Unpopular Opinion: Incest Isn’t Wrong

I don’t mention it often on this blog, but I have a brother. The thought of having any sort of bond with him besides a brotherly one disturbs me – I would rather watch a kitten get shot. Okay, maybe not the most pleasant hypothetical situation, but I think you get my point.

Here’s a question I’ve thought about ever since reading Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma: is consensual incest between adults wrong? I understand that genetically it can lead to abnormalities and illnesses, and I’m confident that no one would wish any harm upon his or her child. But we allow people who have a higher probability of producing children with birth defects to reproduce, so logically, why are we banning brothers and sisters from doing so?

Furthermore, as a firm supporter of interracial relationships and homosexual equality, I find it hypocritical to condemn two consenting adults for loving one another. Sure, I would never participate in any type of incest, but why should I have a say in what others are doing behind closed doors if it’s consensual and innocuous?

Let me make myself clear. I am not endorsing incest. However, I’m not castigating it either. I haven’t done enough research or rumination to develop full-fledged support. I’m just tired of people who say things like “oh my gosh, incest! Gross! That’s so disgusting!” but fail to explain why they believe so.

Look beyond the shock value. Examine why you have the emotions that you do. Don’t just support gay marriage because everyone on tumblr is – support it because it’s a fundamental human right and because you yourself have taken the time to think about it. Don’t just desire for abortion to be banned because it’s wrong – think about why it’s wrong, what can be done about it, and whether women deserve to make choices concerning their own bodies.

I admire how passionate my peers can be, and I love how fiercely my generation fights for certain social issues. But we can’t act solely on what “feels” right. Whether it be incest, homosexuality, abortion, or any other complex moral issue: it’s time to think about these things and then decide on our next step.

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35 Comments

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35 responses to “Unpopular Opinion: Incest Isn’t Wrong

  1. I’m not entirely sure if I agree with your perspective on incest, but I really admire you for putting up this post, what with it being such a controversial topic and you having the “unpopular” opinion on it. That said, I agree completely that you shouldn’t just condemn or condone according to what “feels” right. I think that if you haven’t got a good reason for doing (or not doing) something other than that it is expected of you or seen as “right”, you should stop and seriously reconsider your actions.

    • Thanks! I’d love to hear your perspective on incest sometime if you’d like to share. Ditto on thinking about your actions and reevaluating the reasons behind them.

      • Well, my perspective on incest has come under some pretty harsh light since you wrote this post! (Not that that’s a bad thing). I think the thing with incest is that it’s quite hard not to immediately think “Well, that sounds gross applied to my personal situation, so I guess it must be icky and wrong”. I’m probably still having to get over this hurdle at the moment.

        Actually, when I was in primary school, my teacher gave me a book to read about this girl who wanted to keep her last name when she got married, so she married her cousin. Apart from the whole “why couldn’t she just keep her name?” issue, I didn’t see anything wrong with this. It took me years later to be told that having a relationship with your cousin was frowned upon. It’s on a much less related scale, granted, but I reckon that shows how these things are pushed on us by society.

        Anyway, I don’t really have a problem with two responsible, adult people who happen to be related having a relationship. My main two concerns would be the problem with the children, genetics-wise (although your point about not banning other people with higher chances of having children with genetic defects from having kids made me think harder about this) and the possibility of incest between parent and child. With the latter, other than the ick factor, I just worry about the child, whether adult or otherwise, being pressured or brought up to believe that they should do some things with their parent, even if they don’t want to. That said, you could place that relationship under the “position of trust” banner, which might put this in a different category of incest.

        I don’t really know what to say about the having kids thing. Growing up, that’s what I was told was wrong about incest: the fact that it would cause genetic abnormalities in offspring. Also, having lived in a country where “minor” incest (between uncles and nieces, for instance) is more common, it does seem to cause something of an issue with the children’s health. True, many responsible incestuous people might take this into account, perhaps deciding to adopt instead, but I fear other people might not consider this. But on the other hand, it doesn’t seem fair to stop two adult, loving people from having kids together if they want to. Ugh, the moral matrix of it all.

        So I guess my overall perspective is that I don’t see anything wrong with the basic idea of incest. You know, two people who are related having a relationship and all that. It’s more the issues that follow it and would be brought up if incest were no longer made illegal in some places. Wow, you really got me thinking on that one! I just hope my response wasn’t too long!

        • I understand what you mean in sharing your primary school story. If a young child is raised to believe that it’s okay for people to marry their siblings, they’re probably going to adapt that mindset themselves unless an outside force disrupts it. On the other hand, like most of us are, we’re raised to believe that incest is gross and disgusting and wrong. Perhaps it is sometimes, though maybe not all the time.

          I completely agree that child/adult incest is not right. I don’t think an any adult having a romantic/sexual relationship with a child is right. Even if the child is “willing” their minds are not fully developed and neither is their ability to comprehend the moral implications behind their actions. That’s why statutory rape laws exist.

          Yeah, the child thing would be an issue. I wish there was some way that all those who might engage in consensual, adult incestuous relationships would take into consideration adopting instead of having children the natural way (or that the parents would just be aware of the risks.) The problem with genetics is one that doesn’t have a simple solution, at least not one that I can think of right now.

          I’m glad this post made you think, and of course no response is too long! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I feel like I’m learning about this as well.

  2. samssocial

    I like how you are not afraid to tackle such difficult issues and also take the obvious point of view. Another great blog.

  3. Very interesting and courageous post! Forbidden is a beautifully written novel. I guess you could say I went into the novel with quite a narrow mindset but by the close of the novel I had a completely different understanding of incest. My views now are much like yours, I’m neutral on the matter. I’m neither for or against incest because on the outside many of us view it as morally wrong and a disturbing thing however to those who participate, they have the right to be happy with whoever, even if it’s with their own flesh.

    • Yes, exactly! I think it takes reading a book like Forbidden or being exposed to incest in a more positive/empathetic way to really start to understand it. I’m glad that our views are similar – makes me feel like less of an outcast, ha.

  4. Ooh, a very touchy subject, indeed. I think the problem is that, at this point, most of society is too set in its idea that it’s “wrong”. But then most of society has deemed a lot of stuff wrong which we now accept (or some of us accept) as completely normal and right with, for eg interracial and homosexual relationships. To us these are totally fine and not an anomaly but a hundred years ago, hell fifty years ago both of those kinds of relationships would have been seriously frowned upon.

    And that’s another thing – society; it means so many different things depending on geographical location, time period and cultural values. When I did a Shakespeare paper last year the lecturer told us that homosexual relationships would have been quite normal – at least, up until to the point that you got married, in which case you had to settle down with the opposite sex, of course. But you know, all those ladies walking around arm in arm with their ‘companions’ – their relationship would have definitely been homoerotic, according to my lecturer. I was actually quite interested at that, reminded myself to look it up now (a year later -_- ) And also in Greece, the young boys had to engage in sexual practices with their ‘teachers’ or something, right? My knowledge is very sketchy on that point but I do know that it happened. So what I’m trying to say is, ideas that were unacceptable in one part of the planet were already being practiced in another, so who are we really to write it off as completely wrong?

    I clicked on that GR link and was looking at the reviews and quotes and this one really stood out to me: “Being together, we harm nobody; being apart, we extinguish ourselves.” There’s so much truth in that – it’s the exact argument that interracial and same sex couples use in their favor, that hell I use for them in their favor in any argument I’ve ever had. Logically, when you think about it the only ‘screw’ in the system is that genetically it could do a lot of damage. Romantic love (mostly) leads to sexual love, and that (mostly) leads to babies, but in this day and age, it’s very possible to avoid that as well. It’s still a difficult idea for me to grasp though. I do try to be open-minded but it’s very difficult to be rid yourself of the societal values that become buried in you without even being aware of it.

    (I think human beings are crazy and wonderful – we’re these amazing beings who have such humongous capacities to love and THINK and I think we over-think a lot. Which is good – I mean, thinking leads to new ideas. But it also kind of saddens me that, despite our abilities to love so deeply and so strongly that love has to be tested, and half the time ostracized, shunned and frowned upon.)

    But I mean, how far does it go then? I live in New Zealand, and I reckon it’s pretty conservative, considering. Homosexuality is accepted in the bigger cities but I think there’s still that underlying sense of unease and shock, especially from the older generation. It’s just that everyone’s so freakin’ polite and worried about not being able to be with the times. (Another example of supporting homosexuality cos everyone else on tumblr is.) Anyway, the point I was trying to get to is that recently I saw a story on the news about a father and daughter talking about their romantic love for each other and how they wanted to be together. I remember being horrified and disgusted. How can I not? I guess when you hear something you automatically put yourself in the situation. But to them, it obviously felt perfectly natural. I do have to point out, though, that he had actually left home when she was quite young and only returned many years later, so when they met they were both adults. I don’t know – I guess love really is a many faced thing, and we’re only used to a few varieties of it.

    • I was thinking about how homosexuality used to be more accepted in the past as well! Not 50 years ago past, but Shakespearean past, as you were mentioning. It’s interesting how these relationships can exist for awhile and then become shunned – I remember learning that Alexander the Great was bisexual too. Society does depend on geography and time because we are influenced by those around us. The geography portion has decreased a bit because of the internet though, as ideas and thoughts are able to be shared across time zones and border lines and so on and so forth.

      I know what you mean about romantic love leading to sexual love. I do think that the possible birth defects can be avoided if the couples are wise, but from a merely logical standpoint either way it wouldn’t matter in regard to whether the incestuous couple has a right to love one another. I know that it’s super difficult to reject society’s values that have been so deeply ingrained in us. I feel like it’s a gag reflex – we can take only so much in that we’re not used to before we automatically reject it, even without thinking. It’s like how I used to be with homosexuality; my mom always told me that it was 100% wrong and that everyone who’s gay deserves to die… I guess I didn’t really doubt her until I read books with gay protagonists and until I realized I was gay myself.

      Thanks for sharing what it’s like in New Zealand – I don’t get much exposure to how GLBT issues are in areas outside of the US aside from articles I read. Also, I don’t blame you for feeling disgusted about the daughter/father romance. There’s something within me that makes me want to feel disturbed and grossed out too. It’s weird because, extending what you said, what if you met someone and fell in love with them and then somehow you learned that you two were siblings. Is it now wrong? You’re right that there are many faces to love, and there’s much to learn about it in terms of society accepting it and whether we can judge what types of love are right and wrong.

      • I know, a lot of practices seem to go in and out of society just as quickly and frequently as fashion does. I think in a sense people in Shakespearean times were actually a bit more sexually liberated than the present – or maybe just as liberated. History can be surprising.
        Yeah, that’s true – a lot of different ideas are able to be shared thanks to the internet, but I don’t think that just because they’re shared, they’re bound to be accepted as well. I mean, it depends on the culture itself. I’m a Sri Lankan, but I didn’t grow up in Sri Lanka. My parents on the other hand did, and though they’ve lived in other places for several years they’re adamant that homosexuality is wrong. They didn’t think gays deserved to die, but they were definitely against it. And they’re very good-hearted people, I love them to bits, but I can’t agree. It also leads me to think that my own opinion is simply a product of the generation I was born into and the places I grew up. Odds are I would have a similar opinion to my parents if I’d grown up in the same kind of culture that they did, too. I’m thankful that I’m not, but I can see how easy it would be to fall into that way of thinking. Even now, in the twenty-first century people have very rigid, black and white views on what they consider to be right and wrong.

        Avoiding birth defects would just be part of the battle, though, wouldn’t you say? If two siblings tried to have a romantic relationship the only conditions that would enable them to be happy (that I can think of) are if they moved away from people who knew them and didn’t reveal to their new neighbours that they’re siblings.

        And then if they did want kids, and they decided to adopt, they might have to hide it from them, too. I don’t know – it’s a very tangled thread.

        I find it hugely interesting how much of a conflict there is between biology and the human heart. I mean, genetically speaking it doesn’t make sense that same sex couples would want to actually have sex because it doesn’t actually lead to reproduction. But obviously the emotional involvement can be just as sincere as with heterosexual couples. Ahh, I’m rambling.

        Yeah, exactly! What if you’ve been separated as siblings and then meet again years later to fall in love and then find out that you’re related? That would be horrible. That’s why that novel “Forbidden” puzzled me a little bit, because those two have obviously lived together for years as siblings (or that’s how it seems from the blurb, anyway). And dlaiden’s comment below also interests me. That bit about how children who grew up together didn’t become involved in romantic/sexual relationships in later life. Maybe that’s a bit of natural genetics kicking in. In that sense, I wonder if “Forbidden” is believable. Although, I doubt many people would have the courage to speak up and say it is and reveal themselves (and I wouldn’t blame them).

        • It is unfortunate how people can have close-minded views – while in some cases it’s good that we stick to our beliefs, it’s saddening when those beliefs are hurtful to others or make others less equal. I’m often curious myself as to what would have happened if I wasn’t gay; would I have have been apathetic or even against homosexuality myself? I only hope that society and those inhabiting it can spread their influence in terms of love and acceptance so that more and more people can see the light.

          I do think that it would be very, very difficult for incestuous couples to live a normal life. Pretty much impossible, actually. Unlike interracial couples or homosexual couples they can be seen and not immediately assumed as brother and sister (unlike if two men were raising a child – obviously they’re gay.)

          Yes, I do think romantic love transcends biology that isn’t exactly conflict. There are many straight couples who cannot reproduce naturally but still remain together – I don’t see homosexual relationships as any different. Romantic love and sexual love are tied together but in a different way for every relationship, I think.

          In Forbidden I felt like Maya and Lochan were pushed beyond just having a normal relationship – what they had to deal with really was like what a married couple would have to deal with. They managed the finances, raised their younger siblings, etc. Natural genetics may predispose us to avoid incestuous relationships as a way to preserve the strength of our offspring, but you never know when nurture will decide to overrule nature and blur the familial/romantic lines. I remember reading a heartbreaking story about two siblings falling in love on tumblr but after five minutes Googling I can’t find it… however, if I do, I’ll send it to you.

  5. Ha, we were actually having a debate on this in Philosophy class the other day. The idea that incest is wrong is a completely emotional one; as Ayer (well, I think it was him) would put it you are simply saying: ‘I don’t like incest.’ Any actual biological ramifications as a result of it are, as you said, negligible, and with gay couples completely null. Studies have been done though which suggest an aversion to incest is innate (like children being raised together in an Israeli kibbutzim not forming sexual relationships in later life.) Like you, I don’t personally advocate it. I think some emotionally-charged morals are necessary for human society to function and/or grow, for example a negative attitude (in most cases) to murder or (in recent years) child molestation.

    • Ah, I can’t wait to take Philosophy classes when I’m in college! I agree with your point that certain emotionally-charged morals are necessary. Our society would be kind of doomed if murder wasn’t frowned upon; as for child molestation, clearly that deserves reprimand as well, as it’s not consensual and children are too young to know what’s going on compared to an adult. I think one of the main arguments against incest is that it will lead to society dismantling in a sense. Though I can somewhat see that slippery slope (at least a whole lot more than when people apply that argument to homosexuality) I’m still curious as to whether allowing incest would cause chaos and disorder and all of that.

  6. I agree too, we should be able to justify our opinions. I’m generally a ‘love is love’ kind of person but I can’t come around to say this type of relationship should be … well I don’t like it for the reason that, like Lochan and Maya, they are brother and sister for heavens sake, too closely related in my opinion have have such feelings for each other. Perhaps that’s not reason enough, I have too think about it more, right now what I have to say sounds too complicated in my head to explain properly.

  7. I will look out for Forbidden. It is not everyday you see a book in the Young Adult genre that is about touch subjects. I respect you for posting your opinion on this topic even though you have the unpopular opinion. I am not against incest nor do I approve of it. I don’t know enough about it to have a strong opinion on it. I agree with you that we need to learn to not pick a side because it “feels right”.

    • I know, when I saw Forbidden I was quite shocked that someone had the guts to write it and have it published – I was even more shocked when I read a myriad of positive reviews. I’m glad there’s another person out there who’s still on the fence!

  8. Eugine

    That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking since my view on homosexuality changed! (=about 5 years ago) I mean, let’s take a look at the history: both interracial marriage and same-sex marriage were frowned upon, even legally banned. But people’s opinion is changing! Next up are polygamy and incessant (?) relationships – but it’ll take another century to achieve acceptance for the last two. But I hope we do. Sometime.

    • I agree that it’ll take time. It’ll be even more difficult for polygamy and incestuous relationships because of the law – it’ll be so hard to work out marriage licenses and privileges with polygamous relationships, even if everyone in the relationship is in it from his or her own free will. Divorces would be messy, and other issues might arise – but perhaps society will come to see it as taking the necessary steps for those who love.

      • Eugine

        I agree – working on changing the laws would be the most difficult, but hey, it wasn’t until Lawrence v. Texas (2003) that “same-sex activities” became officially legal in all States. I have hopes for the future! 🙂

  9. hmm. regarding incest, I think it must be dealt in a case by case basis. However, in all cases, I do not think they should raise children. Not that their children would turn out twisted, but their children would be severely shunned in society and it would be unfair to raise children in that environment. They shouldn’t suffer to the (perceived) sins of their parents.

    Michelle

    • Hm…. I see what you mean. I guess it would be difficult for them to be raised well unless their parents kept their condition secret. It’s unfortunate because that same argument could apply to homosexuals; good thing that that isn’t really the case anymore and gays are being treated better.

  10. Great post! My comment would be that the ick-factor comes from the fact that probably the majority incest cases are abuse. So the term ‘incest’ comes loaded with the idea of older men sexually abusing or exploiting and emotionally manipulating younger women in a family. But I think you’re totally right that when it comes to consenting adults, there no real reason for it to be illegal. There was a story a few years ago in the press about a half brother and sister who met in their 20s, fell in love and started a relationship. I think they had kids too, and the guy spent time in jail for incest. It’s kind of ridiculous.

    • That’s true, the availability heuristic probably does pop up quite often and cause people to assume incest only refers to cases of abuse or pedophilia. That story does sound heartbreaking – it shows how there are always exceptions to the rules society tries so hard to abide to.

  11. Well, I’m all for it! 😀 What is icky in it? Love just happens. But several restrictions are in order due to practicalities of possible child abuse. Other than that, there is nothing wrong in it fundamentally.

  12. You raise some very intriguing points. I’m definitely far from condoning incest, but I admire you for being able to take a step back and disassociate yourself from the shock value and just look at the issue itself. I can tell you’re a very thoughtful person. Another great post!

  13. Kindred

    My god, all your posts are so deep and insightful. Thank you so much for being alive!

  14. keal

    As a kid in the early 1970’s, I grew up in a low-income neighborhood. Everyone was friendly, and while adults gossiped, they didn’t get involved in problems that weren’t their own. One particular family, the old man had kids from his daughter and his granddaughter. The kids were mentally handicapped, but we played with the kids and, being kids, we didn’t know the word incest. We just thought the family was wierd. Thinking back, I guess if this happened today, someone would have had the family investigated.

    One of my best neighborhood friends at the time (he had a sister almost the same age, and an older, teenage brother) used to call me once in awhile to peek into his old brother’s bedroom window from outside the apartment, and we used to watch him having sex with his girlfriend. This was sex education for me. We didn’t have cable TV or computers at the time, so this is what we did for fun. One day my friend came over and told me he had sex with his sister, he did it just like we saw his older brother and his girlfriend. I told my older sister, and she confronted my friend’s sister and told her she’s not supposed to have sex with family members. It started a small argument, and that led to discussing the other local family where the old man had kids from his daughter and granddaughter, and that they were handicapped.

    We moved out of the neighborhood while I was a teenager. About 5 years ago I run into my old friend and we chat a bit. His family bought a house, both parents died, and the house was left to him, his sister and older brother. He lives in the house with his sister, who was recently divorced. They both were doing drugs together, which led to her divorce, so she moved in and they were doing good, he said. I knew where his older brother worked, and by chance stopped him to chat. My friend’s older brother was married and running his father-in-law’s business, and kept his name on his parent’s house because he knows his younger brother and sister are into drugs and it’s the only way to insure the house stays in the family. He said he went over with his wife to make sure the house was clean a few times and said it was being kept tidy, so he’s keeping an eye on his siblings. He also said he thinks they might be having sex together,, because he walked in on them sleeping nude together a couple times. He was trying to find a program or something he could send them to, that would help straighten them out.

    That’s the last I heard about my friend and his family. They still live in the parent’s house, It makes me wonder, families like this must be all over the place. Sad but they must be out there.

  15. Lilac

    Thank you! For voicing it out haha
    I read forbidden 6 months ago and still cannot get over it. I doubt I ever will.

    I am planning to reread the book again soon which is why I am doing a quick research on this topic. I am really glad to find your post and see that there are people who have the same opinion as me 🙂

    Cheers

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