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.
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.
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.