This is for the benefit of friends or family of romantically involved siblings, who may have recently discovered their secret. Though I’ve used “incest” in the title, I won’t continue to use the terms “incest” or “incestuous,” I will use “consanguinamory” and “consanguineous” (pronounced “con-sang-gwin-am-or-ee” and “con-sang-gwin-ee-us). “Incest” is too loaded a word for intelligent discussion, and I only ever use it for sexual abuse. If I say “consanguinamory”, assume I am talking about consensual sex. (I’m going to assume that the couple is opposite-sex, but most of this also applies for same-sex couples.) Remember: there’s a difference between love and abuse.
This might be long, but bear with me. All of your concerns are about to be addressed. If you truly love them, you will have the patience to read this.
First, stop and take a breath. I know that this must be a lot to take in. I seriously doubt that you’ve ever sat down to consider the possibility of this happening. I don’t expect you to be calm, but I do expect you to care enough about their well-being to seriously consider what I’m about to say.
Did you discover them accidentally? If so, talk to them individually – with an open mind – and make sure that there was no coercion. Ignore the taboo nature of what you just found out. If you have no evidence of coercion or manipulation, then do not try to project abuse where there is none, and do not force them to internalize your own sense of what’s “taboo.” Why would you ever want to burden them with so much unnecessary guilt and shame? Talk to them together, and get the story from them, calmly. See how they act together. Remember to treat them with respect, especially if they’re already adults; it’s what you would want for yourself.
Did they come out to you on their own? Then there’s even less chance that there was any coercion involved. In fact, coming out to you is one of the bravest and most trusting gifts they could ever give you. Not only is their love extremely taboo, but even if they are adults, in most places on Earth they could be thrown in jail, possibly for the rest of their lives. You could get them thrown in jail. Every person they tell is a potential threat who could ruin their lives forever, getting them locked up for years and permanently placed on the sex-offender registry. And yet, despite all that, they told you. They could have lied – it wouldn’t have been easy, but they could have – but they told you. However much you thought they trusted and loved you, they just proved that their true trust and love is greater.
If they say that it’s consensual, and there’s no evidence it isn’t – especially if they came forward on their own – how can you still assume that no person could consent to it? How can you possibly disrespect their intelligence and agency so much? Have you ever had any other reason to doubt that they are of sound mind and soul? Then why should this one thing counteract years of personal experience? Did they hurt anyone? Of course not. If you think there must be something wrong, it’s because that’s the story society has been spoon-feeding you.
Consider: if one of them was adopted – if they weren’t genetically related – would you still feel as uncomfortable as you do? Because if you wouldn’t, then there’s no good reason for your discomfort now; socially, whether adopted or not, their relationship would be the same. If they weren’t even raised together, then in no way are they family, though they are blood relatives. Ignore for a moment the particular, taboo nature of their relationship. Just consider them as individual people. If your daughter/sister/friend was dating a man like her brother, knowing everything you do about him, would you be displeased, or happy? If your son/brother/friend were dating a woman like his sister, knowing everything you do about her, would you be upset, or glad?
If you are their parent, unless you’ve done an awful job of raising them, my guess is that, before you found out, you were quite proud of them. Well, they’re the same people now, the same people who made you proud. Wouldn’t you want your daughter to date a man who made you as proud as your son? Wouldn’t you want your son to date a woman who made you as proud as your daughter? Aren’t they more to you, and to each other, than just their genes?
- MENTAL HEALTH
Society has taught you to feel a certain way about consanguinamory. It was handed to you, and you accepted it without much thought. You’ve probably never met anyone who was openly sexually involved with a close family member. This has allowed you to go around without seriously considering what such a relationship might look like, how it could work, and how you should feel about it. It has allowed you to absorb the limited perspective put out by the media, giving you a narrow, stereotyped view of what’s possible. You have been listening to only one side of the story your whole life.
"Westermarck suggested that humans have an inclination to prevent other people from behaving in ways they would not themselves behave. On this view, left-handers were in the past forced to adopt the habits of right-handers because the right-handers found left-handers disturbing. In the same way, those who were known to have had sexual intercourse with close kin were discriminated against."
Just because you don’t know that you’ve met such a couple before, doesn’t mean that you haven’t met one. In fact, as you follow your family tree further and further back in time, the probability that you will find at least one consanguineous couple approaches 100%. Self-reported surveys have found that as much as 10% of college students have had consensual sexual contact with a sibling (mostly childhood experimentation). (If we extrapolate this to the whole population, this equates to about 30 million people in the U.S.) The fact that a couple is related tells you exactly nothing about what their relationship is like, nor whether it is consenting or not, nor whether it is fulfilling or not. Each of those things is independent of their blood relationship.
The cultural stereotype of such relationships is that they are dysfunctional, self-destructive, and abusive; anyone who willingly participates must somehow be mentally ill. Besides this view being incredibly condescending, it also has no meaningful basis. What is considered “healthy” and “unhealthy” changes, and is very subjective. On what standard are we to decide what constitutes mental “illness?” Is it that they’re doing something they know society disapproves of? I don’t think any reasonable person thinks we should use the preconceptions of the majority to decide what constitutes mental illness. It must be, then, that the behavior is self-destructive, or causes them to destroy the lives of others.
Do you see anything indicating that those things are happening? Aside from their experience of bigotry, do they seem unusually disturbed? Are they lashing out at themselves, at each other, or at you? Are they unable to operate normally in a social environment? If not, then you have no reason to think they are any less mentally healthy than before. In fact, their love may have made them healthier, by bringing them fulfillment and peace.
“From a scientific perspective, we do not know what constitutes normal childhood sexual behavior or feelings. […] Sexual behavior varies drastically among different groups of people due to their moral beliefs, values, social class, and culture. Sexual feelings and behaviors also vary widely among youth due to individual differences and variations in development. […] Some of the behaviors mentioned above are harmful. However, many are socially unacceptable because they would be classified as immoral or indecent by many people, not because they are harmful.”
As I’ve said, you’ve probably already met a consanguineous couple. They couldn’t have stood out as any more dysfunctional than the average couple, or you would have become suspicious that something was wrong. Unfortunately, prejudice keeps people in the closet, which perpetuates ignorance, which itself perpetuates prejudice. You have been given the rare opportunity to examine your own assumptions, and break your own cycle of prejudice. Most people have never gotten that chance.
The “pedophile” label has long been used to brand sexual minorities as deviants, as threats to society and to our children. Homosexuality has long been heavily attacked as pedophilic, and in the past when people had limited experience with open, healthy same-sex relationships, they believed the propaganda. Now that so many homosexual couples are out in the open, we realize that there is a clear difference between the consenting majority, and the predatory minority.
Even today, opponents of legal rights for homosexuals try to brand the gay rights agenda as pro-pedophilia. There is a homophobic Neo-Nazi “vigilante” group in Russia called “Occupy Pedophilia,” but it isn’t pedophiles they’re targeting: they target young gay men. They go around torturing them, sometimes to death, and use “fighting pedophilia” as their implicit justification.
It is the same for consanguinamory. The vast majority of cases that come to light are the most unhealthy. (In the previously quoted summary of studies, only 30% of respondents answered that their reaction to sexual contact with a sibling was “negative.” Of that 30%, 25% were non-consensual. The remaining 5% may be due to stigma and shame.) Those in healthy, fulfilling relationships never come forward, and we only see them in the news when they are caught and thrown in jail.
The consanguinamorous are lumped in with a predatory minority, and because of the closet, the public buys it. Just because these siblings love each other, it doesn’t mean that they want to have sex with any other relatives, and it doesn’t mean that they are pedophiles. Despite the propaganda, their relationship does not automatically mean they are abusive and emotionally damaged.
Besides, so what if every other consanguineous relationship in history has been abusive and emotionally damaging? We consider people as individuals, and don’t punish them based on the sins of others. Even in murder trials, attenuating circumstances are considered. If murderers get the benefit of the doubt, if murderers get to be treated as individuals, then why not these siblings? Even if every other relationship like theirs was damaging, that doesn’t automatically mean theirs is. If they are the only loving, consenting blood-related couple in the world, then that’s all the more reason to treat them with respect and dignity.
However, they are not the only siblings to have a consenting, loving relationship. It is not some newfangled idea. Societies’ attitudes towards various sexual relationships – especially familial – have changed all throughout history. They are in illustrious company, among some of the greatest people to ever live. These are just a handful of the examples known, and there are certainly many more lost to history.
- Japanese emperor Bidatsu married his half-sister, Empress Suiko.
- Korean king Gwangjong also married his half-sister, Queen Daemok.
- Inca emperor Huayna Capac married his full-sister, Coya Cusirimay.
- Siamese king Rama married four of his half-sisters. (This was in the 1800’s, too.)
- In Bali, to this day, opposite-sex twins are considered natural soul mates, and are expected to get married.
- An aristocratic Athenian woman, Elpinice, was married to her half-brother until she divorced him and married another man to settle a family debt. Upon her death, she was buried with her brother, not her husband. In Athens, familial relation was considered to be passed on through the mother, so if two siblings did not have the same mother, they could get legally married. In Sparta, it was passed on through the father. This shows how contrived and arbitrary our concepts of “blood-relation” and “incest” are. Even now, our taboos are pre-modern.
- Because of the unique, divine status of pharaohs in Egyptian society, it was common for pharaohs to marry within their immediate family, to preserve the purity of their divine bloodline. Pharaoh Tutankhamen was both the product of a sibling marriage, and himself had a sibling as his wife.
- The practice continued under the Ptolemies, and Pharaoh Cleopatra was married to each of her brothers until they died, leaving her the sole pharaoh. By then, the practice of sibling marriage had spread to all classes of Egyptian society, providing the only case in history where full-sibling marriage was not only allowed, widespread. As much as a fifth of all marriages were sibling marriages. The practice continued under the Romans, but was eliminated by Roman pressure: the Romans refused to make anyone who married a sibling a Roman citizen. Egyptian society survived all of this sibling marriage, and is still around today. They have the same number of toes and fingers as everyone else, so clearly it was not as dangerous as the stereotype says.
- Egypt, however, was not the only place to extol such unions. In the old traditions of Zoroastrianism, consanguineous unions were seen as especially sacred, because they reflected the consanguineous creation of the first gods. The practice was called “xwēdōdah”. "According to the Pahlavi Rivāyat […], three primordial xwēdōdahs provide the mythical prototypes for the human ones. […] [The last,] that of a brother and sister producing further pairs of brothers and sisters is like that of Mašī and Mašyānī.” At one point Zoroastrianism was the most widespread and powerful religion in the world. Because of Zarathustra’s preachings, Zoroastrian rulers entered into consanguineous marriages from time to time.
- The Seleucid emperors of Iran started to marry their sisters, like the Ptolemies in Egypt. The first such empress of the Seleucid Empire was Laodice IV. She married her oldest brother, whom accounts say she loved dearly, and bore him a daughter. When he died, she married her second oldest brother, and bore him three children. When he then died, she married her youngest brother, and bore him two children. There are no records stating that any of these children were anything but healthy.
- Helena, Queen of Adiabene, came from a Zoroastrian family, and was married to her brother King Monobaz I, a vassal of the Parthian Empire of Iran. As an adult she converted to Judaism, while remaining married to her brother. She and her brother are mentioned in the Talmud for their generosity towards Judea, sending gifts to the Temple, and sending food in times of famine. She bore her brother two sons, and later in life moved to Jerusalem. Both of their sons became known as righteous kings, and friends to the Jewish people.
- Many Polynesian societies had royal families who practiced sibling marriage. Not only was it common, but the early periods of all modern societies may have been ruled by royal sibling couples.
- Like other Polynesian cultures, it was common practice in Hawai’ian society for royals to marry within their own family. The practice was actually encouraged by Hawai’ian elders. When Christian missionaries came to Hawai’i, they tried to crush the practice. The last Hawai’ian king to have a consanguineous relationship was Hawai’ian king Kamehameha III, the first Christian king of Hawai’i. However, he didn’t succumb to the wishes of the missionaries. At an early age, he had fallen in love with his sister Nahi’ena’ena, and wanted to marry her. Because of opposition by the missionaries, he did not, but he also held off marrying the preferred choice of the missionaries for many years. “Bingham learned that even after King Kamehameha III of Hawaii accepted Christian rule, he slept for several years with his sister, Princess Nahi’ena’ena — pleasing their elders but disturbing the missionaries. They did it, says historian Carando, because they loved each other.” He only married the wife favored by the missionaries after his sister had died.
- The Romantic poet Lord Byron had an affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh. The evidence points to Augusta Leigh’s third daughter Elizabeth, as being the child of Byron.
- The love between Artemisia II and her brother Mausolus was so profound, they became symbols in Greek writing of love and devotion. Mausolus was a rich Greek vassal of the Persian Empire in what is now Turkey. Under the reign of he and his sister, their territory flourished, and they built many monuments. Their final monument was so glorious, it became known as one of the seven wonders of the world: a giant tomb, to house their ashes. (It’s from “Mausolus” that we get the word “mausoleum.”) When her brother Mausolus died, Artemisia’s grief was so great that she ritually drank a bit of his ashes every day. She ruled well for two years, but eventually wasted away from sorrow. Her ashes were sealed in the Mausoleum with what remained of her brother’s. Their tomb would last for over a thousand years, amazing everyone who saw it.
- The sister of Mausolus and Artemisia, Ada, also married their brother Idreus. She was deposed by the third brother, Pixodarus, but was reinstated by Alexander the Great when she adopted Alexander as her son and heir. She was known as a ruler who was beloved by her people.
Not only are they in glorious past company, but in beautiful present company as well. In the past, only royals and aristocrats could break society’s rules and marry whom they wished. Why should the right to love whom they wish to love be denied to the common man or woman? Romantic sibling relationships are much more common than most realize. Many of these relationships, when allowed to flourish, grow into something astoundingly beautiful.
- A sister: “We knew we couldn’t hide it from our parents forever. We didn’t want to hide it, but we were nervous about talking about it with them. However, they figured out something was going on before we told them. Looking back, I’m not surprised. We spent lots of time together and they knew we weren’t seeing other people on a serious level. Plus they could just tell there was something between us. […] So we had a long talk. A lot was said, but luckily they didn’t get angry. They finally said we could live the way we wanted if it was that important to us. It took time, but they have come to accept us. I think the fact that they’re going to become grandparents helped them to accept us being together as a couple. We’re expecting our first child, a daughter, and I couldn’t be happier with my life. Having a child was a big decision for us, but I know we’ll be great parents.”
- A brother: “The way I ultimately decided to be with her was when a girl told me about her twin, Jesse, who had committed suicide when their relationship was discovered and they were forced to separate. I realized how similar she sounded and knew one thing for certain. Nothing should stop true love. People are born into families not of their own will, and just because someone was born with them shouldn’t mean they can’t love each other. […] I want [other people] to open their eyes and mind. […] I have asked people what’s wrong with our relationship, but all they say is that it’s wrong or disgusting without giving any reasons. Something they seem to forget is that stopping true love is also morally wrong. I believe they’re the kind of people that people in the future will look back on the same way they look at people who were against interracial marriage.”
- A sister: "My parents didn’t want another child and they were going to have an abortion, but afraid of my grandparents, they had me and gave me to my uncle and aunt. […] I was a naive 16-year-old [when I met and fell in love with my brother]. My [adoptive] parents caught on pretty quickly. It was a major disaster. […] They said I proved I wasn’t their daughter. It felt like my entire life had ended. [My brother and I] had been talking about moving to England before and it only seemed like the logical decision at the time. My brother said my real family missed me so much and they’d love to have me, so I packed my bags and I left. […] Apart from the time we spent together and away from [my real family], our life was awful. We couldn’t sit next to each other and we weren’t allowed to go places alone. Everything we did prompted a remark about how disgusting we were. I think his parents thought I was ruining his life. […] I came back to America. It was the worst flight of my entire life. I was being separated from the one person I loved most in the entire world. It was terrible. I think I cried the entire eleven hours. […] I don’t understand why anyone has to give someone such a tough time for loving someone. I think it was hard on [my brother], but he promised me that we’d move out one day. But there was constant bickering, constant fighting in the family. I think for me the worst of it was when my dad told me that they should have had an abortion. I’d hit rock bottom. I was forced into therapy. It was suppose to help me with not having feelings for him anymore… […] I just want to go on a date, to get engaged, to have the children that we named two years ago.”
- A sister: “We all love for the same reason: our hearts and souls tell us that the person we are with is the right one for us. Follow your heart, listen to your soul. When you know your heart, mind and soul speak as one, it’s right. Love never judges anyone, so don’t judge until you fully understand. We may be related, but look past that, see us for who we are. He’s my brother, yet he’s also my bear. He’s a Grizzly in his fight to give disabled people the right to lead as normal a life as you and me, yet my Teddy Bear when he’s in my arms. Don’t discriminate [against] us, don’t judge us. We have a right to live and love, just like everybody else does.”
- A sister: “He is my brother, best friend, partner, lover and the only person on the planet that can push me to the point that I want to strangle him while I am curled up on his chest. I can’t imagine being without him and he has said […] to me that we would run away if we had to. […] I am his rock and he is mine. […] The disadvantages are huge, such as the inability to behave like a normal couple around family and friends, and not being able to tell people how happy you are. The family are constantly telling us that we should find ourselves someone special […]. […] On the flip side I think that the advantage is the level of trust. We know each other better than we know ourselves sometimes. He has my back and I have his. We protect each other from the outside world. Our bedroom is our bubble. No one can hurt us in here.”
- A brother: “We understand your concern, we respect your beliefs. But this is our life. You can’t separate us simply because you want to. We will continue to live the way we choose. We are not trying to “disrespect” you or anyone who’s had a bad experience with incest related abuse or anything of the sort. But we feel like there is nothing wrong with what we’re doing. We’re just as normal as any other couple and we know that many who have actually taken time to meet us will agree. […] [Getting married] would be a dream. We’ve experienced physical and mental abuse due to our relationship, even in the workplace. Also the fact that we cannot have the marital benefits that many couples do have, even unrelated gay couples here in Canada. It’s very difficult. But so far we’d just like the ability to be together and feel safe doing so.”
- A sister: “I’d like to ask them to please try and understand us and get to know us before they pass any judgment on us. We hurt no one and keep to ourselves. Brothers and sisters can and do fall deeply in love with each other. We’re only human and we lead normal decent lives; we’re productive members of society and just like anyone else, just trying to get by. And I’m hardly a victim. I do what I do out of love.”
- A brother: “I would definitely say it’s a natural thing. It wasn’t until early teen years we really became aware it’s taboo, but for me it just always felt right. You hear everyone talking about finding the “one”, I can’t help it that I did and she just happens to be one [of] my sisters. I still find it strange that so many have the incest fantasy/fetish. We fantasize about being a “normal” couple. I am aware that the nature of our relationship does make it kinky to most, though I don’t see it that way. […] We cuddle, we are very affectionate, and I think we make our friends sick with the amount of love we have - these friends only know us as a couple.”
- A brother: "[My sister and I are] lovers. We’ve been making love together for over two years now, and as far as either of us is concerned, we’re a couple, like anyone else. Obviously, we keep this secret between us publicly. My sister moved in with me because she was having problems at home, and our parents support this because since she left home, her grades are up, and she’s no longer depressed. The relationship is absolutely consensual, and always has been. […] I’m planning to have a vasectomy soon also, since we don’t want children. [S]ince it’s always a secret thing, I’ve never spoken to another couple in the same situation […].”
- A sister: ”[…] Daniel’s wedding day didn’t upset me at all. It was his 30th birthday six months later which really got to me, as he stood there with his wife Alison while they greeted the guests. I can honestly say that that was the only time when I felt real envy and wished desperately that it was me standing beside him, arms round each other as we showed the world how much we loved each other. […] By the time he met Alison he was working and I was a student. […] [It] came as a shock when he told me he wanted to marry her. However, I was more shocked when he said: ‘You only have to say and I won’t marry her, but then I want us to stay together and not see anyone else. We could be the old boring brother and sister who never got married, but ended up sharing a house because no one else would have them! I know this is meant to be wrong but I’ve never felt anything so right.’ After hours of discussion we agreed that it was time to stop the sexual side of our relationship […]. […] [It] pain[s] me that what appears so lovely and natural to me would be regarded as abhorrent by most people.”
- A brother: "We felt nothing but love and passion for each other. [...] There was no pressure. That was new to me. For once in my life I was at the most comfortable I'd ever been [...]. [...] I have had relationships in the past that have felt like one person leads another. It always felt like there was a power dynamic, either from my part of theirs, but with my half-sister, nothing has ever felt so mutual and natural. There was no feeling like it. It's so hard to describe in so many words. [...] Having to hide away has just been very exhausting and anxiety producing. We know we haven't done anything wrong to anybody; we haven't harmed anybody either, yet we feel like were criminals on the run just waiting to be caught. [...] At times there's been a lot of heartache and tears, [...] yet even with all that in mind, it's not something I'd trade for anything in the world and I'll happily fight whatever comes our way, even a jail sentence if I have to, just to be with her, because I couldn't ever be happy being without her. [...] I had a friend [...] [who] was in a long-term relationship. [...] He found out his girlfriend of eight years was actually his full-blood sister. [...] When she looked into it, that's what they found out. Everyone on both sides was against it, wouldn't hear a thing about it. To please people they broke up but lived a good few months in nothing but the worst possible agony I could imagine. [...] He used to tell me it felt like an invisible rope pulling him towards her. Eventually they both caved in and couldn't bear to be without each other ever again. For most it was weird. For me, it was the sweetest thing I'd ever seen. It actually made me tear up. They live abroad now and because they have different last names, they managed to get married; credit to them."
- A sister: "We were so happy to finally talk and when we met in person, the second we looked at each other it was very emotional and overwhelming. We hugged for what seemed ages, like we never wanted to let go. There was an instant connection. I felt closer to him than I’d ever been with anyone. [...] I’d never felt so loved and cherished up until that moment. We could tell how much we meant to each other. Our eyes lit up, our endless smiles said it all. [...] It’s the most happy, comfortable, special feeling I’ve ever felt. He feels the same way. We have so much love and respect for each other. We cherish every moment we spend together. I’ve never felt so loved and this close to someone in all my life. He means the world to me and I mean the world to him. The way we look into each other’s eyes, how they sparkle for one another shows just how deeply in love we are. When he holds me, I never want to leave his arms. Even when we’re apart it feels like we’re connected invisibly somehow. I know not many people have or will witness love like ours. I’m thankful to experience this. [...] We see each other as siblings, soul mates, and partners. We are fully committed to each other. I couldn’t see myself with anyone else and he says the same too. [...] We intend to stay together no matter what. We are in love and our bond is unbreakable. It might not always be easy and we can’t predict what will happen in the future, but together we are strong. We will fight for our right to live as we should be entitled to, as any other happy couple, no matter what it takes. [...] I’d love nothing more than to have the freedom to live this way together. We’re not happy when we’re apart; it hurts a lot and I always long to be in his arms."
- FORCING THEM APART
You may wish that they would just find other people. There are plenty of non-blood-related fish in the sea. If they did that, it would certainly make things easier for you, wouldn’t it? You may even be able to convince yourself that it would somehow be easier for them, too. Well, why should they find other people?
Do you have someone you love? If so, why don’t you find someone else? It’s easy to see that it’s not so easy. If you knew a bisexual man who was dating another man, would you tell him that, because he has “more acceptable options,” that he must date a woman? The “homosexuality isn’t a choice” argument is strawmaning: it serves as a nice talking point, but that’s not ultimately why society now feels that homophobia is wrong. We’ve come to understand that love doesn’t always fit the conventions proscribed by society; that it is morally wrong to police people’s sex lives and love lives; that society is better off when we nurture people’s natural love. A bisexual person may be capable of loving someone of the opposite sex, but that doesn’t mean they will. No-one chooses who they fall in love with. It is no different for siblings in love.
Besides, have you stopped to consider the consequences of forcing them to break up? People think only of the consequences of letting siblings stay together, but not of destroying their relationship. Consider: how will breaking them up, causing them misery and pain, shaming them, and policing them make their relationship “healthy?” Even if you think it’s “unhealthy” now, their relationship is guaranteed to be much worse after that kind of trauma. They’ll remember what they had, they’ll remember the pain of its loss, they’ll remember the judgment, they’ll remember the shame, and they will probably know that they still love each other. What kind of family dinners do you expect with that kind of angst floating around? They may in fact choose to never see each other again, because it would be too painful.
What if they shun your judgment and shaming? Many consanguinamorous couples, when facing judgment and intervention by friends and family, break off all ties with them for the sake of preserving their own relationship with each other. If you really do care about them, and also want to be part of their lives, learn to at least tolerate their love. Better that you have a presence in their lives. Don’t force them to choose between family and friends, and the love of their lives.
- RELATIONSHIP INSTABILITY
Now, there is one legitimate concern regarding consanguinamory: won’t introducing sex and romance destabilize the family dynamic? What if it ultimately doesn’t work out? Won’t that make it difficult to go back to being just family for them? The short answer: not necessarily.
Now for the long answer. First of all, yes, it might, but many people pursue love at the risk of existing relationships, and we don’t begrudge them their pursuit of happiness, even if risky. No truly good things in life are gained without risk. As a culture, we even romanticize such risky pursuits of love. I would argue that, aside from the threat of social stigma breaking them apart, they are actually less likely to break up than other couples. Assuming they were raised together, they’ve already had decades to get to know each other, most of it probably non-sexually. Imagine if a man and woman lived together for sixteen or more years, without any sex at all, before they decided to be romantically involved. We would all consider that comically conservative, and yet that is the kind of experience these siblings have had.
Even when romances do end explosively, they can still go back to normal, given time and space. There are couples that have broken up very dramatically, but after having a couple years to themselves are able to go back to being friends. Even if these siblings do ultimately break up, given all of their prior experience as siblings, the common familial relationships, etc., they should be much more likely to eventually get back to being friendly than non-related couples. They would have more motivation to.
Remember too, not all romances end explosively. Some marriages end after over a decade, on amicable terms. If a relationship ends, the destructiveness of its end is related directly to the destructiveness of the relationship itself. What destroys a relationship in such a way? Lying, abuse, lack of communication, emotional unavailability, bad conflict resolution skills, lack of respect, lack of appreciation, etc.
Since you know the couple, you should have some idea whether they have problems with any of these things in their lives. If you are their parent, then you are in a unique position to ensure that they both treat each other with respect, empathy, and honesty. You have an interest in their relationship being healthy in the long term, and you also have the power to help that happen.
Don’t assume that their relationship as siblings and their relationship as lovers are mutually exclusive. It’s a common, false assumption that they must be, but the personal testimony of people in such relationships refutes it. I doubt they fell in love because they were bad siblings, but more likely it grew out of an especially close sibling relationship. We all acknowledge that people can serve multiple roles in a relationship, being both best friends and lovers. Well, so it is that they are best friends, lovers, and siblings. Each one of those relationships strengthens the others: their relationship becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Even if familial and romantic love were mutually exclusive, who are you to decide which of those options is best for them? So they happened to be born as siblings. Why must that chain them the rest of their lives? Maybe they will be better as lovers than as siblings. As consenting adults, they get to decide which kind of relationship makes them happiest.
- HEALTH OF THEIR CHILDREN
Assuming you’re okay with all of the points I’ve just made, you may still have one objection: what if they have babies? This is one of the last refuges for those who can’t quite justify banning consanguinamory, but still want to. After all, what about all the stories of monster babies? Well, there are actually very few of those stories, they are an over-publicized minority, and that stereotype goes against actual scientific and historical evidence.
"Perhaps no opinion, upon subjects of a medical character, is more widely diffused among the public, or more tenaciously held, than that the results of the marriage of blood relations are almost uniformly unfortunate. This opinion has been so long held and so often reiterated, that by sheer force of these circumstances alone it has come to be regarded as an unquestioned and unquestionable fact."
These siblings may already have a child. They may be pregnant. They may be planning on having a child in the future. You might have even found out about it because a pregnancy or genetic test of a child brought it to light. Once again, I must ask you to calm down, and listen carefully to what I’m about to say. The feelings you have are coming from a lot of cultural baggage and stereotyping, again. I won’t deny that the risks are higher than for the general population, but they’re not nearly as bad as you hear, and slightly elevated risks are never any reason to curtail a woman’s basic rights.
One hears an ingrained, “But it’s unnatural!” argument quite a bit. “Inbreeding” is not “unnatural,” as many would claim. Many species engage in consanguineous mating in some form or another, and it can have both positive and negative effects, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, species even evolve a resistance to problems from “inbreeding.” In nature, as in society, things are always more complicated than a blanket judgment can capture.
"If 'natural' is 'good', what use does it serve as a moral rubric? When people say 'homosexuality is unnatural', they are saying 'homosexuality is wrong'. But how does that help the discussion? 'It’s wrong because it’s unnatural' is the same as saying 'it’s wrong because it’s wrong'. That doesn’t tell us why it’s wrong: it’s again 'a description' – a false one in this case, since […] there are 1,500 animal species that engage in homosexual behaviour. The assertion becomes a tautology. […] The entire point is to get rid of linking so tightly 'moral' and 'natural': whether something does or does not occur in nature doesn’t aid our deciding whether that act is moral. After all, wearing glasses, building hospitals and using crutches don’t occur in nature – are these to be considered 'wrong' based on that category?"
If we should force people to only have babies with people that are distantly related from them, for eugenic reasons, then why stop at prohibiting consanguinamory? Why not forbid all sex between people of the same race? Genetic similarity within a population can still be great enough that genetic diseases are passed on – just look at Tay-Sachs. Of course the idea is ridiculous, but it just follows the logic of policing women’s uteri to minimize genetic disease.
“[…] [S]cientists have rejected the explanation that [the] incest taboo is a social mechanism that reduces the risk of congenital birth defects. One of the reasons is, findings have concluded that recessive or defect-carrying genes in a population may increase or decrease in instances of inbreeding. The frequency of birth defects depends on the availability and effectiveness of healthcare in a population. A recent genetic report also stated that children of unrelated parents have a 3% to 4% risk of having serious birth defects, while the offspring of first cousins have only a slightly higher risk of about 4% to 7%.”
We can extrapolate from this that for siblings, it is at least 7%, and probably no higher than 11%. This is equivalent to the risk of birth defects for women in their 40s, which ranges from 5% to 11%.
I have also written about how new scientific discoveries are illuminating why, over many generations, having children with blood-relatives can have an effect on a population. It’s not what most people think, it’s not as threatening as most people think, and more importantly, we may soon be able to fix it.
Whether considering the genome, or the epigenome, a single generation can be completely inconsequential. All of the risks are population-wide risks: the chances that a random sibling couple would have a child with defects are that high, but these two siblings are not a random couple. They are a specific couple, with individual genomes. Their family history of disease is specific to their family. Those things tell you much more about their chances than some randomized study. They may, in fact, have a lower probability of defects than the general population.
"[…][If] the data [from my meta-study] are censored to exclude physical and mental abnormalities among the male and female parents, and major disparities with respect to young and advanced maternal age, few differences remain in the overall health outcomes recorded for [the children of the consanguineous group and the children of the control group]."
Either way, we do not, as a society, agree with eugenics, and for good reason. We do not espouse the views of racists who spent decades sterilizing the poor and black in the U.S. They’ll have to care for the child, it is her body, it is their risk to take. It doesn’t matter whether you approve of it on a “massive scale” (which wouldn’t happen without society forcing people), all that matters is whether it would be okay for this specific couple.
You’re probably also worried about how the child will deal with the taboo nature of its parents’ relationship. Isn’t it better that a child grow up in a normal family? This is the kind of reasoning that punishes all sexual minorities for the bigotry of the majority. Not only do they have to deal with the derision of the masses, but now they have to give up their own children because of that derision? No enlightened person in this day and age would argue that we should take the children of same-sex couples away from them and have them raised in “normal” families. It would be barbarous, and yet there are homophobic reactionaries who argue against same-sex adoption with a similar argument.
We should never let the bigotry of others police our families. A child can learn to deal with ostracism, as long as they have a good support network at home, but no child can learn to live without experiencing love. Isn’t it better that this child grows up in an “abnormal” household that loves them dearly, than a “normal” one that doesn’t?
Here are refutations of many arguments people make against sibling consanguinamory. It’s a good addition to what I have just said. This quote from the article is especially apropos:
“There are siblings who are together right now, providing each other love, comfort, support, or their first sexual experience in a safe and reassuring environment. The biggest problem with sibling consanguinamory seems to be the prejudice and sex-negative attitudes of others. In most cases, trying to force consanguinamorous siblings apart only makes things worse. It can be a mutually beneficial way of bonding, expressing their love for each other, learning, and discovering their sexuality; it may even be a beautiful, lifelong romance. Let’s not let ignorance cause needless concern or repression.”
Don’t be ashamed of changing your mind. Other people have had to walk the same intellectual and emotional journey. Don’t be ashamed that you were once wrong. Better to grow as a person than cling to terrible beliefs out of a misplaced sense of embarrassment and ego. Let yourself grow, for the sake of your child/sibling/friend. You may think you have nothing left to learn, but everyone can learn something, and everyone can teach something. This is their moment to teach you.
Here are some extra resources:
- Advice from Full Marriage Equality, to family and friends of the consanguinamorous.
- Full Marriage Equality’s answers to frequently asked questions.
- Advice from Full Marriage Equality, to consanguinamorous couples themselves.
- From my blog The Final Manifesto, all posts tagged “consanguinamory.”
- My blog, The Final Manifesto (Blogspot) (Tumblr)
- Full Marriage Equality (Blogspot) (Tumblr)