romantic love. I honestly don't know where this would fall, I would assume its all over the place. I figure some siblings did it purely for sexual gratification. I figure others were like the author here and felt something akin to romantic love for their sibling.

Sorry if some of this is not perfectly cogent, I've typed it all in a hurry with no benefit of much editing or review, across several short breaks.

So, again, my opinion is that this sort of thing happens "all the time". But maybe that's just because I'm an only and just don't know any better. *shrug* I DO know that absolutely none of my friends would ever admit to such a thing, whether it happened or not. I doubt anyone in this thread would either. So there you go.

I will say that some psychologists/psychiatrists have told me they have seen it multiple times with patients. One doc told me that with twins of differing genders, sexual relations were practically expected.

The fact that the storyteller is supposedly an academic should speak volumes.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:21 PM on July 15, 2008


Lectrick Heh. Asimov was a dirty old man and proud of it. Also fairly well known (in fannish circles anyway) for writing very good parody songs and raunchy limericks.

As far as sex, long term relationships, etc go, I think it varies widely from individual to individual. You can't assume that because *you* have a problem with wild monkey sex with non-long term partners that others necessarily will have similar problems. Among other things many people form stable long term relationships with people *and* have wild monkey sex with them, the problem may be your planned long term partner, not previous good experiences.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that happy incest exists, yes its a relationship with a built in expiration date. However, while there may be good reasons to condemn happy incest, I don't think that alone is a particularly good reason.

I argue this because other relationships exist with built in expiration dates and don't really cause long term problems. During my time in Japan I noticed several pairings between foreign students and Japanese students at the university, the term "horizontal dictionary" was used by some of my cruder friends. But none of the people involved seemed unhappy, and a couple of them, during conversation, mentioned that it was kind of liberating being in a relationship with no future prospects. The inevitable breakup, of course, weren't fun but I didn't notice anyone seemed particularly emotionally scarred.
posted by sotonohito at 12:58 PM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Only child here. The idea doesn't squick me out at all, which I guess is understandable . . . So, again, my opinion is that this sort of thing happens "all the time". But maybe that's just because I'm an only and just don't know any better.

Nah, I'm an only child and it squicks me out.
posted by amro at 12:58 PM on July 15, 2008


The first is "sexual experimentation", which I would expect happens at well over 50% of siblings, regardless of same or different genders.

I have two sisters, and the idea of fooling around with either of them (although both, by all accounts, are very attractive young women) squicks me out beyond belief. I engaged in sexual experimentation, but it was with friends of the same gender. I'd do that before 'keeping it in the family' as they say. But we were Catholic.
posted by jonmc at 1:01 PM on July 15, 2008


I'm an only child, and it sounds weird to me, but not as viscerally disgusting as I assume it would if I had siblings.
posted by brundlefly at 1:09 PM on July 15, 2008


What constitutes inbreeding?

First cousins on average share about one-eighth of their genes in common. That means that there is a 1/64 chance of two recessive genes reinforcing and producing problems. Second cousins on average share about 1/32 family genes in common. That makes it about a 1/1024 chance for inbreeding problems. Both of these scenarios assume that the intermarriages outside the family are from a large gene pool. If this all occurs in an insular community the probabilities can be much higher, of course.

Back in the 90's I attended the wedding of a first cousin and a mutual second cousin. It is an odd feeling to be related to both sides of the wedding party! They had both had unhappy first marriages and had always liked each other at family gatherings, and finally decided "What the heck?" They have been very happily married since then and have two healthy children.
posted by Araucaria at 1:14 PM on July 15, 2008


The first is "sexual experimentation", which I would expect happens at well over 50% of siblings, regardless of same or different genders.

I'm with jonmc, I think. I don't think the very idea repulses me to the same degree, but I'd still be shocked if this was accurate. Do you have some basis for it? What you're describing does sound very common among children... but not siblings. Friends and neighbors and such.
posted by Justinian at 1:48 PM on July 15, 2008


The problem with these kinds of pairings, as I see it, is not necessarily the arrangement itself (which already many may be offended by) but the dealing with the attachment afterwards and its cost of longing and comparison to newer loves. She touched on that a few times. This is perhaps not uncoincidentally the same argument I will raise against premarital

Annnnnnd you lost me.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:52 PM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


The author looks fairly well-adjusted but perhaps not everyone can deal with the repercussions and THAT is why this sort of stuff may need to be kiboshed... BECAUSE it is so hot.

Yeah, I think this is why so many conservatives are against gay marriage and gays in the military. They find the idea of hot, sweaty man-meat so incredibly hot and irresistible that they can't imagine how anyone else might not feel the same, and so believe making such trysts acceptable would destroy male-female relationships.
posted by Justinian at 1:59 PM on July 15, 2008


I'm on the 'It's your body - have a party as long as everyone consents' side of most sexual issues, but I find incest particularly revolting.

Maybe it's because I'm a twin, and by the time I was fifteen I already had a lifetime supply of "Hey! Let's you and your sister....'' invitations from geniuses incapable of seeing past their twin fetish to understand my incest taboo.

*shudder*
posted by Space Kitty at 2:01 PM on July 15, 2008


Ugh. I wouldn't want to have sex with twins.

Triplets, well, maybe we can talk.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:44 PM on July 15, 2008


Justininan: no basis at all, except for the psych people that said it happens with some regularity. But, perhaps their sample population is skewed.

What jonmc says is what my friends say, and what I would expect everyone to say quite honestly. Even jonmc, who is one of the plainer spoken people on all of mefi, would be loathe to admit if he ever had a sexual encounter with a sister. That taboo is pretty strongly ingrained.

Please understand I'm not saying he's being dishonest, not by a long shot. But just that someone who DID have sex with their sister would say the exact same thing, so denials prove nothing, either way.

When you have something like this that is basically "unreportable" due to such intense societal pressure, I don't know that there is any way to talk about it in any terms other than hypotheticals.

To me I find the subject somewhat fascinating, because it would be a profoundly odd experience to not be attracted to an attractive woman for no reason other than who her parents are. And when I was a young teen I was totally in love with a cousin of some kind (I'm not good at calculating those... it was the daughter of my great uncle's son {daughter of my grandfather's brother's son}. Is that 2nd cousin?) who was 6 or 8 years older than me. Jesus, she was beautiful to my 14 year old eyes.

For those of you who are squicked out by this, would the same squick factor apply to an adopted sibling? Is it the blood bond that makes it gross, or is it the emotional bond of siblinghood?

Related, I have two close friends (of 20 years) I am convinced had long term, consensual sexual relationships with their mothers. For the most part they are perfectly normal guys. That's something else I'd be curious as to how frequently it happens.

Note that I do realize molestation is a real and terrible thing. I just do not believe, as others here do, that every act of sex between family members is forcible molestation. I think there is a lot more consensual activity than most people would ever care to even ponder, much less admit. That unprovable claim is made based on nothing but pure speculation.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:50 PM on July 15, 2008


Random thoughts:

1. So, who did Cain marry? Presumably a sister not mentioned in the Bible.

2. As mentioned above, John Irving's novel Hotel New Hampshire gives some pretty good insights into this kind of relationship. For those who thought this story was hot, well, then, that book is on fire.

3. I knew a woman once who described to me a "beautiful" relationship she had had at the age of 13 with an uncle who was a few years older. It probably happens more often than we realize.
posted by beagle at 2:56 PM on July 15, 2008


"I will say that some psychologists/psychiatrists have told me they have seen it multiple times with patients. One doc told me that with twins of differing genders, sexual relations were practically expected."

I've known two sets of differing-gender twins. During their teen years (one set I went to school with, the other I know through family friends), I (and at least 4 other people) were almost certain they were having a sexual relationship with their sibling because of the way they acted towards each other: subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) body language, allusions to or insinuations of such a relationship, and jealousy bordering on hostility to those who would flirt with either of the twins.

Given what "[o]ne doc" said, has anyone else ever witnessed or suspected the same behavior?

As for same-sex twins, the fetish is alive and well...just google it for abundant evidence.
posted by seldom seen cid at 3:00 PM on July 15, 2008


consensual sexual relationships with their mothers

No one wants to hear "get in line" when making ribald sexual innuendo about mother of the person you're talking to. Or the sister, for that matter.
posted by maxwelton at 3:05 PM on July 15, 2008


Yeah, despite my skepticism at the idea that considerably more than 50% of siblings sexually experiment with each other (without regard to the sex of the siblings), I'm completely on board the cross gender twin gettin' freaky train. First because, well, AWESOME. Second, there has got to be a reason it's so common in fiction. And I don't mean porno.
posted by Justinian at 3:10 PM on July 15, 2008


TheWhiteSkull: you make a good point, but I suspect there is a simpler explanation as to why disgust did not prevent incest among the Ptolemies or among European royalty. Let me ask two questions:

Would you marry a brother/sister if doing so would make you God-King/God-Queen of Egypt?

Would you marry a brother/sister if doing so would cement a great power alliance, preventing a war that would kill tens of thousands of people?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:32 PM on July 15, 2008


Related, I have two close friends (of 20 years) I am convinced had long term, consensual sexual relationships with their mothers.

Ynoxas, no offense, but are you going on anything other than instinct there, (because that's a pretty serious thing to imply)? And I've encountered a few people who say they've known brother/sister pairs who've gotten sexually involved and a few people who've made joking references to people who they think might be capable of it, but on an instictual level, the idea is just ...wrong. Not wrong in the 'killing people' is wrong sense, but wrong in the drinking your own pee sense. One is wrong because it harms people, the other is wrong in that if you want to do it despite all the stigmas against it, there's probably something wrong with you sense.
posted by jonmc at 3:39 PM on July 15, 2008


I'm an only child, gay man, and the idea of brother-sister sex has a definite "ick" factor to me, although if consenting adults want to do it, it's none of my business. But the idea of sex between same sex siblings doesn't bother me much at all. I'm not sure if that's an unconscious pro-gay bias on my part, or just because there is no potential for reproduction there. In any case, I suspect I would not be so OK with the idea if I actually had a brother!
posted by mahamandarava at 3:53 PM on July 15, 2008


The idea of sibling relationships squicks me out a lot, but that level of squickage doesn't even approach how horribly disgusting I find the idea of parent-child relationships. Like the Dan Savage links above say, there's no way there could ever be a sexual relationship between parents and children without there being horribly unhealthy power dynamics going on. I'm not a psychologist, but I don't see how something like that could be indicative of anything but serious mental illness.
posted by Caduceus at 3:55 PM on July 15, 2008


Yeah, I think this is why so many conservatives are against gay marriage and gays in the military. They find the idea of hot, sweaty man-meat so incredibly hot and irresistible that they can't imagine how anyone else might not feel the same, and so believe making such trysts acceptable would destroy male-female relationships.

I don't think that's it either. I suspect that if you asked most gay guys, 'Hey, you ever think about humping your kid brother?' that their reaction would be similar to those of the hets here.
posted by jonmc at 3:56 PM on July 15, 2008


Rick Banks did a lecture at Stanford Law called "Why Does the Law Recognize Marriage and Restrict It As It Does," which is available on iTunes U.

He talked about incest laws and also showed a video of a half brother and half sister who were in a sexual relationship with each other. They live together as a monogamous couple. I think they were well into their adulthood at taping.

The half sister was talking about how there were A LOT of people in the same situation she and her brother were in.

I had a hard time believing that that was true. I feel like it was one of those statements that someone uses to normalize/make them feel better about their experience. When there are so many people who are still getting used to interracial relationships in the U.S., I just don't see how getting it on with a relative being cool with the parents.
posted by onepapertiger at 3:59 PM on July 15, 2008


The idea of sibling relationships squicks me out a lot, but that level of squickage doesn't even approach how horribly disgusting I find the idea of parent-child relationships. Like the Dan Savage links above say, there's no way there could ever be a sexual relationship between parents and children without there being horribly unhealthy power dynamics going on. I'm not a psychologist, but I don't see how something like that could be indicative of anything but serious mental illness.

It's narrow minded bigotry like that which prevented my marriage to my mother after I killed my father.
posted by tkchrist at 5:20 PM on July 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Can I call you 'Oed?'
posted by jonmc at 5:23 PM on July 15, 2008


Today, on the After School Special ...
posted by bwg at 5:39 PM on July 15, 2008


LORRAINE: This is all wrong. I don't know what it is but when I kiss you ... it's like kissing ... my brother. I guess that doesn't make any sense, does it?

MARTY: Believe me, it makes perfect sense.
posted by bwg at 5:42 PM on July 15, 2008


so was i the only one who wanted luke to hook up with princess leia so then he would have to kill himself?

and another pop-culture reference to incest in this episode of American Dad (at about 13:35).
posted by bilgepump at 5:43 PM on July 15, 2008


Daniel my brother you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won't heal


Another Elton John song, ruined.
posted by bwg at 5:52 PM on July 15, 2008


"Oeddie?"
posted by jonmc at 6:49 PM on July 15, 2008


Ynoxas, no offense, but are you going on anything other than instinct there

None taken, and of course I have nothing else to go on. What would I have to go on? Any "proof" would have had the parents hauled away to jail, even though one appeared to have carried on even after turning 18.

I've never made these allegations to the people, how would you? But others have noticed the same thing, and commented on the "strangeness" of their family dynamics, but just not explicitly said "they're banging their mom".

At my college, the Dean of one of the departments got hauled away in handcuffs due to a long-term sexual relationship with his daughter, who was in her 20's, but it started when she was still a minor. If I recall, the daughter didn't want to press charges.

The FBI came and tore up the carpet out of his office because some of their liaisons were in his office, and they were looking for fluids, which I thought was unnecessary since both admitted it when confronted, and both said it was consensual.

So this sort of thing happens. And not just in backwoods shacks. Something like this you have to think probably not 1 out of 100 is ever disclosed or discovered.

Sibling sexual relationships are practically never reported in the news, even though it is likely much more common than parent-child due to the ages of all involved. I mean, do you call the cops when you catch 12 year old Jane touching 11 year old brother John's penis? Probably not.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:35 PM on July 15, 2008


Would you marry a brother/sister if doing so would make you God-King/God-Queen of Egypt?

Would I marry *MY* brother if doing so would make me G-d Queen of Egypt?

Hell no. My brother creeps me out on levels that have nothing to do with any social taboos. The man is a sociopath! Seriously!

In this hypothetical situation, I need to have a different hypothetical brother. Who looks like Johnny Depp.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:49 PM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I slept with them both and neither were any good.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:54 PM on July 15, 2008


Dear Ms. Anderson,

May I call you Gillian? It has come to my attention that you and I may, in fact, be siblings. Please note:

1) We're roughly the same age, close enough to easily be brother and sister.

2) We were both born in Canada.

3) Neither of us has naturally red hair.

Based on this overwhelming (albeit circumstantial!) evidence, we should have a family get-together. I suggest the Everett La Quinta, room 219.

Best regards,

M
posted by maxwelton at 8:24 PM on July 15, 2008


I know a guy who not only is not squicked by incest, until the discussion where it came up, was actually unaware that there was such a taboo. I believe he was 20 at the time. How he managed this I do not know.
posted by Arturus at 8:41 PM on July 15, 2008


To answer grumblebee's question: I don't get a squicky feeling thinking about the prospect of sex with my brother, just the same kind of "no, thanks" I get thinking about other people to whom I don't feel sexually attracted.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have an odd memory from when I was thirteen or so. My brother and I had been lounging around talking about sex and various other topics related to growing up. We hung out for a while on my brother's bed, each with an arm over the other. It was an oddly charged half hour or so. It sure seems like there must have been a sexual component to it, but I also think it was at least as much the direct opposite -- something like "Considering all this, we're probably getting too old to snuggle like this now, bummer."

You are all, of course, welcome to think there's something wrong with me.
posted by tangerine at 8:41 PM on July 15, 2008


What's the fun of castigating someone if they welcome you to do it?
posted by Caduceus at 9:20 PM on July 15, 2008


I definitely get squicked thinking of having sex with my siblings, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I'm the oldest by several years.

The ones I know well are still minors (I have a half sister out there somewhere who's over 18 now) but I don't think the feeling of having way too much advantage over them would ever change. I have some domme tendencies, too, but a whole-hearted power imbalance with one of them, if say, I had a domme shop and they came as a client, would also be totally wrong. That is so weird to even conceptualize. It is mixing power and filial devotion in an untenable way.

I guess they all also fall conveniently under the half plus seven rule for now.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:11 PM on July 15, 2008


Grumblebee: I have no siblings and the thought of brother/sister incest doesn't evoke anything from me either. I suspect I might feel differently if I did have siblings. If it's not abusive I don't see the problem, I guess. I do think that in a lot of situations it would be difficult to say there isn't some power disparity involved, but I think that surely it isn't always the case.
posted by Nattie at 10:27 PM on July 15, 2008


I have no objections to incest whatsoever, as long as it isn't with my immediate family.
posted by dhartung at 10:39 PM on July 15, 2008


This seems like a good place to (re)post this, so I'll do it.
posted by converge at 11:01 PM on July 15, 2008


THEY JUST WANNA BE LOVED!!! IS THAT SO WRONG???

Oh. Yeah. It is.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:43 PM on July 15, 2008


I thought her story was very sweet. And kudos to her for having the guts to tell it, even anonymously ... people do get arrested for consensual incest, and they do get jail time for it. In some parts of the U.S., the prison sentence for that can be up to 100 years -- I believe that's the law in Montana, for example. So, the actual incidence of it is, understandably, not well documented.

It's difficult even to talk about indirectly. Something I wrote on this topic has been published, and when my gf's parents came across it, they apparently took her aside and had a talk with her about me. Can we say awkward?

The subject is a minefield for anyone not on the "always against it" side. Most immediate-relative incest is, frankly, rape, and many psychologists assert that all of it is rape. Power dynamics can make sometimes consent questionable even when both parties swear it is consensual. Inbreeding -- which is not the same as incest, as this article demonstrates -- is a whole other kettle of fish that is simultaneously a real problem and something that provokes massive overreaction. And, as this thread shows, a lot of people are just deeply disturbed by the very idea of incest on a very basic level.

But not everyone is disturbed by it. And not everyone experiences the Westermarck effect. And not all of it is rape.

Sometimes even siblings really do just fall in love.
posted by kyrademon at 6:38 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


There was a period of time (not too long) in the teens when I was overwhelmed with hormones and a lack of available/compatible women at my school (my class was 180 strong, which I only found out after graduation was extremely small, and then it all made sense), when I used to try to sneak into my sister's bedroom late at night and feel her up (1 year younger). That's as far as it ever got and to be honest I have no idea if she knew, and eventually that urge passed (outgrew it?) and we are both fairly well-adjusted now.

My mother has made some "odd" comments regarding putting the thermometer in my sphincter when I was much littler. Like I seemed to enjoy it, or something? Well, I am still loathe to experiment around the whole prostate thing, and I'm pretty darn straight, but it was odd.

I know friends who I very strongly suspect had some weird sexual experiences with their immediate siblings, parents, or both. One in particular (a very hot blonde) probably had both.

People like to throw around the term "abuse of power dynamics" as a reason why these sorts of things are wrong, but I would argue that ANY "legitimate" relationship has in fact a stalemated "abuse of power dynamics", does it not? Isn't there a power component in pretty much ALL relationships, sexual or otherwise? Which kind of neuters that argument, I think.

Surprisingly, I don't see anyone who has mentioned the "genetic sexual attraction" phenomenon (feel free to google, I'm at work), which is what sometimes happens when there is enough sibling separation to not have the Westermarck effect kick in. I feel really bad for these folks, as their attraction issues seem overridingly powerful. Should we blame the lack of sophistication in our own genes of preventing these attractions, or the people involved? I think the former.

Resisting sexual urges of the inappropriate or troublesome kind is such a lifelong PITA... ;)
posted by Lectrick at 10:15 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Surprisingly, I don't see anyone who has mentioned the "genetic sexual attraction" phenomenon

I believe this was mentioned by at least 3 people already.

Hey, it's a long thread.
posted by Justinian at 10:42 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I had sex with my brother..."

Obvious troll is obvious.

Lurk moar.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:57 PM on July 16, 2008


Really? Nobody else is gonna do this? [Ahem] JE-RRY! JE-RRY! JE-RRY!
posted by mattholomew at 9:39 AM on July 20, 2008


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