Month: July 2014

Information and Resources for Cousin Couples and Sibling Sexuality

So, on several occasions, people have found my blog through Google search terms about sexual attraction to cousins, sexual behavior with cousins, and even sexual attraction/behavior with siblings. (They’re clicking on my post about passionate/queerplatonic/romantic friendship between siblings and cousins, I’m sure.) In light of this, I thought I’d briefly post some resources for people who have these experiences.


Please note that when I say the following, I’m talking about consensual, ethical sexual relationships between adults who have a completely safe and healthy dynamic between them psychologically and emotionally. Plenty of sexual interactions between cousins, siblings, and other family members are abusive in some way: emotionally, physically, psychologically, etc. They are unethical because of power imbalances that make enthusiastic, ethical consent impossible or because there is manipulation, codependency, emotional blackmail, etc. That is NOT the kind of sexual relationship between cousins and/or siblings I’m discussing here, nor do I support such relationships–because of the abuse and the fundamentally unethical status of them, not because of the biological relatedness.

If you think you’re being abused by a relative, please seek help as soon as you can. If you are underage and being sexually victimized by an adult sibling, cousin, or other relative, please tell someone you can trust and report the abuse to police if you can.

That said, it is possible to have a non-abusive, consensual sexual relationship with a cousin or even a sibling. People have been having romantic and/or sexual relationships with first cousins (and every other degree of cousin) since the beginning of time, all over the world. They’ve been very, very common throughout history. Romantic/sexual relationships between cousins became taboo in the Western world during the 19th and early 20th centuries because of shitty science and scary propaganda, basically.

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re an adult and your cousin or even sibling is an adult and you have no history of abuse between you, there’s no power imbalance in your relationship, and you’re mutually sexually attracted to each other, it’s your business if you want to have a sexual and/or romantic relationship. There is no rational or even scientific reason why consensual sex between cousins or siblings is problematic. If you’re not hurting each other in any way, if you both want it, then there’s no good, objective reason why you shouldn’t do what you want or why you should feel guilty about it.

Keep in mind, however, that you are likely to be rejected and severely judged by other family members, friends, and society in general if you tell anyone that you’re sexually and/or romantically involved with a cousin or sibling. Unless you know it’s safe to be open about your sexual relationship with a cousin or sibling, I don’t recommend telling other people about it, if you can help it.


People who object to consensual incest and consensual cousin sexuality usually cite genetic mutations in offspring as a reason why it’s a bad idea or immoral, but this misses several points:

1. Not all cousin/cousin or sibling/sibling sexual relationships are heterosexual.

2. There’s this cool thing called contraception.

3. Some cousin/cousin or sibling/sibling sexual relationships don’t even start until after the people in question are past childbearing age.

4. Cousins who want to have children can go to a genetic counselor prior to trying to have kids, just like anyone else. You can find out pretty easily what the odds are of you and your partner conceiving children with physical and/or mental handicaps, then make an informed decision about whether or not you want to try conceiving.

5. In reality, for first cousins who are a heterosexual couple and have children, the general chance of their kids being genetically sick or handicapped is 5-6%. Compare that to the odds of an unrelated couple having genetically sick/handicapped children, which is 2-3%, and you can see that the increase is not at all significant or dramatic. At least 95% of all children born to first cousin couples will be healthy, physically and mentally. (Fun fact, according to geneticists, cousins don’t share enough genetic material in common for their sexual relationships to be labeled “incestuous.” No, not even first cousins.) Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

6. There are first cousin couples who are actually together, married or unmarried, all over America. Most of them are in the closet, meaning few people know they’re cousins. They have healthy kids, normal lives, etc. You wouldn’t even know they’re related, unless they told you.

7. Sexual exploration between cousins and even siblings in childhood is more common than you think–and I’m talking about non-abusive, consensual exploration between kids who are in the same age group. There are even first cousins who first feel sexual attraction to each other in youth and later on in adulthood still feel it and end up having a sexual relationship of some kind.


The general public basically knows jack shit about cousin/cousin sexuality and sibling sexuality, from a scientific and genetic perspective. Most of what people believe about this sexual behavior is false and based on nothing other than popular assumption. A lot of people experience sexual attraction or interaction with cousins in childhood and adulthood and just don’t say anything about it because it’s taboo in our society; if more people admitted to it, I think we’d all be surprised how often it happens. Sibling sexuality is a lot less common in non-abusive contexts, but there are adult siblings out there who are sexually attracted to each other and having sex, typically in a situation of genetic sexual attraction occurring after childhood separation.

Something important to understand here is the Westermarck Effect; Wikipedia describes it this way:

The Westermarck effect, or reverse sexual imprinting, is a hypothetical psychological effect through which people who live in close domestic proximity during the first few years of their lives become desensitized to later sexual attraction. This phenomenon, one explanation for the incest taboo, was first hypothesized by Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermarck in his book The History of Human Marriage (1891). Observations interpreted as evidence for the Westermarck effect have since been made in many places and cultures, including in the Israelikibbutz system, and the Chinese Shim-pua marriage customs, as well as in biological-related families…..

When proximity during this critical period does not occur — for example, where a brother and sister are brought up separately, never meeting one another — they may find one another highly sexually attractive when they meet as adults or adolescents, according to the hypothesis of genetic sexual attraction. This supports the theory that the populations exhibiting the Westermarck effect became predominant because of the deleterious effects of inbreeding on those that didn’t.

So basically, if you and a cousin or you and a sibling do not grow up together, particularly if you were not together during the first 6 years of your life, there is a much greater chance that if you meet each other as adults, you’ll be sexually attracted to each other. It’s happened that adult siblings who grew up apart and didn’t even know they had a sibling ended up meeting each other, falling in love, feeling sexually attracted to each other, and becoming a couple–all without knowing they were related. (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3) And even once they do know, their attraction–sexual, emotional, romantic–remains in tact. According to a study published in 1980 that surveyed 796 college students in six New England schools, 15% of females and 10% of males reported having some kind of sexual experience with a sibling, and of those sexual experiences, only 25% could be described as “exploitative” based on use of force (lack of consent) or a large age disparity  between siblings. (Source) If we could actually do a large national study across age categories, who knows how common sibling sexuality would prove to be.

If you find yourself sexually attracted to a cousin or sibling, or if you’re already in a consensual sexual relationship with a cousin or sibling, you are not a freak and you are not alone. You’re not crazy or sick. You’re certainly outside acceptable social norms, but that doesn’t mean you’re abnormal as far as nature’s concerned. If genetic sexual attraction were truly abnormal, it wouldn’t be as common as it is and always has been.


There aren’t too many resources for cousins and/or siblings who are sexually attracted to each other or involved, but here’s what I can offer.


Forbidden Relatives: The American Myth of Cousin Marriage by Martin Ottenheimer

I haven’t read this book yet, but it’s supposed to be a pretty good argument in favor of cousin marriage becoming legalized and generally accepted by society. The author is a social anthropologist who examines both the laws against cousins marriage and the genetics of cousin procreation.

Cousins: A Unique and Powerful Bond by Johanna Garfield

This book is one of my favorites; it covers the full spectrum of cousin relationships, good, bad, neutral, etc. There is a chapter that focuses on sexual attraction between cousins, but that’s not the primary focus of the book. It does a great job of portraying how wonderful, powerful, and loving cousin relationships can be (nonsexually and nonromantically).



Cousin Couples — A lot of resources and information for cousin couples here. There’s a message board too.

Full Marriage Equality Blog — I don’t necessarily agree with everything the author of this blog believes in and supports, but there are some resources on the website for people who are sexually attracted to/involved with a cousin or sibling. If nothing else, it will show you that you’re not alone in your experiences.



A Gospel Truth Quote

Romantic love, as we understand it, is a colonial construct. It is an all-consuming, possessive, lifelong, monogamous endeavor that works to sustain capitalism and white supremacist heteropatriarchy via the nuclear family. We are told that this romantic love is essential, shaping it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Were we to sustain ourselves on self-love, platonic love, and love of community, what could change? We could see the beauty of our interdependence, rather than individuals competing for higher wages and standards of living at the expense of each other. The formation of families, rather than communities, creates hierarchies of which people are worthy and deserving of our attention, protection and devotion. With a restructuring of romantic love as comparable to community/platonic/self-love, we begin to prioritize the care and livelihood of entire larger groups of people as equally important as our romantic partner/s.


— Caleb Luna, “On Being Fat, Brown, Femme, Ugly, and Unloveable”


Clarification on Arousal as a Result of Physical Intimacy

So, I feel like I need to write a post in response to a search term that someone used to find my blog, about a passionate friendship becoming so physical that it leads to sexual stimulation (without actual sex). This has got to do with a subject I’ve written about briefly before: reactive arousal that happens in the middle of being very sensually, physically intimate with someone in a nonsexual context. A lot of asexuals who don’t know much about asexuality yet ask questions pertaining to arousal, so this should be helpful for them whether they have a very sensual friendship with someone or not.


Here’s the thing about arousal: it’s involuntary, meaning you can’t control it, and it happens as a response to visual, physical, mental, and sometimes even emotional stimuli that may or may not be sexual/sensual/erotic in nature. Bodies are weird. They can get genitally aroused for no reason at all or for really weird reasons that have nothing to do with sex. Bodies can even get aroused during sexual assault.

Arousal is not sexual attraction. Please, understand this. If your body responds to something or someone with genital arousal but you don’t want to have sex, what you’re experiencing is not sexual attraction to a person or even sexual desire but a purely physical response to something that you can’t control, anymore than you can control when you sweat or shiver or when your pulse speeds up in fear or excitement.

Likewise, if you’re being very physical with someone, if you’re having a sensual encounter that involves stuff like kissing or cuddling or massaging and caressing the body, if your sensual encounter is also very emotional because the person you’re with is someone you love intensely and who loves you too, and you end up experiencing either genital arousal or a physical-but-not-mental desire for sexual release, that’s not sexual attraction between you and your friend. That’s your body responding to a lot of touching and a lot of intimacy.

Passionate friendship is, by nature, nonsexual. It’s not based on or inclusive of sexual attraction. It is not a sexual relationship anymore than it’s a romantic relationship. But I totally acknowledge that some people, whether they’re asexual or allosexual, can and will become aroused with enough affectionate/sensual touch and physical intimacy, and some people feel the need to deal with this arousal through sex. Maybe that means you leave the room and masturbate. Maybe that means you and your friend/partner end up sexually stimulating each other somehow. Maybe that means you each masturbate side by side but don’t touch each other sexually.

If you’re not sexually attracted to your passionate friend but you end up doing something sexual, as a result of a very physical/sensual/intimate encounter that arouses you, I would not question your sexual orientations or the nature of your friendship–unless you come to a decision or realization that you want to have sex with each other on a regular basis. But if, when you aren’t being physically intimate and affectionate with each other, you feel no interest in having sex with each other and you are not sexually attracted to each other, then you can know for sure that the arousal and any erotic/sexual type activities you engage in when you’re physically intimate is simply a natural reaction your bodies are having due to the amount and the kind of touch you’re sharing.

Know that arousal doesn’t obligate you to have sex. You can get aroused and ignore it. Some aces do this, when they happen to get aroused during physical affection with a partner. It’s harder to do if you have a penis but possible no matter what your genitalia. If you’re too uncomfortable with the arousal that happens between you and your passionate friend/romantic friend/queerplatonic friend/romantic asexual partner, then you are free to decide you aren’t going to do certain physical things with each other or you’re going to stop the physical encounter as soon as the arousal becomes too much to ignore. How you handle arousal, as an asexual or as someone in a nonsexual friendship with someone you aren’t sexually attracted to, is completely and totally up to you.

If you get into a pattern with a friend where you end up sexually stimulating each other or yourselves, every time you are physically/sensually intimate and affectionate, what you call the friendship and how you see each other is up to you. I see passionate friendship as totally nonsexual, in both activity and attraction, but queerplatonic relationships–of which passionate friendship is a subset–can be sexual. Queerplatonic relationships are never romantic, but they can be sexual to some degree, if both people in the relationship want it to be.

There’s also such a thing as plain old sexual friendship. Not romantic but caring and maybe even loving. Whether the sex happens because you’re sexually attracted to each other or whether it happens because you start out being super affectionate nonsexually and then get aroused and agree to help each other out somehow, the friendship is only a “couple” relationship if you a) feel romantic attraction to each other or b) decide to label it that way. You don’t have to label it anything, if you don’t want to.

You also get to decide what physical activities are sexual or erotic and which ones aren’t, to you as an individual and in your friendship. Obviously stimulating someone’s genitals or having someone stimulate yours with hands, mouths, sex toys, or your own sexual organs is all sex. But other acts like kissing, whether the mouth or the body, masturbating in each other’s presence, rubbing up against each other or dry humping and other ambiguous physical gestures like that are not always sexual in nature. There’s a lot of sensuality that can exist without sexuality. Plenty of asexuals and even aromantics don’t consider kissing to be sexual, no matter how heavy. Some people can get naked and cuddle or cuddle topless and not see that as a sexual act, but a very sensual and intimate one. As for dry humping, masturbation, and other kinds of rubbing that becomes arousing/leads to orgasm, those are certainly erotic in nature and can be sexual to a degree, but how sexual and what it means to your identity and the feelings you have for a friend are up to you to decide.

Motivation matters, I think, which is what I’ve been trying to get at: doing this stuff because you’re sexually attracted to each other all the time is one thing, and doing it because you’re already being very physical and then get aroused and feel like you need to relieve that arousal is something else.

If your friendship with someone who you aren’t normally sexually attracted to becomes very erotic through physical sensuality or even minimally sexual, don’t freak out and don’t feel like you have to do things you don’t want to do or call the friendship something new. Figure out what you’re comfortable with and then just do that. Identify however you want. If you’re straight but you have a passionate friendship with someone of the same sex and sometimes your physical intimacy arouses you, you’re not obligated to identify as bisexual or queer or homosexual. If you’re asexual and you sometimes engage in sexual stimulation with a friend when you get aroused during physical intimacy, you aren’t less asexual or obligated to identify as an allosexual. You identify however you want to, based on the patterns of sexual attraction you normally experience.

Arousal is not attraction, guys. And it’s possible to have sex with someone you aren’t sexually attracted to, for reasons other than wanting them sexually.