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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A follower asked me a question, and I answered

Hi there- i hope this doesnt offend you, i dont mean to judge or anything, im genuinely curious... you post about marriage equality for siblings and such- i support full marriage equality too, even for family if its consentual and loving... but also i was ritually abused by my mother for a long time as a child so this issue is conflicting and confusing for me to think about. I dont want to assume all interfamilial romances are screwed up like my experience was- but its really hard for me to imag
Hi again- admittedly its my fault im uneducated about the subject... but sometimes its easier to hear things from a person. (Its hard for me to go out and actively search for family anything without getting triggered) but im polyamorous so if i want marriage equality it would be the height of hypocracy to deny it to amyone else. Okay im seriously going now. Lol. Marriage solidarity! (And sorry again if i was rude- im trying to understand and overcome any misconsceptions i have)
My answer:
Don't worry. It's fine.
This is actually something I think really hard about. I understand your confusion on the issue, emotionally. I also think that it makes you an even more virtuous person for standing by your principles. I've found that some of the most violent opponents of marriage equality for consanguinamorous couples are those who experienced familial sexual abuse. (I saw one guy on a forum actually say that allies like me should be thrown in jail.) I'm really sorry you had to go through that, and I want to make clear that I have no emotional confusion about sexual abuse being horrendous, and in need of legal punishment.
I assume you've read the case studies posted by me and Full Marriage Equality? In case you missed it, I have a list of my own most relevant posts. First of all, the taboo itself isn't about protecting children. That's not where it came from, and it's not why the laws came into existence in the late 1800s. Just look at the gross things people feel and you can see it yourself. I replied a while back to someone's concerns over normalizing child abuse, which I think isn't a problem because in some ways our society already does that. (It's the one common concern that I actually take seriously.)
If we want to stop child abuse, we should focus on child abuse, and not pick some secondary characteristic which may not be associated with abuse at all. For one, it seems that there may be more cases of consensual sexual contact than non-consensual, but it gets reported much less for obvious reasons. Also, statistics on victims show that non-relatives who have intimate authority are the most likely to be abusers, such as step-parents, boyfriends/girlfriends of family, teachers, etc.
A perfect example of how confused people are about how it all works, is that people are more accepting of sibling consanguinamory than parent/adult child consanguinamory, yet psychologists and therapists have started to realize that sexual abuse by siblings is far more common than by parents. Even still, we have some data which shows that only a minority of sexual contact between siblings is non-consensual (about 4-5% of the population, given about 15% have had some kind of contact with a sibling, including just experimentation). What does that say about consensual relationships with parents in the population? Not sure, there's barely any data on sibling consanguinamory as it is.
This is actually part of why I think the taboo and the laws are harmful to victims of familial sexual abuse. Can abusive, dysfunctional behavior be understood without its healthy, functional correlate? If we knew absolutely nothing about the sex lives of happily married couples, would we have any context for understanding serial rapists? In the same vein, the cultural and academic silence around adult, healthy, consensual relationships between family and relatives creates a canyon of ignorance that distorts and blinds any attempts at understanding - and thus detecting, controlling, preventing, and treating - familial sexual abuse and rape. (Step-family relationships get plenty of residual stigma from the taboo, and sometimes are even illegal.)
In addition, the taboo is just distracting from the real issue, and I think acts as an extra harm by adding to the sex-negative cultural environment that victims are exposed to, and which they internalize. When your mother abused you, did you feel ashamed because there were sexual acts going on with your mother? Not just that you were being sexually used, but sexually used by a family member? When people express disgust at the idea of consensual "incest", do you feel that somehow that disgust is directed at you too? If you've ever felt that way, then you have personal proof that the taboo was used unconsciously to attack and shame you, a victim. And clearly it didn't work on stopping your mother.
Who's the taboo for then? Taboos exist to discourage willing participants from engaging in socially unacceptable behavior. People who disregard the boundaries and psychological well-being of their own children are probably not the kind of people to care too much about whether they're a "bad person" by society's standards. Rapists find ways of justifying it to themselves, or ignoring the moral consequences.
What I'm getting at is, the taboo was never meant to help you, and in its attempt at attacking consenting adults, it also attacks non-consenting children. It just gives them one more thing to feel ashamed about. Think of all the little boys who were abused by men, who were shamed by their abusers into silence with the idea that being raped somehow meant they were "gay". In a society where homosexuality is understood from an early age to be an okay thing, such ideas and threats have little psychological power to harm. Blind sex-negative mores, frequently used to abuse consenting sexual minorities, become the weapons of abusers to psychologically manipulate their victims.
I'll impart some of the psychological insight I've picked up, even if it lacks the backing of sufficient published research (because almost no academic cares or is brave enough to pursue it). (Which I'm working on!)
There's an argument - a decent one actually - that familial sexual abuse is related to improper bonding. (This part, since it deals with sexual abuse, has some actual academic backing.) Parent/child bonding in social animals, especially primates, is very important to emotional development. Some people who are sensitive to this absence don't develop the proper emotional abilities to bond with people, adults or children. This translates into them repeating the sexual abuse with their own children. The argument is, because their bonding with their own children is disrupted, and they lacked proper attachment with their own parents, the normal evolved psychological inhibitions don't kick in. Desexualization of family comes from the attachments built during play and care-giving. When that attachment is improper, those inhibitions don't develop either.
I don't completely buy the argument, in part just because I think it simplifies some things away. For example, desexualization would only matters from an evolutionary perspective for adolescents. There is no evolutionary reason for adults to feel any sexual feeling for pre-pubescent children, and in nature adult primates do not seek out sexual contact with pre-sexual young at all. Since so much familial sexual abuse happens with pre-pubescent children, there must be something further going on. After all, the parents aren't just feeling sexual attraction, they're acting on it, regardless of their child's positive or negative reactions. Many abusers even seem clinically narcissistic.
The fact is, even the best explanations don't properly explain why familial sexual abuse happens, because they have no understanding of consensual sex and sexual attraction inside families. Freud was bunk, but I'm not sure Westermarck was completely right either. Humans are apes, but we're also very bizarre apes, physically and behaviorally. The rape of pre-pubescent children just doesn't happen outside of humans.
One of the primary reasons why I question the idea of mal-attachment as the primary explanation for familial abuse, is that in most of the cases of consanguinamorous relationships I've heard of, read about, etc., they actually have abnormally strong attachment and intimacy. I don't know if you've gone through some of the cases on FME's blog. I've also read accounts elsewhere.
On some occasions, there was a lack of intimacy growing up, which later sexual and romantic intimacy seems to make up for and heal. (It's thought by some who study GSA that reunited family members experience such a desire, but I feel like that's flimsy.) The usual case is normal attachment and intimacy, even to an extreme point. With sibling couples who grew up together, it frequently sounds like the very best of childhood friends who were practically mind-melded from the day they met.
With parent/adult child relationships, it frequently seems like the aging of their child is key in the parent seeing them as a possible sexual or romantic partner. In emotionally healthy families with proper early attachment, children become increasingly emotionally and economically independent as they get older, and their parents contribute to this. This independence and autonomy, and the social maturity and status is brings, change the relationship between children and parents. Good parents respect their children already, and raise them to be adults worthy of respect. Children in healthy households earn their parents respect as they mature.
Thus, in healthy households, there's more mutual respect between adult parents and children than in unhealthy ones. I think this, even given the fact that effective parents are the kind of people who actually accumulated wisdom with age, and so are more deserving of continued deference even beyond childhood. For example, I've read stories of fathers and daughters, where the daughters practically had to yell in their ears, demanding sex, because their fathers were exercising so much restraint. Such behavior is clearly the opposite of what is exhibited by fathers in unhealthy, abusive families.
In healthy, consensual relationships, there's frequently a synthesis of roles and emotions going on. Just evolutionarily, we have (usually) a set of bonding emotions for kin, which drive us to spend time with them and care for them, and we have a set of bonding emotions for mates, which produce similar behavior but also usually have sexual associations. Both types of attachment produce different types of intimacy. People in sexual relationships with family frequently don't experience one or the other of these, but both simultaneously. When they're having sex, they're experiencing it as a romantic bonding act, and as a familial bonding act. The idea is bizarre to outsiders, but it's a pattern seen over and over.
Interestingly, with parents it's frequently less romantic, and more familial. (This may have to do with the inherent separation in generations and social groups created by age and status, which makes it easier to maintain familial role distinctions even in the midst of a sexual relationship.) It's pretty common for those who have sexual relationships with a parent to become more intimate with them, but to not see them as a full romantic partner. They go on to get married and have a full romantic relationship with someone else, but may continue their sexual relationship with their parent, because they see them as emotionally distinct and thus non-competitive. (Basically, because they still see their father as just their father during sex, it doesn't feel like cheating that much to them, and vice versa.)
Relationships with familial parents tend to be more "family with benefits", while sibling relationships have a greater tendency to veer into full-on romance. However, parent/child relationship can become romantic as well, and the increasing equality between parents and children as children mature is a major factor in the potential for romance. (There are also siblings with "family with benefits" relationships too, though sometimes just because the social consequences and taboo make them actively stunt the development of their own romantic intimacy.)
Also, the healthiest sexual relationships between family members seem to occur in families that are already healthy (i.e. supportive, loving, respectful, empathetic, etc.). When it comes to parent/child relationships, if the parent is a good parent, and expresses a non-possessive, selfless love, then that selflessness and unconditionality will usually be transferred to a sexual relationship, and even to a romantic relationship. Basically, the personality traits that make someone a good parent (which means wielding authority benevolently) are also the ones that make having a healthy sexual relationship with their own adult children possible - even with the continuation of some power differential, since they've already demonstrated their ability to restrain the use of their authority for the benefit of others.
When the relationship does become fully romantic, the synthesis of familial bonding and intimacy, with romantic bonding and intimacy, leads to those involved feeling levels of closeness and love which are so overpowering that they find it difficult to describe in words. It's such a unique experience that outsiders have trouble comprehending it, and our language lacks words for it. (I've coined the word "erostorgia" for it.) It's the simultaneous experience of our two most powerful evolved emotions for bonding. As you can see, it seems in almost every way to be the complete opposite of what happens psychologically with familial sexual abuse.
Of course, this whole time I've been explicitly talking about familial relationships only. This means anyone who one grows up with from an early age as family, since psychologically they're all equivalent. GSA relationships are psychologically very different, and much easier to understand. Without growing up together as family, no attachment bonds are formed, and no sexual aversion develops for those specific people. When they reunite, they just see each other as normal human beings. It's extremely common for such people to say that no matter how many psychological hoops they jump through, they can't condition themselves emotionally to see the other person as family.
Many people also experience an immediate, visceral and overwhelming attraction which many think is rooted in an evolutionary preference for people with similar genes. I think this theory makes a lot of sense, but can't be completely the case, since some reunited family experience normal levels of attraction, and even when there is a seemingly unconscious reaction, it's rarely for more than one or two people. It's not uncommon for someone to be reunited with a bunch of family members, and to only feel attraction to one. Their attraction for that one person, however, may be overwhelming to a point beyond what's felt by people for unrelated mates.
Unfortunately, even though GSA relationships are between people who are not socially family, and thus are socially equivalent to any other kind of non-kin romance, taboos and laws apply to them just the same. Because of the rise in divorce and adoption, and the fact that people are much more likely to be attracted to kin if they're not family, GSA relationships are likely the majority of all long-term relationships with kin. Taboos and laws blindly apply to them, as well as to relationships with step-family and adopted family. It's ridiculous. How can both of those groups be prohibited, and still have the prohibition be logically consistent? Is it familial social status that's important, or genetic relationship? Psychologically, neither. The taboo is muddled and blunt, and the laws reflect the taboo.
I do think there's a complex of genes involved in the development of sexual inhibition during development. That means certain mutations will lead to some people having much stronger, or much weaker inhibitions. For example, I know a brother and sister who are involved, who are both attracted to their mother and their aunt. When they told me that, I laughed and said they were the poster children for the non-universality of the Westermarck effect.
What does this mean for sexual abuse? Well, given that child sexual abuse of non-family doesn't follow the patterns of normal sexual behavior anyway, not that much. Simply removing the inhibition isn't enough. Yes, mal-attachment may disrupt the parent's inhibition for sexual contact with their child, but the motivation to abuse their child probably comes from a psychological dysfunction which commonly caused the bad attachment parenting and lack of respect for child boundaries.
I'm saying, lack of sexual aversion isn't enough to motivate sexual abuse. I'm sure some abusers, particularly among those that abuse pubescent family, may be among those who naturally lack sexual inhibitions for family. However, that would be meaningless if it wasn't also accompanied with a psychological propensity for rape. Thus, the fact that the victim was family would be almost incidental (except for the fact that such close and socially obligated victims are prime targets for abuse).
The thing is, I think in both the consanguinamorous group, and the sexually abusive group, there are many who should genetically be programmed to experience aversion to sex with family, but for some reason don't experience it. In the abusive group this lack of aversion may very well be due to mal-attachment behavior. In the consanguinamorous group, it's very complicated.
For one, sometimes people in such relationships do experience aversion, just not for their partner. For example, the brother from ataleof2siblings has said that even though he acknowledges that his other sisters are very beautiful, and should be sexually attractive by his own standards, he doesn't see them sexually and only sees them as his sisters. He is very attracted to his sister-partner though, and sees her as his wife. They'd been sexually playing uninterrupted since they were pre-pubescent, which may have something to do with why they never developed non-sexual emotional associations of each other.
In others, it's common to experience if not aversion, at least complete indifference, until some moment comes along that allows them to sidestep whatever mechanisms are in their brain, and suddenly see their family member as a sexual being. I've written about it before. If that's the case as it seems, then our psychological complexity, and our romantic bonding emotions, would make us more capable of sexual attraction for family than other primates, or than would be expected from our genes.
I don't know if you've seen it, but I've written a pamphlet for the family of consanguinamorous siblings, and I think you might find it helpful. It talks about other issues, like children, historical precedence, and such.
I'd like to add some comments I've left on FME's blog, because they're related to all this:
"Grooming is child abuse. Period. A parent's first priority should always be being the best parent possible for their child, and ensuring their child develops properly into a competent, functional, social adult. Raising one's children merely for one's own sexual/emotional gratification is [narcissistic], and a clear violation of a parent's primary duty to their children. Some issues are complex. This one isn't."
"If I wasn't clear enough: grooming should be against the law. It should be punishable by jail time. I consider it a form of emotional rape. There's nothing "loving" about it. It's manipulative and exploitative. This actually shows why our current laws are so stupid: consensual adult acts are criminalized, but grooming - when the child is not sexually "reaped" until adulthood - is not, itself, criminalized. If I had my way, I would reverse the legality of those two."
"Child [sexual] abuse is always a concern with any [preferably non-sexual] adult/child relationship. It's an unfortunate - and horrible - fact of life. There are plenty of cases where, without grooming, a parent and adult child have entered into a sexual relationship. The trick is to openly look at the healthy relationships, compare them to the unhealthy relationships, figure out what the difference is, what was done right and wrong, and then pass laws that criminalize only the abusive relationships, and not the healthy ones. I'm not denying that it gets complicated when it comes to parents and [adult] children, but it's not opaque."
In case you're ever ready to read some personal accounts, I'll provide some for you. I can understand if it's not something you're ready for yet. Also, it's common in the comments for people to get inspired to tell their own stories, so you might want to check them (though there are some pretty dumb comments too, being the internet and all).
Brother/Sister: video1, video2, video3video4video5, video6text1, text2, text3 (a pansexual poly* triad), the rest can be found in my pamphlet.
Brother/Brother: text1, text3, text4, text5.
Sister/Sister: text1, text2.
Uncle/Niece: video.
Father/Daughter: video1, video2video3text1, text2, text3, text4 (I actually know her), text6.
Mother/Son: text1, text2, text3text4 (a poly* triad), text5, text6.
Also, I think these movies could help you understand.
This is actually the most extensive knowledge on consensual sex and romance between relatives and family that currently exists. I'm not being hyperbolic; the state of human knowledge on this subject is pathetic. Some dude on the internet is borderline the world's top expert. It makes me laugh. I can say that this is literally the single least understood aspect of human psychology. An aspect of human sexuality which has been massively politically and economically influential throughout history, and which may have a larger role in changing society than homosexuality, has no major academic interested in it.
I hope that, whatever your question was, this answered it. At the very least you're more educated now.

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