Given our present situation, it is extremely common for people to participate in sexual activities. People as young as 10-12 years old tend to begin exploring their sexuality and learn more about their feelings and bodily responses to touch.
As humans, it is most natural of us to seek love and care, which sometimes is expressed in the form of physical intimacy. Speaking of person-person chemistry, an ideally acceptable situation is one where two unrelated individuals find love in each other and decide to be together.
While most of us have become open to embracing romances and love marriages, what happens when two persons who are related to one another end up engaging in physical intimacy? It that something we are open to accepting, or trying to understand despite modernism?
Theoretically saying, Incest refers to sexual activity taking place between family members or close relatives. These individuals may be related either by blood, or could be belonging to the same clan or lineage among others. It is an English word that derives from incestus, a Latin term that generally means “impure or unchaste“.
Despite there being consent, incest continues to be a cultural taboo, and is often labeled a victimless crime where both parties willingly became sexually intimate with one another as each party prioritised their attraction for the other, over and above the blood/family equation that they happen to share.
In a nutshell, Incest includes:
Sexual touching or non-touching;
Anal or vaginal intercourse;
Verbal seduction or abuse;
The last few of the above points brings us to an important question: When incestual relationships are said to be consensual in nature, can one ever compare it to sexual abuse?
The answer is: YES.
A study by Protected Paths revealed that about 75-80% individuals involved in incest had been previously molested by a known person which includes family members and relatives.
Deepa (name changed) says:
“I am in a relationship with my brother. I know it’s weird and abnormal, and what makes it worse is the fact that we share the same parents. It started with watching porn together, and before we could even process what was happening, we found ourselves getting sexually intimate.”
That however, was not all. There was more to Deepa’s story. When probed further, she added:
“Actually, he is 5 years elder to me. When he was 14 and I was about 9, he would come into my room at night and touch me all over. He would say we were playing the husband-wife game, and that is what a husband does to his wife.”
Deepa, like many others out there was unaware that she was being sexually abused. As being touched everywhere by her brother was something she found to be acceptable behavior, establishing a relationship with him altogether never made her uncomfortable.
This brings us to the fact that sexual relationships between family members or blood relatives may not always stem from attraction. They can at times, also amount to abuse i.e., the abuse may end up triggering consent. In such cases, the abuser is ideally the older person (be it a parent, sibling, or relative).
While some of the now consensual sexual relationships between family members may have started off as abuse, there are incestual bonds where consent was involved since the very beginning. This is where GSA i.e., Genetic Sexual Attraction, as well as romantic relationships among kinfolk come into picture.
GSA, or Genetic Sexual Attraction takes place between 2 family members who first meet one another as adults. It happens typically with adopted children who discover their biological parents and come into contact with them after having attained adulthood.
Janey Lloyd Lewis, an adoption counsellor based in the UK has been counselling adopted adults for about 18 years now. An adoptee herself and having experienced GSA, as well as meeting multiple clients in similar situations brought her to explore and create an information pack about the concept of Genetic Sexual Attraction.
Being no stranger to the feelings and emotions GSA can create, here is what Janie had to say:
“I finally traced my birth mother; it was undeniably the most exciting, emotional, surreal feeling I’ve ever, ever had before since that feeling of intense love was very, very, very sensual. Just the touch of her when we hugged, and I think more than anything else it was the smell; it just was familiar, even though I’d been separated from her since birth.”
She (Janie) further said: “It’s not abnormal to have these feelings, but of course it is devastating when the boundaries are broken and both sides do develop into having a sexual relationship, because sadly they not only probably destroy any future relationship for those around them.”
The conception of a sexual relationship between 2 family members may not necessarily begin due to abuse, or take place only with those who meet the concerned family member for the first time after many years. What about incestual bonds between kinfolk who are living or have previously lived in close proximity?
Popularly known as the Westermark Effect, it referred to family members who co-existed for a period of time or continue to live together/close to one another establishing sexual relationships with each other despite having shared their original family-based equation previously.
This effect, which also goes by the name of ‘Sexual Imprinting’ is said to be a psychological effect where both individuals, after acknowledging their biological relationship and sharing space with their family member become desensitised to sexual attraction, thereby willingly choosing to engage in sexual activity with them
For those who are unaware, you may be surprised to know that the idea of incest has existed among us for over a century now! Edvard Westermark, aFinnish Anthropologist talked about the concept in his book – The History of Human Marriages in the year as early as that of 1891.
So this tells us that incestual relationships are not a thing of today. It is rather an experience – both physical and psychological in nature that many may have had, but few have openly talked about.
As this has been with us for such a long time, yet another question asked by many is: Does being sexually intimate with a family member always equate to incest? Do people’s views about incestious relationships extend beyond blood relations?
The answer to that is: Not always.
There are various factors that go into determining whether a sexual relationship between 2 family members is incestious in nature or not. They are:
The coefficient of the relationship between both parties
Typically speaking, incest talks about physical intimacy among family members who are related by blood and share genetic make up.
The study of Genealogy i.e., genetics has multiple classifications of human relationships namely:
1st Degree Relations: Your parents, your biological siblings, and your children;
2nd Degree Relations: Your grandparents, and your grandchildren;
3rd Degree Relations: Your great-grandparents, great-grandchildren, great-uncles and aunts, as well as first cousins;
4th Degree Relations: Great-great-grandparents, great-great grandchildren, children of your first cousins, etc.
That said, fact remains that not everyone who is a part of your kin would be related to you by blood or through genes.
For example: One may include the spouse of a cousin in their family tree, but as both parties would not be biologically related, one would not deem two sexually intimate individuals sharing such a bond to be in an incestuos equation with one another.
Another factor that impacts one’s perception about incest is their religious belief systems. How an individual was brought up all their life does tend to mould their outlook towards romantic/sexual relationships with a family member.
For instance, certain religions categorise marriage to particular family members as acceptable and rather sacred. As a result, people belonging to such religions/religious groups are relatively more likely to be open to the idea of establishing sexual contact, and marriage to a member of their kin.
Culture and Environment
While most persons would find incest to be unacceptable, there are certain parts of the world that allow them, by virtue of it not being prohibited as per their law and order.
There is either NO prohibition, or NO defined law for have consensual incest (with no history of child abuse/sexual abuse) in the following regions:
Ivory Coast of Africa, the People’s Republic of China, Thailand, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Austrailia, and India.
PLEASE NOTE: This is NON-INCLUSIVE of marital laws.
As people residing in most, if not all of these parts of the globe may find it relatively easier to establish such bonds with support from the law, the existence of incestious relationships are likely to be a bigger possibility with the ones in it being able to lead peaceful lives.
While many may be a part of incestuous relationships, it continues to prevail as part of a cultural taboo even today, with people opposing it primarily as the offsprings of such couples are highly likely to be born with genetic concerns and deformities.
On one hand, lie those involved in an incest, most of who live under pressure of worldly judgement, and on the other hand lie those with their varying perceptions of it, based on their individual upbringings and outlooks.