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Incest

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Incest

 

Incest is sexual activity between close family members. Incest is considered taboo, and forbidden (fully or slightly) in the majority of current and historical cultures. However, the precise meaning of the word varies widely, because different cultures have differing notions of "sexual activity" and "close family member." Some cultures consider only those related by birth, while others include those related by adoption or marriage. Some prohibit sexual relations between people who grew up in the same household, while others prohibit sexual relations between people who grew up in related households.

 

Incest can occur between same-sex as well as opposite-sex relatives. It can also occur between related children as well as between parents and their children. In addition, there have been cases of incest between adult relatives.

 

Incest between close blood-relations is a crime in most Western nations, as well as in those nations that were colonised by the West, although again the extent of the definition of "close" varies. There are wide differences between nations as to how serious the crime of incest is. In some countries, such as Australia, incest is a serious indictable offence, while in others it is a minor crime with much less serious consequences.

Contents


 

 

Distinctions between incest and inbreeding

 

The concepts of "incest" and "inbreeding" are not synonymous.

 

Incest refers to socially taboo sexual activity between individuals who are considered to be too closely related to enter into marriage. In other words, it is a social and cultural term.

 

Inbreeding, on the other hand, refers to procreation between individuals with varying degrees of genetic closeness only, regardless of their relative social positions. It is a scientific term rather than a social or cultural term.

 

In many societies, the definition of incest and the degree of inbreeding may correlate positively. For example, when sexual relations between people of a given degree of genetic closeness is considered incestuous. In other societies, the correlation may not be as obvious.

 

The consequence of inbreeding is to increase the frequency of homozygotes within a population. Depending on the size of the population and the number of generations in which inbreeding occurs, the increase of homozygotes may have either good or bad effects.

 

Inbreeding leads to an increase in homozygosity, that is, the same allele at the same locus on both members of a chromosome pair. This occurs because close relatives are much, much more likely to share the same alleles than unrelated individuals. This is especially important for deleterious recessive genes, which are harmless and inactive in a heterozygous pairing, but when homozygous can cause serious developmental defects. Such offspring have a much higher chance of death before reaching the age of reproduction, leading to what biologists call inbreeding depression, a measurable decrease in fitness due to inbreeding among populations with deleterious recessives. Recessive genes which can contain various genetic problems have a tendency of showing up more often if joined by someone who has the same gene. If a son who has hemophilia becomes intimate with his sister who may have the same gene for hemophilia, and they have a child, the odds are in favor that the child will have hemophilia as well. In short, when those that are related have children together, all of the recessive genes come out in their children.

 

Some anthropologists are critical of including biology in the study of the incest taboo, and have argued that there can be no biological basis for inbreeding aversion because inbreeding may in fact be a good thing. Leavitt (1990) is a good representative of this point of view, writing that "small inbreeding populations, while initially increasing their chances for harmful homozygotic recessive pairings on a locus, will quickly eliminate such genes from their breeding pools, thus reducing their genetic loads" (Leavitt 1990, p.974)

 

Other specialists claim that this notion betrays a misunderstanding of basic genetics and natural selection. They argue that, while technically possible, the proposed positive long-term effects of inbreeding are almost always unrealized because the short-term fitness depression is enough for selection to discourage inbreeding. Such a scenario has only occurred under extremely unusual circumstances, either in major population bottlenecks, or forced artificial selection by animal husbandry. In order for such a "purification" to work, the offspring of close mate pairings must only be homozygous dominant (free of bad genes) and recessive (will die before reproducing). If there are heterozygous offspring, they will be able to transmit the defective genes without themselves feeling any effects. What's more, this model does not account for multiple deleterious recessives (most people have more than one), or multi-locus gene linkages. The introduction of mutations negates the weeding out of bad genes, and evidence exists that homozygous individuals are often more at risk to pathogenic predation. Because of these complications, it is extremely difficult to overcome the initial "hump" of fitness penalties incurred by inbreeding. (see Moore 1992, Uhlmann 1992)

 

Therefore, it is not surprising that inbreeding is uncommon in nature, and most sexually-reproducing species have mechanisms built in by natural selection to avoid mating with close kin. Pusey & Worf (1996) and Penn & Potts (1999) both have found evidence that some species possess evolved psychological aversions to inbreeding, via kin-recognition heuristics.

 

Given such overwhelming evidence of inbreeding depression as being an important force in sexual reproduction, evolutionary psychologists have argued that humans should possess similar psychological heuristics against incest. The Westermark effect is one strong piece of evidence in favor of this, indicating that childen who are raised together in the same family find each other sexually uninteresting, even when there is strong social pressure for them to mate. In what is now a key study of the Westermarck's hypothesis, the anthropologist Melford E. Spiro demonstrated that inbreeding aversion between siblings is predicatably linked to co-residency. In a cohort study of children raised as communal, that is to say, fictive, siblings in the Kiryat Yedidim kibbutz in the 1950s, Spiro found practically no intermarriage between his subjects as adults, despite positive pressure from parents and community. The social experience of having grown up as brothers and sisters created an incest aversion, even though genetically speaking the children were not related.

 

Further studies have backed up the hypothesis that some psychological mechanisms are in play that "turn off" children who grow up together. Spiro's study is corroborated by Fox (1962), who found similar results in Israeli kibbutzum. Likewise, Wolf and Huang (1980) report similar aversions in Taiwanese "child" marriages, where the future wife was brought into the family and raised together with her fiancee. Such marriages were notoriously difficult to consummate, and for unknown reasons actually led to decreased fertility in the women. Lieberman et. al (2003) found that childhood co-residency with an opposite-sex individual strongly predicts moral sentiments regarding third-party sibling incest, further supporting the Westermark hypothesis.

 

While the exact nature of kin-recognition psychology is still waiting to be defined, and to what degree it can be overcome by cultural forces is as yet poorly understood, an overwhelming body of research now shows that evolutionary biology and evolved human psychology plays a central role in human aversion to incest.

 

Inbreeding among animals

 

Biologically, animals may have an aversion or inclination to inbreeding based on specific local circumstances and evolutionary trends. In some species, most notably bonobos, sexual activity, including between closely related individuals, is a means of dispute resolution or even a greeting. Incest between family members, including parents and children occurs; however, incest between a mother and immature sons, who are less than four years old, has not been observed.

 

The pattern of parenting behavior combined with the structure of dominance hierarchies among many species of animals serves to discourage inbreeding. For example, offspring, in some cases only the male offspring, are often driven away by the mother at about the same age they reach sexual maturity.

 

 

Incest versus exogamy

 

Anthropologists have found that marriage is governed, though often informally, by rules of exogamy, which is marriage of individuals outside their own groups, and endogamy where individuals marry inside their own group. What is considered a group, for purposes of either exogamy or endogamy, varies considerably between societies. Thus, in most stratified societies one must marry outside of one's nuclear family, a form of exogamy, but is encouraged to marry a member of one's own class, race, or religion - a form of endogamy. In this example, the exogamous group is small and the endogamous group is large. But in some societies, the exogamous group and endogamous group may be of equal size. This is the case in societies divided into clans or lineages.

 

In most such societies, membership in a clan or lineage is inherited through only one parent. Sex with a member of one's own clan or lineage — whether a parent or a genetically very distant relative — would be considered incestuous, whereas sex with a member of another clan or lineage — including the other parent — would not be considered incest (although it may be considered wrong for other reasons).

 

For example, Trobriand Islanders prohibit both sexual relations between a man and his mother, and between a woman and her father, but they describe these prohibitions in very different ways: relations between a man and his mother fall within the category of forbidden relations among members of the same clan; relations between a woman and her father do not. This is because the Trobrianders are matrilineal; children belong to the clan of their mother and not of their father. Thus, sexual relations between a man and his mother's sister (and mother's sister's daughter) are also considered incestuous, but relations between a man and his father's sister are not. Indeed, a man and his father's sister will often have a flirtatious relationship, and a man and the daughter of his father's sister may prefer to have sexual relations or marry. Anthropologists have hypothesized that in these societies, the incest taboo reinforces the rule of exogamy, and thus ensures that social ties between clans or lineages will be maintained through intermarriage.

 

Chinese and Indian society provides an example of a society with a very broad notion of the exogamous group, as relations between two individuals with the same surname may be banned.

 

Some cultures cover relatives by marriage in incest prohibitions; these relationships are called affinity rather than consanguinity. For example, the question of the legality and morality of a widower who wished to marry his deceased wife's sister was the subject of long and fierce debate in the United Kingdom in the 19th century, involving, among others, Matthew Boulton. In medieval Europe, standing as a godparent to a child also created a bond of affinity.

 

The Bible, primarily in Leviticus, contains prohibitions against sexual relations between various pairs of family members. Father and daughter, mother and son, and other pairs are forbidden on pain of death to engage in sexual relations. (Father/daughter incest is covered by a prohibition on sexual relationships between a man and any daughter born to any woman he has had sexual relationships with, thereby prohibiting not only incest between father and any possible daughter, but many women where it would be impossible for the daughter to be the man's.) It prohibits sexual relations between aunts and nephews but not between uncles and nieces.

 

 

Forms of Incest

 

 

Parental incest

 

Incest by parents against their children, including adolescents, is considered the most severe form of sexual offense by psychologists and is a felony criminal offense in many nations. Parental incest includes opposite-sex and same-sex forms committed by both fathers and mothers. Child-therapist Susan Forward calls parental incest "perhaps the cruelest, most baffling of human experiences" as it "betrays the very heart of childhood--its innocence".

 

Parental incest often occurs in situations where one parent is either absent from the household or emotionally or sexually unavailable. The present parent may use the child as a substitute for their missing spouse, and the missing spouse may not be present to provide a check on the other parent. Recent findings by psychologists view non-consenting parent-child incest as a form of predation. Child abuse attorney Andrew Vachss calls parental incest a form of rape of a child by the child's parent. Child incest victims are often called "secret survivors", by therapists, because there is often no one to take their side much less listen to their shame, confusion, and self-loathing as incest is a taboo topic. It is known to therapists, that in many cases of such incest the non-perpetrating parent colludes with or denies the other parent's perpetration so the child does not have the other parent to turn to either. Ken Adams states that "a common myth is that overt incest is the exception not the rule in America. This is not the case." He quotes researcher Mike Lew's estimate that there are over 40 million American adults who as children were victims of sexual abuse, 15 million of whom were men. According to the United States' NIS-3 study of child abuse, "the sexual abuse of children has a strikingly low age transition in the distribution of incidence rates. The rate of child sexual abuse was very low for 0-2 year olds, but then relatively constant for children ages 3 and older, indicating a very wide range of vulnerability from pre-school age on." Given the taboo nature of parent-child incest and the fact that it is committed against dependent children it is likely to be under-reported in official government statistics.

 

 

Incest by grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings in parental roles

 

Elder relatives can commit either overt or covert incest against children alone, or, in extreme cases, in combination with the child's incestuous parent. In cases where siblings are used by parents to parent other siblings, incest against the dependent siblings by the pseudo-parent sibling can occur. For a child, the psychological effect of incest by elder or elder-appearing relatives can resemble that of parent-child incest.

 

 

Sibling incest in children

 

Consensual incestuous interactions between similar-age brothers and sisters sometimes occur according to a study by Floyd Martinson who found that 10-15% of college students had childhood sexual experiences with a brother or sister, a form of child sexuality. However, where significant differences in age or capabilities occur between siblings, where elders fail to provide functional families, and/or where force or deception is used, childhood sibling incest can cause serious psychological damage to the younger or less capable sibling according to researcher Richard Niolon. Sibling incest can also damage or destroy the sibling bonds.

 

Author Jane Leder estimates that "23,000 women per million (in America) may have been victimized by a sibling" before age 18. Researcher Andrea Peterson notes that "This may be, at best, a conservative estimate when one considers the scarcity of data, particularly where males are the victims." In treating abused adolescents, therapist Eliana Gil, shows how to transform incested-associated trauma in a case of overt brother-sister incest. She failed to show how the sister committed covert incest against her brother by using him as a substitute 'father' in this fatherless family.

 

 

Consensual adult incest

 

Consensual incest between adults occurs where there is no dependence on the adults as parent-child or sibling-sibling dependence precludes independent consent. A rarely seen case of consensual incest between adult siblings is shown in the English film Sister my Sister screened in 1994, which is based on a true story. The French film, La Petite Lili, which was screened in 2005, shows a fictional case of incipient consensual mother-son incest between independent adults.

 

The British soap opera "Brookside" ran a storyline featuring consensual incestuous sex between the two sibling characters Nat and Georgia in the 1990's.

 

The television series "LOST" contains a semi-incestuous scene in which step-siblings Shannon and Boone sleep together.

 

 

Sexual relations between cousins and other distant relatives

 

In most of the Western world incest generally refers to forbidden sexual relations within the family. However, definitions of family vary. Within the United States, marriage between (first) cousins is illegal in some states, but not in others, and sociologists have classified marriage laws in the United States into two categories: One, used mainly in southern states, in which the definitions of incest are taken from the Bible, and which frowns upon marriage within one's lineage but less so on one's blood relatives, and another group which frowns more on marriage between blood relatives (such as cousins), but less on one's lineage.

 

Twenty-four states prohibit marriages between first cousins, and another seven permit them only under special circumstances. Utah, for example, permits first cousins to marry only provided both spouses are over age 65, or at least 55 with evidence of sterility. North Carolina permits first cousins to marry unless they are "double first cousins" (cousins through more than one line). Maine permits first cousins to marry only upon presentation of a certificate of genetic counseling. The remaining nineteen states and the District of Columbia permit first-cousin marriages without restriction.

 

 

Laws and mores regarding incest in industrialized societies

 

 

Degrees of criminality

 

The laws of many U.S. states recognize two separate degrees of incest, the more serious degree covering the closest blood relationships such as father-daughter, mother-son and brother-sister, with the less-serious charge being pressed against more distantly-related individuals who engage in sexual intercourse, usually down to and including first cousins and sometimes half cousins. In New York State, close-blood-relation incest is a felony with a maximum penalty of four years in prison, while the less serious charge is usually only a misdemeanor. Curiously, many incest laws do not expressly proscribe sexual conduct other than vaginal intercourse — such as oral sex — or, for that matter, any sexual activity between relatives of the same gender, so long as neither party is a minor. This legal position is in stark contrast with that in Australia, where incest is punishable by a maximum of 25 years imprisonment for the more serious form of penetrating a child, even if that child is over 18, and 5 years for the less serious charge of sexual penetration of a sibling or half-sibling. In Sweden it is legal to marry an adopted sibling.

 

Child abuse attorney Andrew Vachss notes that there is also an incest loophole in that laws of most U.S. states that "gives privileged treatment to child rapists who grow their own victims". He writes that:

 

"In New York, sex with a child under the age of 11 is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The law is indexed appropriately, in the chapter on sex offenses. If, however, the sexually abused child is closely related to the perpetrator, state law provides for radically more lenient treatment (emphasis added). In such cases, the prosecutor may choose to charge the same acts as incest. This (incest) is not listed as a sexual offense, but instead as an 'offense affecting the marital relationship', listed next to adultery in the law books. It is a Class E felony, for which even a convicted offender may be granted probation."

 

 

Consensual adult incest

 

Consensual incestuous relations between adults, such as between an adult brother and sister, is illegal in most parts of the industrialized world. These laws are sometimes questioned on the grounds that such relations do not harm other people (provided the couple have no children) and so should not be criminalized. Proposals have been made from time to time to repeal these laws — for example, the proposal by the Australian Model Criminal Code Officer's Committee discussion paper "Sexual Offenses against the Person" released in November 1996. (This particular proposal was later withdrawn by the committee due to a large public outcry. Defenders of the proposal argue that the outcry was mostly based on the mistaken belief that the committee was intending to legalize sexual relations between parents and their minor children.)

 

In the wake of the Lawrence v. Texas decision by the US Supreme Court, striking down laws criminalizing homosexual sodomy as unconstitutional, some have argued that by the same logic laws against consensual adult incest should be unconstitutional. Some civil libertarians argue that all private sexual activity between consenting adults should be legal, and its criminalization is a violation of human rights — thus, they argue that the criminalization of consensual adult incest is a violation of human rights. In Muth v. Frank, the 7th Circuit Court interpreted the case applying to homosexual activity, and refused to draw this conclusion from Lawrence, however, a decision that attracted mixed opinions.

 

In France, incest isn't a crime in itself. Incestuous relations between an adult and a minor are prohibited and punished by law, but not between two minors or two adults.

 

 

Effects of parent-child incest

 

Parental incest is known to sometimes do severe psychological harm to a child, due to the child's physical, mental, and emotional dependence on a parent, due to total disparity in the power of authority, due to the disparity in emotional and physical maturity, and finally due to the fact that the incestuous relationship may damage or destroy healthy aspects of childhood development. Child victims have been observed to go into disassociated or reclusive mental or emotional states due to shame associated with their parent's predation, which is thought to overwhelm their coping capabilities. Becoming "dead inside" is another tactic children have been observed to use in an attempt to deaden the associated pain. Suppression of emotions, as well as a halt or a severe reduction in personal growth has been observed, similar to the effects studied in the psychology of torture. Child-incest victims often suffer from what is known as complex trauma due to developmental immaturity, due to repeated incests, and/or due to being forced to ignore the incest(s) as a child.

 

In adulthood, chronic, complex, and cyclic post traumatic stress has been observed in some victims of childhood parental incest. Shame, suspicion, and unconscious alienation is thought by some psychologists to occur in the first stage of trauma transformation as the victim attempts to suppress past pain. Rage, terror, and sorrow have been observed to surface in the second stage as the victim begins to become conscious of the incest acts. In the last stage of trauma transformation, genuine self-esteem, genuine desire, and, on occasion, genuine joy have been seen in victims. These stages have been observed to take decades to complete and, in extreme cases, to cycle on until the victim's death.

 

Some victims of parental incest suffer severe depression, and/or have committed suicide, which is thought to be due to the inability to accomplish the associated trauma transformations shown above. Some victims also predate against their own children thus resulting in a legacy of incest in following generations, a form of a vicious cycle. Often, even if trauma transformation was successful, survivors have reported that due to the betrayal of innocence, the incest-associated losses, and the trauma-transformation related costs, their lives were much worse off than peers who had not suffered incest by their parents.

 

According to clinical psychologist Ken Adams, covert parent-child emotional incest causes pain similar to that suffered by victims of overt incest but it is rarely identified. Covert incest is deeply harmful to children, as it denies them proper parenting, betrays their innocence, and places pathological demands on them to deal with what are their parents' obligations (Adams 1991). Martyn Carruthers, a Canadian relationship researcher, defined the cross-generational cycles of mother-bonded men and father-bonded women that he calls "family karma".

 

In childhood, victims of covert incest often feel confused, privileged, and 'old' beyond their years. In adulthood, children who were victims of covert incest often feel bonded to the same opposite sex parent and anger towards the same-sex parent, and shame about those feelings, unable to comprehend how their parents have wronged them. The consequences of this parent-child bonding often continue into adulthood, perhaps for the rest of the adult child's life. As Adams says "This separation will not be given. Real emancipation cannot be given. It must be taken". Carruthers' systemic coaching offers lasting solutions for covert emotional incest.

 

 

History

 

 

Ancient Civilizations

 

Some experts claim that incestuous marriages were widespread at least during part of Egyptian history, such as Naphtali Lewis (Life in Egypt under Roman Rule: Oxford, 1983), who claims that numerous papyri attest to many husbands and wives as being brother and sister. However, other scholars counter that it was common practice in Ancient Egypt for lovers to refer to themselves as brother and sister as a term of affection, not in reference to any sibling relationship. Those relationships which appear to have been genuinely incestuous primarily involved members of the royal family. Joyce Tyldesley (Ramesses: Egypt's Great Pharaoh: London, 2000), writing about the pre-Roman Egyptian period, states that within the royal family there was a tradition of hypergamy, where a king or his son might marry a commoner, but his daughter could not marry beneath herself, without the act being considered as degrading to herself. As a result, the royal princess often found herself either marrying her royal brother, or living her life without a spouse.

 

Incestuous unions were frowned upon and considered as nefas (a violation of the natural and social order) in Roman times, and were explicitly forbidden by an imperial edict in AD 295, which divided the concept of incestus into two categories of unequal gravity: the incestus iuris gentium, who was applied to both Romans and non-Romans in the Empire, and the incestus iuris civilis which concerned only the Roman citizens. Therefore, for example, an Egyptian could marry an aunt, but a Roman could not.

 

 

Royal dynasties

 

Although there are reports that adult incest has been notable in many royal dynasties, the evidence usually put forward has been subjected to much criticism. There are cases of siblings marrying which are verified. (And there are many cases in which first and second cousins married, a practice that would be considered "incest" in certain cultures today, but which of course was normal and non-incestuous when practised.) A motive often given by others for this supposed custom of royal incest is that this was in order to help concentrate wealth and political influence within the family. It is noteworthy that this motive is something attributed to these dynasties, not something that they themselves put forward. Since these dynasties did not, in fact, have the norm of royal incestuous marriage, it is specious to attribute any motives to a practice which didn't actually exist. Though usually frowned upon by present-day people, incest within families of royalty or of high esteem was done because the families believed that marrying anyone who was not of their family was not worthy to marry them.

 

Some cultures in which royal incestuous marriage (which included brother-sister unions) has been said to be common, are Ancient Egypt (as explained above), pre-contact Hawaii, the pre-Columbian Mixtec and the Inca. Ray Bixler (see references) shows that this popular view is not only without proper support but is contradicted by historical documentation. Incestuous royal marriages were found in only one Egyptian Dynasty, the Ptolemaic dynasty. This dynasty had thirteen rulers, only one of whom resulted from an incestuous (brother-sister) union. There were eight rulers who had a brother-sister marriage, but seven of these did not lead to a successor. Given these numbers, one cannot say that incestuous marriage was common in Ancient Egypt, nor that it was a common means of producing successors even in the one dynasty for which there is considerable evidence of incestuous marriages.

 

Dynasties of the modern era where there was frequent familial intermarriage were the mid-Habsburgs; one branch ruled over Spain and the other over Austria. Spanish princesses, however, did marry French kings, Louis XIII and Louis XIV who were not Habsburgs (but had Habsburg blood: Louis XIII's grandmother was Johanna of Habsburg, and Louis XIV was his wife's double first cousin: his aunt (a Bourbon) had been her mother, and her aunt (Anne of Habsburg) had been his mother). The Spanish branch died out in 1700, but the last Spanish Habsburg king, Carlos II had been married to María-Luisa of Orléans, grand-daughter of King Charles I of England and niece to King Louis XIV of France: she however had a large amount of Habsburg blood via Anne and Johanna of Habsburg. In 1795 king George IV did marry his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, which evidently was an acceptable practice. However, over the last century, Kings Philip II, Philip III, and (for his second time) Philip IV all married their Austrian cousins (in fact, nieces in the case of Ann of Austria and Mariana of Austria). The Austrian branch continued to rule until 1918, and they are still alive and prospering today. Although the ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra, was of Greek origin, she was the daughter of her father's sister, and while reigning she married her brother, Ptolemy XIII.

 

In Christian society, in which most of the great royal dynasties of the early modern era functioned, incest was a terrible taboo. In 1536 Queen Anne Boleyn of England was falsely accused of incest with her brother, George Boleyn, in order to blacken her name and enable her husband to execute her and marry Jane Seymour.

 

 

In religious traditions

 

 

In mythology

 

Examples of incest in mythology are rampant. In Greek mythology Zeus and Hera are brother and sister as well as husband and wife. They were the children of Cronus and Rhea (also married siblings) and, according to some sources, grandchildren of Uranus and Gaia (a son who took his mother as consort). Cronus and Rhea's siblings, the other Titans, were also all married brothers and sisters.

 

The play Oedipus Rex features the Ancient Greek King having an unknowing incestuous relationship with his mother.

 

In Norse mythology, Loki accuses Freyr and Freyja of committing incest, in Lokasenna. He also says that Njörðr had Freyr with his sister. This is also indicated in the Ynglinga saga which says that incest was legal among the Vanir.

 

In Norse legends, the hero Sigmund and his sister Signy murdered her children and begat a son, Sinfjötli. When Sinfjötli had grown up, he and Sigmund murdered Signy's husband Siggeir. The legendary Danish king Hrólfr kraki was born from an incestuous union of Helgi and Yrsa.

 

Hinduism speaks of incest in highly abhorrent terms. Hindus were greatly fearful of the bad effects of incest and thus practice to date strict rules of both endogamy and exogamy, i.e., marriage in the same caste (varna) but not in the same family tree (gotra) or bloodline (Pravara). But incest was permissble to the Gods. Hindu mythology speaks of the proposal of marriage by Yami to her brother Yama, the God of Death.

 

 

In religion

 

The Bible also contains a number of references to incest.

 

 

Folklore

 

In Icelandic folklore a common plot involves a brother and sister (illegally) conceiving a child. They subsequently escape justice by moving to a remote valley. There they proceed to have several more children. The man has some magical abilities which he uses to direct travelers to or away from the valley as he chooses. The siblings always have exactly one daughter but any number of sons. Eventually the magician allows a young man (usually searching for sheep) into the valley and asks him to marry the daughter and give himself and his sister a civilized burial upon their deaths. This is subsequently done.

 

Sibling incest forms an important part of the plot in the story of Kullervo in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, as also in medieval versions of the British legend of King Arthur.

 

In Sri Lankan folklore, there are at least three signifcant instances where incest is mentioned. The forefather of the Sinhala race, "Sinhabahu", is a king who married his own sister "Sinhaseevali". Incest is again mentioned when King Vijaya's son and daugther fled to the jungle together in protest of their father's second marriage. Also, the brother "Dantha" and the sister "Hemamalini" who brought the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha to the island, seemed to also have a married relationship. Despite the liberal mentioning of incest in folklore, Sri Lankan culture regards incest as a taboo. Then again, Sri Lankan culture is heavily influenced by the culture of former colonial rulers during last couple of centuries.

 

In fairy tales of Aarne-Thompson folktale type 510B, the persecuted heroine, the heroine is persecuted by her father, and most usually, the persecution is an attempt to marry her, as in Allerleirauh or Donkeyskin. This was taken up into the legend of Saint Dymphna.

 

Several Child ballads have the motif of brother-sister incest, such as Sheath and Knife. This is usually unwitting (as in The Bonny Hind, the siblings usually have not seen in each in a long time, or at all) but always ends tragically.

 

 

Fiction

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

 

Incest is a somewhat popular topic in English erotic fiction; there are entire collections and websites devoted solely to this genre, with an entire genre of pornographic pulp fiction known as "incest novels". This is probably because, as with many other fetishes, the taboo nature of the act adds to the titillation. With the advent of the Internet, there is even more of this type of fiction available.

 

Besides this, incest is sometimes mentioned or described in mainstream, non-erotic fiction. Connotations can be negative, very rarely positive, or neutral. For example, in Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude there are several cases of sex between more or less close relatives, the last of which occurs between a nephew and his aunt, resulting in the birth of a child who is born with a pig's tail and precedes the destruction of the whole town of Macondo by a tropical cyclone. Other works of literature show consequences not so grave, such as the V.C. Andrews novel Flowers in the Attic and its subsequent sequels, in which brother and sister uphold a loving relationship; Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, in which fraternal twins share a cathartic sexual experience; and several of Robert A. Heinlein's later stories.

 

Incest is a major element of the Sophocles play Oedipus the King, based on the story from Greek mythology, in which the title character unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. This act came to great prominence in the 20th century with Freud's analysis of the Oedipus complex as lying beneath the psychology of all men. Its female counterpart is called the Electra complex.

 

Vladimir Nabokov's novel Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle deals very heavily with the incestuous relationships in the intricate family tree of the main character Van Veen. There are explicit moments of sexual relations primarily between Van and his sister Ada, as well as between Ada and her younger sister Lucette. Nabokov does not necessarily deal with any complexities or consequences, social or otherwise, which may be inherent to incestuous relationships--outside of the strictly practical concerns of having to hide the taboo relationships from others. Incest in Ada seems mainly to be a sexual manifestation of the characters' intellectual incestuousness, and operates on a similar plane as do other instances of "sexual transgression" in Nabokov's novels of this period, such as pedophilia in Lolita and homosexuality in Pale Fire.

 

In J. R. R. Tolkien's Silmarillion, the characters Túrin and Nienor enter into an incestuous marriage when they meet for the first time while Nienor is suffering from amnesia.

 

In two books of Philippa Gregory's Wideacre Trilogy, the central female characters Beatrice and Julia have intercourse with their brothers Harry and Richard,respectively.

 

Incest plays an influential role in George R. R. Martin's New York Times #1 bestseller fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. In the series, incest is illegal and seen as abnormal; however, children born from incestuous parents (brother and sister, father and daughter) are healthy and no different from children born from non-incestuous parents, although one of them is extremely sadistic. Two of the main characters, a queen and her brother, practice incest in secret, which leads to a major war across the land when it is discovered that their children (not the King's) have inherited the throne. Their public denials of the incest and their secret love for each other causes a great deal of tension and conflict in the series.

 

In Richard Wagner's Ring, the hero Siegfried is the son of the incestuous relationship between Siegmund and Sieglinde.

 

Thomas Mann's The Holy Sinner explores the spiritual consequences of unintentional incest. His short story "The Blood of the Walsungs" also depicts brother-sister incest, drawing explicitly on Wagner's Siegmund and Sieglinde.

 

It also played a minor role in Stephanie Lauren's 12th Cynster novel "The Truth About Love", where the villains in the story were the Fritham siblings, Jordan and Eleanor, who often trysted in Hellabore Hall's Garden of Night. They murdered the heroine's mother Miribelle, purely because she heard and witnessed them in the Garden of Night (which was directly under the balcony of the Hall), and thus tried to prevent her daughter Jacqueline from ever consorting with the Fritham siblings again, creating a huge problem for Jordan, who had plotted to gain Hellabore Hall through a marriage with Jacqueline.

 

The 1994 film Spanking The Monkey depicts a situation in which mother-son incest takes place, leading to the suicide attempt of the latter. Another example is The House of Yes, a late 90's film where incest again leads to tragedy. A depiction of an incestuous world in science fiction can be found in Theodore Sturgeon's story "If All Men Were Brothers Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?".

 

The hit television series Prison Break shows the character T-Bag as a spawn of his father and aunt.

 

It is also a main plot device in the movie Caligula, the Korean movie Oldboy, Roman Polanski's Chinatown and Guy Maddin's film Careful.

 

In the finale episode of season 3 from FX Network's television drama Nip/Tuck, the characters of Quentin Costa and Kit McGraw are exposed as incestuous lovers, of likewise incestuous parents. This discovery comes soon after Quentin is unmasked as the serial killer The Carver, the main antagonist of season 3, along with his accomplice, Kit.

 

Incest has also been a recurring subject in Japanese anime, dating all the way back to one of the medium's earliest pornographic titles, Cream Lemon. Certain anime programs, such as Koi Kaze, are serious studies of the characters as they struggle with their emotions and societal taboos, while others, such as Revolutionary Girl Utena, use incest mainly for shock value and titillation. In the anime Ouran High School Host Club, Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin, twin boys, often imply incest, though it's to tease others. Other notable anime and manga series that include incest are Angel Sanctuary, Onegai Twins, and Paranoia Agent.

 

In the realms of fandom and fanfiction, many fans speculate that there is incestuous subtext between two related characters; however, these theories are not necessarily seen as canon and are often denied or unconfirmed by the original creator(s). Examples of these possibly incestuous characters are Simon and River Tam from Firefly, Edward and Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, and Fred and George Weasley from Harry Potter.

 

 

Fiction self-cest

 

In some fictional stories (usually fan fiction), another term called self-cest is used, when, through either cloning (John Varley's The Phantom of Kansas), time travel (such as in the novel "The Man Who Folded Himself" by David Gerrold and the short story "All You Zombies" by Robert A. Heinlein), or some other odd means, a character has sexual intercourse with him or her self, making them incestuous.

 

In the Metabarons epic, Aghora, the androgynous Metabaron is actually a woman with her male twin brother's brain transplanted. When adult, zie extracted cells from the male brain, fertilized them in her, and thus gave birth to the Nameless Metabaron.

 

This is, of course, impossible in real life.

 

 

Incest In Popular Music

 

Perhaps the first incest line in pop music was "The End" by Los Angeles psychedelic rock band The Doors, in which singer Jim Morrison sings: "Father/Yes son?/I want to kill you/Mother, I want to... fuck you".

 

British musician Kate Bush's song "The Kick Inside" from her 1978 album of the same name depicts an incestuous relationship, pregnancy & suicide involving a brother and sister.

 

The song "Fa La Fa Lee" by rock band Sparks contains the line: "Fa la fa lee /she ain't heavy, she's a brother to me/ What I need, she can't be / Nature, nurture, who's to say?/ But still fa la, fa lee / Anything between us is a felony"

 

Joking about incest in popular music has become a norm. Punk Rock band Blink 182 are notorious for being lighthearted about it in songs like, "The Grandpa Song", and "The Country Song", as well they joke about it frequently at live shows.

 

Giant Drag (American rock band) have a song called YFLMD - which stands for "You Fuck Like My Dad".

 

American rock band Aerosmith deals with father-daughter incest in the song "Janie's Got a Gun" and the subsequent murder of the father by his daughter.

 

Alternative rock band The Pixies utilize themes of incest in several songs including "The Holiday Song". The German metal band Rammstein touches on incest in Spiel Mit Mir, ("Play with me", in English), featuring a brother-brother homosexual relationship, as well as the two songs Laichzeit and Tier. Prince's song "Sister" describes a teenage boy's love affair with his sister.

 

Alternative rock band 3 Doors Down also deals with father-daughter incest in the song "Sarah Yellin'", and the subsequent murder of the father by his daughter.

 

The ever-famous rock group Nirvana released an album entitled Incesticide on December 15, 1992.

 

Steely Dan's "Cousin Dupree" from their 2000 album, Two Against Nature is about a travelling singer who lusts after his cousin. Sample lines include "When I see my little cousin Janine walk in / All I could say was ow-ow-ouch / ... How about a kiss for your cousin Dupree."

 

American singer Sophie B. Hawkins sings about brother-sister incest in her song "Don't Stop Swaying" from the 1992 album Tongues and Tails. The spoken phrase at the end of the song is explicit: "Hansel and Gretel are holding hands deep in the forest. They are lost. This is their own story. The two have fallen in love, and so, after a long quietness amidst the creatures of the night, they begin to kiss."

 

There are many examples where incestuous themes are interpreted into lyrics that are undouptedly dealing with "normal sex". For instance, the term "mama" and "my old lady" are sometimes misinterpreted as representing "mother".

 

Arena rock band Queen was criticized for their song "Tie Your Mother Down", even though the lyrics obviously refer to the "singer's" girlfriend's mother who wants to prevent her daughter from seeing the "singer".

 

Orange County, Florida rockers Attila and the Huns released a song called "Happy Times" which allegedly deals with sibling incest, although the band's bassist denies the claim. The Genesis song "Mama" has arguable innuendos of mother-son incest, although the term "mama" may simply be intended as slang for "woman". Another song depicting incest is 'Me and My Old Lady' by The Offspring, in which sexual acts are described between the singer and his mother (there is some dispute to this, as the term "old lady" is often used by men to describe their wives or girlfriends, not mothers).

 

On his 2003 album, Poodle Hat, Weird Al Yankovic included a parody of Avril Lavigne's song, "Complicated", with Weird Al's version entitled, "A Complicated Song". The song was sung in the third-person, and one of the verses sung was about going to dinner to propose to his girlfriend, only to learn that she was his cousin. The verse was sung as, "How was I supposed to know we were both related? / Believe me, if I knew she was my cousin we never would have dated".

 

 

Incest as a metaphor

 

Sometimes the word "incestuous" is also used metaphorically to describe other inappropriately close relationships, for example between an authority figure and a subordinate, or between people in the same profession or creative field. The term "incest group" is also common in high school, and denotes a group of friends that only date others within their group. Institutions such as churches, colleges, and sometimes whole nations can be described as incestuous when inappropriately close relationships, corrupt conflicts of interest and secret collusions occur inside the institution and especially within the institution's top echelons such as in cases John Boyd exposed in the Pentagon.

 

 

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