The Incest Taboo

The incest taboo is one of those tricky moral question for people who don’t accept some sort of divine command form of morality. Consider this case from Gawker:

David Epstein, 46, a political science professor at Columbia University, was arrested and charged with a single felony count of incest on Wednesday. He was reportedly engaged in a three-year-long consensual sexual relationship with his 24-year-old daughter.


Given that the relationship (apparently) ended a year ago, and it was (apparently) consensual, and the woman was (apparently) over 18 when it began, it’s unclear what prompted the investigation, or why Epstein was arrested now, or whether or not his daughter is or was also under investigation.

How do we feel about this? Other than “eewwwwww!” For the sake of the discussion, let’s assume that the bare bones story is accurate and that there was no harm done, no pregnancy resulted and everything was consensual. Granted, there’s the issue of adultery, but the professor likely wouldn’t have been arrested for that.

Or how about this case of a mother breastfeeding her six year old son from the Daily Mail (sorry custador, but at least it’s not one of their editorials.):

The love between mother and son is ­tangible. But there is something intensely uncomfortable about this scene — a child big enough to prop himself up to suckle, jostling at his ­mother’s breast with his infant brother.

William is a baby, completely ­dependent on his mother. Jonathan is a small ­person, rapidly becoming a bigger ­person, and at his age many little boys would grimace at the thought of ­suckling at mummy’s breast, let alone competing with a baby sibling.

Many mothers, too, will find ­Amanda’s decision to breastfeed a six-year-old and a five-month-old simultaneously ­shocking and even distasteful.

This caused a pretty intense reaction from the folks at Scotteriology, where you’d think repeated viewings of the New Mystics would have deadened their sense of horror.

This is clearly against tradition and triggers some worries about incest, as well as a sense of revulsion from many. (That said, breast feeding seems to set some people off for some reason.) But by what rationale could we say that it is immoral?

And no, I don’t think I’m going to give this post an image.

  • Michael

    I think incest is weird and kind of gross but I don’t think it is in itself immoral. Who’s to say it is? Whom does it hurt? Where do you draw the line?

    There are lots of weird (and kind of gross) things you can do privately but most of them aren’t considered immoral and certainly aren’t illegal.

    The breastfeeding the kid thing is extremely weird and is a little different due to possible health effects and probably psychological damage. I mean, anything you do to your kid that could be harmful is fair game for legislation, though that doesn’t mean there necessarily should be a law. I don’t know enough about this kind of thing to really say what it would mean to the kid, so I can’t comment, but I definitely wouldn’t advise it.

    • coffeejedi

      “Whom does it hurt?”
      I’d say it hurts the children psychologically, the family at a genetic level, and society at a much broader scale.

      If parent->child incest was allowed, the gene pool would shrink and inbreeding would result in disease or deformity. The children of such unions would also be psychologically “stuck” in their family as generation after generation continued as a result of inbreeding.

      I also think part of what makes a society strong is inter-familial relationships, as people grow up and share ideas and traditions with their spouses and new families. Not to mention that we need more smart people of course. Ever notice that mixed-breed dogs are generally smarter than pure-breds? I think the same would apply to humans as well.

      • MahouSniper

        I honestly have no idea what you’re trying to say here. Are you suggesting that if we allow incest, everyone would always engage in incest, shrinking the human gene pool? If you’re talking about that specific family, why should I care about their personal gene pool?

        Of course there are problems with children born as a result of incest. We’ve known this for a long time. However, there can be problems with any child. I don’t see how incest is inherently immoral simply because there could potentially be problems. If their both of age and both consent, it’s not my business to judge what I don’t understand.

        • Siberia

          What Mahou said.

        • coffeejedi

          I hastily threw up my ideas Friday morning without really thinking. It was more of a brain-dump than anything.

          I guess what I was trying to say is that we have evolved to reject incest for various reasons. It harms the gene pool, and it harms our society.

          • Kodie

            Does one occurrence harm society that it needs to be punished though? Unless it’s one of the biggest secret things going on under the radar, hardly anyone even wants to, are they socially averse or more personally grossed out by the idea, I don’t know. People in these relationships know they are breaking the rules, they probably shame themselves a great deal for having the feelings of attraction at all to someone so closely related before they get into it. The last obstacle is that, say, not only does someone maybe secretly and shamefully want to screw his sister, but has to find out if she likes him like that too. I think it’s possible a lot more people have attraction to a family member than ever admit it to anyone, and if they did, that family member would more likely avoid them and reject them for that purpose, maybe altogether, because it’s still gross to them. They risk a lot just admitting it, in the so fewer instances of mutual attraction, that I think we’re not in danger as a society of there being an outbreak of gene-damaging reproductive activities. And for all these people who could possibly admit having this attraction and finding out that it is mutual, even fewer still act on the feelings, but just try to find happiness in a normal relationship with a non-relative. And I would not really interfere in the few that don’t, how harmful to society can that really be?

      • harshad

        I’d say it hurts the children psychologically.

        Not if the ‘child’ is an adult.

        the family at a genetic level, and society at a much broader scale.

        Not if they aren’t reproducing. Seriously, what percentage of human sexuality is reproductive? And ‘hurting society’ is vague. Disturbing some members of society does not count as hurting the entirety of society.

        I also think part of what makes a society strong is inter-familial relationships, as people grow up and share ideas and traditions with their spouses and new families. Not to mention that we need more smart people of course. Ever notice that mixed-breed dogs are generally smarter than pure-breds? I think the same would apply to humans as well.

        Ok. Reproductive incest is bad. Fine. How about non reproductive incest. And the first part of your argument is a straw man. No one said thy weren’t interacting with other people.

        This makes you uncomfortable. Ok. I get it. Making up arguments to justify its illegality. Especially when that illegality leads to arrests, is really sad.

      • Michael

        Jedi, your objections to reproductive incest seem to be based on eugenic principles and your objections to incest without regard to reproduction seem to deny the agency of young adults.

        I can’t really imagine a decent moral framework in which I could accept either.

      • Mogg

        Any references for that hypothesis regarding mixed-breed dogs?

  • Michael

    And by the way, if “inc­­es­t” is caught in the moderation word filter, this could be problematic.

  • Gordon

    For me the “some reason” I find breastfeeding uncomfortable is the overlap it makes between person and food. But I certainly dont feel like that is any reason to stop people feeding their babies. Brast feeding a kid old enough to eat solids though…

  • Custador

    I think the reaction to incest is actually evolved; if you interbreed you’re likely to produce offspring with severe genetic illnesses, therefore people who dislike the idea of incest are more likely to succesfully breed.

    • Michael

      The effect is not nearly as strong as you suggest, but yes, inbreeding is bad for genetic diversity, so I imagine our negative response to it is probably (partially) evolved.

      • nazani14

        Thank you for pointing that out. People should research their own genealogies. Many will find, as I did, that marrying cousins was quite common. So what if a few children with severe birth defects were born? They generally didn’t have children of their own, and back when women routinely had 6 or 8 children, a ‘lost’ child didn’t affect the family or community.

        • wintermute

          IN many places (England, for example) marriage between first cousins is legal.

          • runty_cactus

            Marriage between first cousins is legal in Australia too. I don’t know anyone who has done it though.

        • Michael

          Having children with your cousin probably would lead to no evident increase in genetic defects of your children. You just aren’t closely related enough. It would be different if instead of your cousin, it was your aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew, and worst of all for your sibling, parent, or child.

          • UrsaMinor

            You share one eighth of your DNA with a first cousin. That’s a pretty significant risk if you are part of a small, inbred population. If you are part of a large, outbred population, the risk is small but not zero.

            • Michael

              But you don’t get deformities just because your parents share some genes. I think you misunderstand the problem at hand.

            • UrsaMinor

              I understand the problem. My bad for not elaborating clearly. You get deformities when your parents are carriers of the same recessive alleles of a defective gene, and you happen to be born with two copies of the defective allele (i.e., you have no functional “good” backup allele at that locus). Every human carries a dozen or so single copies of defective recessive alleles that are harmful in the homozygous state. Marrying a random stranger means that you and your partner’s defects are usually in different genes, and your children will usually inherit at least one good copy of every gene to mask the recessive bad one. Marrying a close relative means that you are likely to be carrying some of the same recessive defects of the same genes in direct proportion to your degree of consanguinity. The chances of your children receiving two bad copies of a particular gene is therefore much higher if your partner is a close relative.

          • Francesc

            You share 1/8 of your genes with a 1st grade cousin at least
            That would mean that your offspring has a probability of 1/16 of having a defectuos recessive gene, in any gene your grandparents had a defectuous copy. According to UrsaMinor “Every human carries a dozen or so single copies of defective…” and that would mean that your offspring has 54% probabilities of having at least one of those deseases. If you had two children, that would be 79% probabilities of at least one of them having such a genetic disease.

            Now, worst case scenario: a very small population in wich two brothers marry two sisters, being them 1st grade cousins. Then the son of the first couple marry the daughter of the other couple (1st grade cousins again). The probabilities for their children to have a copy of the same gene, twice, are 1/8. That means 80% probabilities for every children to have a genetic disease and 96% probabilities, if you have two children, that at least one has.

            AND all of that is considering that their ancestors don’t share any defectuos gene, that the only way then can get two defectuous copies is because they came from the same defectuous gen, recently.

    • Dr Science

      I’m no geneticist, but I was under the impression that the negative effects of inbreeding were generally cumulative. In other words, the longer the history of inbreeding in a family, the more likely that negative genetic mutations will compound on one another. That’s why many members of royal families in Europe are hemophiliacs, because for hundreds of years those families were marrying each other off to cousins, uncles, etc for generation after generation. A single isolated instance of inbreeding, say when first cousins procreate, doesn’t carry a significantly higher chance of negative mutations in the offspring than when two genetically dissimilar individuals procreate.

      • UrsaMinor

        This is essentially correct, but you are conflating the concept of mutation with simple inheritance. The mutant in the British royal family was most like either Victoria or her mother, because the hemophilia defect first appears in Victoria’s son Leopold and on no collateral branches of the family tree. But note well: none of Victoria’s descendants were mutants at this locus, because they carried an *unchanged* copy of the gene they inherited from her. The large number of children that Victoria had multiplied the number of copies and pumped up the frequency of that allele in a small population.

        Hemophilia A in European royalty is a great example of mutation, genetic drift, and the founder effect in small inbreeding populations, but it’s poor example of how genetic defects work in general. It’s way more insidious than your usual garden-variety genetic defect because it’s a recessive sex-linked trait and it doesn’t play by the rules of autosomal disorders. The defective gene is on the X chromosome and if you’re male, you have zero chance of inheriting a good copy of the gene from your father. That means that female members of the British royal family who are asymptomatic carriers with only one bad X chromosome can marry absolutely anyone they like, and their male children will still have a 50% chance of being hemophiliac whether the father is a close relative or not.

  • BreaMarie

    It’s funny, because I never thought about this topic from a religious vs. non-religious perspective. Now that I am, yes there are some “icky” personal feelings about the topics, but when you break it down– it’s a consensual relationship between adults and no harm done… it’s hard to oppose.

    The difference between the religious and the non-religious (and of course this isn’t all encompassing) is that we would never try to legislate against people’s behavior because of an “icky” feeling.

  • Kodie

    This flowchart says, “Absolutely Not!!!”

    I think the taboos have more to do like not dipping your pen in the company ink, don’t shlt where you eat. I have read stories of people who had sex with their sibling in secret, but generally grew out of it.

    For a breast-feeding 6-year-old, and for his mother. At which point is she more than just food? I mean, I just don’t know that’s healthy, it’s just awkward like wetting your pants at school. Think about his future relationships with women – I’ve never had a healthy one with a man too attached to his mother as it is. If you have two children closer together in age, the older one might still be breast-feeding, but for a 6-year-old… he should have his nutritional needs met on a plate by now. If a kid can use a fork, that’s how you know he’s done on the boob for sure. The utility of the breast, I think, is for carrying a baby on the hip, a helpless person who can’t digest more complex foods. Once they can make their own sandwich, that stage of life is done for sure. What’s a problem is once they get to the age of 6 and you tell them it’s time to stop this stuff, they are too used to it and they don’t know why. How do you tell him it’s time to get off, it would have been easier a long time ago. It’s like she maybe meant to stop but couldn’t figure out the right time until it just got out of control. Or else she’s a needy crunchy lady who thinks this is the best possible way to forge a solid relationship with her school-aged son… I suppose she thinks he’ll know when to stop when he likes it so much?

    • wazza

      as a dungeon master, I heartily approve of this chart.

  • mikespeir

    We have to be careful that in giving our morality more rational underpinnings we contrive rationales that could be used to excuse anything.

    • mikespeir

      “…that we NOT contrive….”

      • wazza

        that wouldn’t be rational, though.

        • mikespeir

          How so?

          • wazza

            how is it rational to create arguments for doing things that are harmful?

            • mikespeir

              It isn’t. The problem is that rationales aren’t always provably rational, even though we’ll often insist, and even believe they are. We often do things we have a baser urge to do and then turn around and “backfill” with rationalizations that may have little relation to truth. Obviously, we want people to think we’re paragons of reason. If we’re cunning enough in our justifications, we might even be able to convince some that we are.

              I think that morality, however it’s defined or founded, seems to be in place to coax us do the “right” thing or keep us from doing the “wrong” thing, overriding hurtful proclivities. (I mean, if we were automatically inclined to do right and avoid wrong, would the notion of morality even come to mind–or need to?) When I see people going with those proclivities and then trying to justify themselves with “reason,” I get suspicious.

  • Julia

    Although I understand it is uncomfortable, I’m appalled that you would equate breastfeeding with incest. Even with an older child. People who have never fed their babies, don’t seem to understand that when you do, it loses any sense of sexuality. I want to repeat that; breastfeeding is NOT a sexual act, despite how it may make you feel to look at. I think when women continue to do it extendedly, it continues to be non-sexual for them, they only feel as if they are nurturing their child. Breastfeeding a child, as opposed to a baby, is only a taboo in THIS culture.

    • Michael

      I wondered what the connection was supposed to be, too. However, if we look at the post in a broader sense, both these activities seem to be activities with no obvious immediate negative impacts but which both carry strong negative social taboos and which seem weird or gross.

      But since the title of the post is “The Incest Taboo” this doesn’t really cut it for me.

    • Kodie

      The US is in general a little too squeamish about breast-feeding. They think women who do it in public are flashing their boobs all over the place, and what harm comes when a child sees some woman’s boobies! Even from a small age, I mean, I think with babies, we think they are so innocent and because they lack language, are unable to pick up on the embarrassment we’re supposed to have over nudity (so it’s ok to feed them). Once a child is old enough to giggle about boobies, even if not old enough to sexualize them, we assume he is sexualizing them, or at the least, some perverse association with having one in his mouth, if he is still eating off of one, not that his mother also accommodates his request for sexual reasons. I think it is extremely nurturing in her mind, not sexual at all, but on the surface of it, what we socially would call a “mama’s boy’s mama” precisely. It’s nice when your parents love you so much, but to function well as an adult, it doesn’t look a lot like she cares much to allow or encourage him to be an individual. It seems like the kind of mother who will pick out all his clothes forever, bring over cooked meals for him to heat up, not really help his independence any.

      I mean, there’s a significant difference in age between a child we normally allow (up to 2 years old) breastfeeding to occur at all, and the time a child starts discovering and accumulating social skills (and social garbage), so by the time they’re 6, his mother “should be” discreet when feeding the infant, and also a little better about discipline. I say “should be” discreet around him around the house, but also discreet around other impressionable 6-year-olds in the world. Breastfeeding seems to make a lot of people uncomfortable, as in, they know it goes on, but please don’t do it in front of them, cover it up, go somewhere else, and that’s just for feeding an appropriately aged infant. “Boobs” are for looking sexy only – it’s almost like we don’t want to confront their actual use, and babies are too young, it’s ok to feed them because they don’t know. It’s not ok to feed a child who is old enough to remember it, or old enough to associate boobies in alignment with their socially acceptable meaning.

      I read the article, she says she was ready to stop at about 3, and he was too old already then to take “no” as an answer, her husband encouraged her to continue as long as the boy liked, and that if she knew he’d be breastfeeding still by 6, she might not have breastfed him at all. Which she admits to doing mostly to avoid having to do all the work of washing bottles and preparing formula.

      I think that’s why the cutoff is usually 2 instead of 3. There’s a lot more of a person to negotiate with by the time he’s 3 than when you can just distract him a lot easier when he was still 2 until he forgets all about it.

  • Thegoodman

    I don’t think that consensual incest among adults should be illegal. I personally abhor the thought of watching my wife sleep with a man in front of my eyes, listening to Rush Limbaugh, and eating McDonalds. That doesn’t mean any of those things should be illegal (except perhaps the Limbaugh thing).

    Consensual incest among adults might be weird as hell but who is really hurt by it? Making crazy activity illegal doesn’t prevent people from being crazy. Like an above poster said, many (most?) of us enjoy some sick shit behind closed doors, who are we to judge what other consenting adults should enjoy?

    The breast feeding issue is entirely different. While it is also very weird and will likely having lasting detrimental psychological effects on the child, it is no worse than what millions of mothers fail to do every day of every year: equip their children to deal with real life. It is just another form of control used by mothers to keep their children depend on them, thus feeding their own self esteem issues. Not all mothers do things like this, but many do.

    The extra creepy part of the breast feeding story is that these are common and they are ALWAYS a boy who is doing the breast feeding. I can recall a dozen or so stories of a 5/6/7 year old child breast feeding, and every single one was a boy. The question is then, what is this mother really up to? But it is difficult to pursue/investigate anything and there are certainly more important issues we should be worrying about.

    • JT

      There was a TV spot on the BBC a few years back about a mother with her 8 and 12 year old daughters and she STILL breastfed both of them. The woman herself was nearly 50.

      I honestly found it quite appalling — I think that the “ick factor” for me, as someone put it, is that there is absolutely no necessity for such an act. It is the dependency of her mother on her children and not the other way around that causes it to happen.

      I also remember one of the daughters saying “I’d rather have mother’s milk than a whole crateful of melons!” I think the humor was lost on her.

  • TC

    I don’t think the mother breastfeeding the 6 year old counts. The father daughter thing however goes past a regular squick for me because of the huge influence a parent has over their child. I can’t imagine that she really made a free choice in the matter.

    • Michael

      I can’t imagine that she really made a free choice in the matter.

      You need a better imagination. Keep in mind that she was already, what, 21 when the relationship started? I mean, it’s weird, but for the sake of argument, we are supposed to assume that this is a fact, in which case it’s hard to come up with objective reasons to oppose it.

      • Michael

        It is also hard to come up with reasons why <q*gt; doesn’t work.

      • TC

        Assuming her dad didn’t do any weird “grooming” leading up to her “free” choice to enter a relationship with him.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know why we assume it was the father’s fault. I mean, I guess when one person has what most of society would consider an unhealthy attraction to another person, that person should decline to enter into that relationship, so if the daughter was attracted to her father, he should have said “no, that would be wrong and gross” but he didn’t. You’re assuming he was just there preying on her and giving her no options, abusing her, abusing his power. Which could also be true. Little girls do sometimes grow up wanting to marry their dad with no abuse on his part, just that he’s a great guy. Usually, you meet other boys, though. Sometimes, you have a terrible dad, and you meet other guys and play out your daddy issues with them! Is that really better?

          I think when we see that she was 21, there just comes a time when you can’t save people from themselves, and just assume it is their life and they have to handle their own decisions. It is one relationship between people we can only assume are adults. There are lots of ways to mess up at being an adult that we don’t try to repair (watching Jerry Springer doesn’t count), so I don’t think it should be illegal. Most of the things we think should be illegal because we also think they’re wrong and should be punished. Child abuse should be punished, but incest isn’t always child abuse. When there is no law, there’s also no law that says we can’t frown on it, but we shouldn’t make a law about everything we frown upon.

          It’s funny, but there are laws about who you can marry, because marriage is a legal distinction that sort of limits who you can “legally” have children with. In most states, homosexuals still can’t marry, because they can’t -make- their own children together. You also can’t marry an animal, or your sister. I think inter-racial marriages were also barred due to occasion that one shouldn’t make children with someone of another race (for the child’s sake, always, as in the case of incest). Frowning upon any of these relationships should be sufficient for a society to handle, because not all of them are really wrong, and none of them are wrong according to the business of the state. I think marriages are a household arrangement primarily constructed for the business of raising children, and really no other reason (other than we allow them for love, and merely expect there to be children in the picture shortly after). That is why there are some people you shouldn’t be allowed to marry – and some people who’ve been legally unallowed to do so that should be. Marriage and rape are really the only concerns the state should have with regards to sex.

          Sex without marriage isn’t illegal, but you can see that some segments frown upon it. If they could make birth control illegal, they would. If there’s no birth control in the world, desperate people would have to marry, and married people would be bogged down with children, as if this is what they want. I am just trying to think of examples of… needs coffee.

          Incest shouldn’t be illegal, we can keep to it at the frowning upon stage. Law should be serious, a lot of things are mostly icky but nobody’s business. A lot of things people just think are icky, but there’s really nothing wrong with them. The law has no business in who you have sex with, as long as there’s consent – adults can consent. A child has no legal power of consent, that doesn’t say what they really wanted, it says they are too young to know what they really wanted as far as an adult taking advantage of that. Animals… we haven’t got any respect for most animals in the way to give them power of consent. We can’t ask them, and we don’t think they would care.

          In most cases, there’s nothing so wrong with it that the state needs to become involved. What they are and should be most concerned for is the child – whether or not what’s best for a child is really a bad set of parents, the state cares very little. If they are mutants and deformed physically incapable of a normal life due to the relations between two people, that’s one thing, but mostly I think it’s to save them from societal rejection – a bi-racial baby might be rejected, so they try to outlaw it. A child raised by homosexuals wouldn’t have a mom and a dad like all the other kids, so they try to outlaw it. A child having to loop back on their family tree… “my father is my grandfather,” I think laws against incest have more to do with that sort of burden of the child, and for the most part, that’s why the rest of us think it’s sick too, and why we wouldn’t choose to do it. Furthermore, most people’s assessment of the situation barring any details is that the father is to blame, the woman was a victim – that just plays to stereotypes (which are sometimes true, but not always). Should the law stick itself in there too?

  • Barry

    I don’t think there is one to one correlation in the above cases. While breast feeding an older child may have pschological consequences, I think the differences between this action and a sexual encounter between adults merits different discussions.

    As for the incest issue, i think it should be clear and easy to see what side you come out on.

    If your moral viewpoint is that the private, consensual actions of adults should be deemed acceptable and moral, then incest should receive the same level of acceptance of homosexualtiy.

    If your moral viewpoint is that sexual relationships should strengthen the family unit, then incest will be seen as an attack on the founding relationship of said family.

    I always find it interesting on how our feelings still often determine our morality. I know people who hate homosexuality based strictly on feelings of disgust, but don’t have any problem with adultery because it happens to suit their appetite.

  • nazani14

    Apparently people used to think breastfeeding non-infants was an intriguing notion. Look up The Roman Charity, and note all the famous artists who depicted this story. Must have been great to be a wealthy patron of the arts- get your kink vividly depicted under the guise of mythology and morality.

    • JohnMWhite

      Breast-feeding non-infants used to be pretty normal, and still is in many societies. A toddler or even kindergarten-age child going to the breast now and then is not exactly shocking in terms of human development. The World Health Organisation recommends that children be breastfed until at LEAST two years of age. Six seems a little late as most will wean themselves by four or five, but some children are slow bloomers.

      • nazani14

        Yeah, but in the roman charity story, the woman was nursing her father.

  • coffeejedi

    My reaction to the two stories is different.
    First one: “Oh what a creep! What happened to that poor girl growing up that she thinks this is normal?! What kind of person views his own daughter like that?! Eww eww ewww!”

    Second one: “Well, that kid’s gonna have issues later in life. I think the mom has some attachment issues as well. I think other, non-western cultures continue to breast-feed at a later age, but it’s weird in ours, and it’s psychologically healthy for the kid.”

    But if you notice, there’s no revulsion for the second. It’s because breast-feeding is a natural activity, this lady is just doing it way past the ending point. The first one is just wrong, always, under any circumstances.

    • coffeejedi

      dangit, i meant “UNhealthy” in that last sentence…. really wish there was an edit button

    • Dr Science

      Hypothetically, what about a “last people alive on Earth” scenario? What if for whatever reason father and daughter were geographically isolated and had no hope of ever coming into contact with anyone else ever again? Would it be unethical for them to mate then? One could argue that it might be their *duty* to do so, in order to prevent the species from going extinct.

      Before you dismiss this scenario out of hand as being too unlikely, consider that this has happened before. At one point in the not-too-distant past, the entire human race was reduced to bands of only a few thousand geographically isolated individuals (probably due to a massive asteroid impact or a supervolcano). Everyone who is alive today are direct descendants of those small bands of inbreeders.

    • Michael

      The first one is just wrong, always, under any circumstances.

      The first one is sex. The second one is breastfeeding. In both cases it is the details that make them gross. The first is sex between close family members, and the second is breast-feeding a six year old.

      But in what sense is either objectively wrong?

  • Nerrin

    It’s one of those topics I have a hard time wrapping my brain around. I really can’t conceive of being sexually attracted to any of my blood relations, except in the purely theoretical. “It might have happened if things were really different.” The Westermarck Effect is strong in this one.

    Not revulsion at the idea, just a complete lack of any such feelings when I contemplate the possibility.

    But I can grasp that it happens sometimes. And as an amateur writer, it’s potentially quite powerful as a story element — said taboos make for serious tension and conflict against the world/society. So I can read about it and even write about it, but always at a remove.

    I think that if I ran into someone in such a relationship, I would be able to avoid condemning them. At least provided it was consensual, lacked various power imbalances — all the stuff I’d need to recognize in any other relationship to not be bothered. Ultimately, it’s the participants’ sexualities at work here, not mine, so it’s something they have to contend with. Social condemnation, the risks of in-breeding, that kind of thing. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but people will catch enough hell from everyone else for doing this that I don’t feel the need to pile on any more.

    As an aside, I can’t help but think of the anime and manga series “Genshiken,” where most of the characters are obsessed with porn and adult video games. One character has a younger sister, and declares that incest themes and scenarios “are a result of fantasies by people who don’t actually have a younger sister”… and I can’t help but agree with him.

  • fearglic

    consensual sex between adults(as defined by law which for me means over 18) is ok with me. the joke goes around when we hear of incest is the rhyme…incest is best.. though its meant as a peer reaction against the activity. the idea is is imaginable for me personally(i have siblings and children) I do feel a bit disgusted at the idea when it hits home. but hypocritically enough its OK when is other people. Breast feeding??? well a person is a child till a certain age legally. Its up to the parents(both)

  • fearglic

    UNIMAGINABLE I meant to say eek Sorry

  • michael

    All over the world the average age when children stop breastfeeding is 4 years old. In fact longer periods of breast feeding, at least longer than we thing are appropriate in america, are usually produce healthier stronger babies with better emotional ties to their family, and especially his/her mother. While six is probably pushing it by quite a bit, it’s not as if a six year old is capable of sexualization of his mother. It is however, pushing the limits of when a child should be breastfeeding. Now for the man and his daughter; it’s certainly not illgeal, and certainly not arrest-worthy, disturbing? kinda; gross?, rather, illegal? no. but the incest taboo remains. Not that i’m condoning it in any way, it isn’t appropriate for anyone, but if two people are in an adult and consensual relationship, regardless of the other boundaries that they are crossing, be it father/daughter, mother/son, etc. it is still within their right and legal purview to undertake that relationship; as creepy and disturbing as it is.

    • Kodie

      with better emotional ties to their family, and especially his/her mother

      I think this is where it becomes taboo in the US, at least as applies when a mother becomes too emotionally tied to her children, we consider that a bad thing because it has ways of manifesting itself in psychologically and socially unhealthy ways. Perhaps in societies where breast-feeding normally exceeds the age of 4, it is also normal to consult the family for all decisions or perhaps marriages are arranged. In the US, we like to think we can be with and marry who we like, but adults who rely too much on their parents’ approval, and especially men who are not independent from their mothers, no woman is good enough. In a society where people marry young, and marry who they’re supposed to, according to their parents, it assures a close bond with the chosen bride because the mother picked her out. In a society where people date whomever they like and get well far enough in age, and bring this girl home to mother, they might be single a long time or forever, because the mother always wins. My aunt who only has sons became fixated with setting them up until they were all married. The youngest one, I believe, not quite so attached and married a girl from college, but married her young. An older brother became upset that he was not yet married, of all things, kept looking and looking. At my sister’s wedding reception, he sat at our table (myself and my brother, his wife and kids) and not with his brothers and their wives and children, and my aunt had actually arranged to meet an old friend in the area (tacky!) and came over to our table to take her son over to meet her friend’s adult daughter.

      I don’t know that they were breastfed, but their marriages were all but arranged by the mother because she was too close to them for them to bring home any random girl, and I think the youngest was mostly lucky in knowing his mother’s taste in women, found one right away and married her instead of keep looking.

      I’m just saying that in the US, we probably don’t like the breastfeeding (or anything) to encourage such a close tie with anyone’s mother because it discourages freedom and ability to make decisions for oneself as an adult, but we also have dysfunctions involving mothers up the wazoo, mothers who don’t love us enough, mothers who liked another sibling better, etc., so it’s difficult to say. I think breastfeeding is a good thing, but in the US or other modern countries, it should probably stop by the age of 2.

      • Francesc

        Perhaps in societies where breast-feeding normally exceeds the age of 4, it is also normal to consult the family for all decisions or perhaps marriages are arranged.

        Correlation is not causation

  • Jordan

    If even if we were to come up with a consensus on whether or not these acts were immoral, would that make the word any less meaningless?

  • Will Powers

    Incest is a pretty universal taboo. IMHO to suggest that the incest taboo is evolved is an error. It is a learned behavior. When one sees the children and the problems in development that results from an incestuous relationship, the culture would learn that the child would require more of the community’s resources.

    • UrsaMinor

      First-cousin marriages are actually encouraged in certain contemporary cultures, and constitute well over a quarter of all marriages in such places. Historically many cultures have allowed or even required sibling marriages for their rulers. This does not seem like a universal taboo to me. Parent-child incest, perhaps, comes closer to being a universal. Beyond that, there is no general agreement on what constitutes incest.

      • UrsaMinor

        “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

        Really? Interesting. That’s either a first on this forum, or a glitch.

        • Michael

          There is a spam filter with a large database of words common in spam, many of which deal with porn. When a post is caught in the spam filter, it need a moderator to OK it before it becomes publicly viewable. “In­ces­t” is one of those words. So is “Ci­alis,” which is problematic because it is included in the longer word “socia­lism.”

          • Custador

            You seem to be a spam filter favourite yourself, although I can never see anything particularly filter-worthy in your posts when I aprove them.

          • Len

            Specialist works too.

        • Len

          It’s (probably) not just words, but phrases. “Parent-child incest” is probably a trigger, whereas “incest” may not be.

          • Kodie


          • Kodie

            My one-word reply, the word !nc3$+ spelled correctly got caught in the spam filter. Maybe the symbols junk is also spammy and gets caught? I don’t know.

      • Ty

        Indeed. I have a fair number of friends who are either from, or still live in the middle east. Marriage between first cousins in a lot of those countries is quite normal. Here in the US, it’s like marrying your sister.

  • Verimius

    With respect to the incestual relationship, unfortunately those opposed to same-sex marriage will be able to use this in their slippery slope arguments.

  • busterggi

    The bible had no problem with Lot (“a righteous man”) knocking up his daughters.

    • Michael

      Well yeah it did. And it was his daughters that raped him, not the other way around.

      But yes, it did happen.

      • wintermute

        Yes, his daughters managed to get him exactly the amount of drunk where he didn’t recognize his own daughters, but was still able to perform sexually.

        If any part of the story is true, I can’t believe it’s the part about the daughters initiating the sex.

      • trj

        The daughters raped their father, and prior to that the father offered his daughters for gang-rape to a violent crowd.

        Yes, it certainly makes a lot of sense that God elected to save this righteous family before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.

    • wintermute

      That’s because he was drunk at the time. God always approves of drunks.

      See also: Noah.

  • RedCarnage

    I would be wondering what the long term physiological problems will be for the child in this. Also isn’t this a form of abuse of authority. Can it truly be consensual if the child has been brought up to obey what the parents tell them to do.
    And yes there is a big ‘Eeek’ factor which is totally justified in this situation.

  • Ruthie

    My first instinct is to think that the father probably sexually abused his daughter when she was NOT a consenting adult. While not impossible, I highly doubt a man who managed to overcome that incest taboo squick with his adult daughter waited until she was of age. Generally, if you’re willing to have sex with your kid, you’re not too picky about age…nor, I have no trouble asserting, do you sit back and worry about whether or not she REALLY consented or whether or not this is healthy, the former of which is done by decent guys in relationships with a power imbalance and the latter of which is done by good parents, neither of which this dad likely is.

    Still, I think it’s important to distinguish between morality and the rule of law. They are not one and the same. Laws should be used when there is some sort of state interest in discouraging behavior…beyond mere preference. Not only is it immoral to murder, it is illegal because our society and our government have a crucial vested interest and need to prevent murders from happening and to punish and remove those who commit them.

    Not all morality is like this. I think everyone would agree that adultery is wrong (exceptions being open relationships negotiated with the knowledge and consent of the spouse, etc.) Hell, cheating on a boyfriend or girlfriend is morally wrong, even without the formal ceremony where you promised to commit to them forever. But no one (generally) thinks that is an arrest- and jail-worthy offense. Horrible, wrong, hurtful to others, but not something the state gets involved in. We enforce that morality socially.

    That, I think, is the proper realm for consensual adult incestuous relationships. I think they are wrong because the imbalance of power between the two of them (in the case of parent-child) is not going to lead to healthy psychological growth and development, and they won’t be the partners that relationships should be. While some may not be harmful, I doubt any are beneficial. That said, unhealthy relationships exist between adults all the time and we don’t arrest those involved. We think they are wrong, if they are our friends we try to help them work it out, but it’s ultimately their choice. Assuming those involved are adults and the relationship is consensual, there’s no reason for anyone to get arrested. But I don’t think anyone would categorize such relationships as healthy, and it would be appropriate to express this and offers of help and support to family and friends involved in such relationships.

    Please forgive any mistakes as I am typing this on my Droid.

  • Mark the Pilgrim

    I’ve actually thought about this before in arguments about homosexuality. I’m all for gay rights, but in arguing with people; they would say that allowing gay rights would allow incest to come about via a slippery slope. I think it’s nonsense to assume because we allow A, we therefore have to permit B. However, it did get me wondering about why I am repulsed by incest.

    Here’s what I think about human sexuality:
    As long as the parties have informed consent, have sufficient capacity, are of reasonable age and there is no imbalance of power or adverse physical or psychological damage caused in the relationship, then it’s fine by me.


    Think about this case. In every society there is some aversion to incest which is probably evolutionary. It’s detrimental for humans to mate with immediate family. That’s a no brainer. So I think there’s a good argument that doesn’t need to be particularly delved into: interbreeding is bad for the human species.

    But where it gets complicated is the imbalance of power and informed consent requirement I posited. First I’d like to somewhat criticise Vorjack’s discussion requirement:

    “For the sake of the discussion, let’s assume that the bare bones story is accurate and that there was no harm done, no pregnancy resulted and everything was consensual.”

    I’m going to argue that Vorjack’s assumption doesn’t make sense. We live in a society whereby incest is a massive taboo. Everyone knows this. Heck, we probably have a biological revulsion towards it. So the parties involved would have obviously been more or less aware of this.

    So the question is, in this case, what would have made the parties decide to enter into an incestuous relationship? What would instigate such a relationship? I don’t think the daughter would have had much of an informed choice to enter into an incestuous relationship. I think it’s partially nonsensical to suggest otherwise.

    I couldn’t see a situation where the parent’s authoritative power wouldn’t be a deciding factor in her decisions. Sure, she may be of a reasonable age, but for something to override our societal and biological taboos against it, I’m pretty sure there must have been something which made one of the parties take advantage of the other- perhaps from a younger age. I don’t see why it makes sense to divorce the very probable possibility of an imbalance of power and lack of informed consent. It would be like positing an example of a highly intelligent and emotionally mature pre-pubescent who (apparently) consensually enters into a relationship with a forty year old. Even ignoring the physiological detriment that could arise from it, I think it would be highly illogical to assume for the sake of a discussion that there wasn’t lack of informed consent or that an imbalance of power didn’t exist. Even supposing that one argues that the exampled child is of reasonable intelligence and maturity, it would be retarded to even speculate that there is adequate consent in the normal sense of the word. So when it comes back to the initial question of the Epstein example, I think that we simply cannot divorce the fact that there must have been some negative and immoral influence from the father to engage her in such a terrible scenario.

    With regards to the second scenario with the child being breastfed until he is six; I don’t necessarily think that in a Western culture that it is healthy psychologically Per Se, but I can’t condemn it too much. It’s unusual and I believe that children should be independent by that age, Although with that said, it happens in other countries occasionally, so I don’t know how bad it is.

    • UrsaMinor

      “As long as the parties have informed consent, have sufficient capacity, are of reasonable age and there is no imbalance of power or adverse physical or psychological damage caused in the relationship, then it’s fine by me.”

      I take it, then, that you *do* have objections to the very large number of existing marriages/relationships that violate one of more of those rules for common accepted values of “reasonable”, “imbalance” and “adverse”? Just playing Devil’s Advocate here. This is a fiendishly complex topic.

      • Ty

        I myself would strip that down to, “Legally capable of giving consent, and not doing so under duress.”

        • UrsaMinor

          Legality of consent is simply a matter of mechanically applying the law, whatever it happens to be where you are. I don’t see it as having much moral or ethical weight because it’s arbitrary. It sounds like a cover-your-@ss-so-you-won’t-get-lynched thing, and nothing more.

          • Ty


            All laws are by nature arbitrary. That is not an argument against having them.

            We come to some sort of consensus as a society about who is allowed to give legal consent. It doesn’t cover every situation. But it does provide some degree of protection for those with limited capacity weighing the consequences of their actions.

            And, frankly, as I’ve stated before, I kind of don’t care about other people’s judgments of morality or ethics.

            I like that we legally protect some people who probably need protecting. Beyond that, I should care that two consenting adults like to get their freak on?

            • UrsaMinor

              I’m not addressing the issue of whether or not we should have laws in general. Totally separate topic. I just thought the discussion was about the morality and ethics of the situation. If it’s about the law, there’s really nothing to discuss. We agree that the law is arbitrary. Parent-child incest, regardless of the age or willingness of the participants, is illegal in all 50 U.S. states, period. They got caught. A jail sentence is mandated under our legal system. Yawn. Discussion over. It doesn’t get interesting until you start to think about why this should be mandated (or discuss why it should not be). And maybe there’s no good answer.

              Otherwise, I’m with you on this one. If two (or more) adults are truly consenting partners, I don’t think it’s any of my business what they do with each other as long as it affects only them, regardless of how I might personally feel about the activities they are engaging in. Any attempt to control or limit them would just be imposing my own likes, dislikes and prejudices (which I am honest enough to admit are just as arbitrary as anybody else’s) for the sole purpose of making myself feel more comfortable and/or morally superior. (Wait a minute- isn’t this just the Republican political platform?)

            • Ty

              I was commenting on how far the law should go. I think it should only go as far as protecting those we as a society consider incapable of giving informed consent.

              So, I think the current laws are wrong. I may have been unclear.

            • Kodie

              I thought about it this way – have you ever been madly in love with someone that your parents didn’t like or think was good for you? It might be good advice to take, but once you’re an adult, you have your own decisions to live with. If you are both consenting, the law forbidding it is just like your parents standing in the way. The relationship might be sick, but a lot of relationships aren’t that healthy, and it would just be a burden on the government to regulate how compatible and mentally well you are before you’re allowed to have sex with someone. Was the daughter also charged? She is an adult in the whole relationship as well. There is no legal reason she shouldn’t be charged if she’s also an adult just because she’s a woman and/or the daughter of the man she had sex with, as many posts here suggest the blame is entirely his, his power, his fault.

              If instead of having a sexual relationship with his daughter, he stood in the way of her having a relationship with a man of another race (for example) or forbid her to see a drug user or an unemployed man, or an 87-year-old man. In all of those cases, he would just be meddling like a father might, and she might feel needy for his approval and break up with them. And if she doesn’t, if any of those relationships make her unhappy, we could say that she’s an adult and allowed to see for herself. What is really wrong with any of those partners for her if that’s what she wants and believes herself to be in love with them? In some cases, it’s his prejudice, we can clearly see if he suggests breaking it off with a man of a different race, but maybe that guy met her dad and he was also a jerk, he heard that guy on the phone with another lady, and it’s not because he’s not her color at all. Based on limited descriptions, we have only her best judgment to figure it out, and not waste our time trying to stop adults from consenting to have sex with whomever they want. People get in bad relationships that are doomed from the outset all the time, why should the government label one particular kind, and who is to say that even if you love each other, you’re not entitled to love them with your body?

              There’s more than one way to abuse power as a parent, and that’s also to say, if two unrelated people love each other, they still have families who love them also and want to see them be happy. This probably killed her mother though. “That’s not a very nice way to treat your mother” is not a fantastic reason to forbid anything, even if it’s true. People have a lot more than one relationship. As relates to the breast-feeding one also, I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve dated that I’m just not good enough for their mother’s son – a lot of power abuse. I don’t like having to fight someone’s mother for them.

              I think what upsets most people is that they think if you legalize something, it will be more common. As if your children or parents or sister or brother is not off-limits, we’ll start looking inside the family for prospects more readily. I think it’s a rare thing, and it’s always going to stay rare, because most people are disgusted by it. We find it psychologically a deal-breaker. It’s just like, gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts where I live – that just means people who are already gay can get married, it doesn’t mean I’m going to start looking at girls because I can marry one. Psychologically a deal-breaker for me, but not for everyone. Abuse of power in a parent-child relationship while child is still a minor is still abuse. Beyond that, it’s just a little sick, but none of my business. Not that I think homosexuality is sick, I’m just not breaking the barrier of liking girls just because I’m allowed to. I think relative to the population, more people aren’t gay now than there ever were – more people are out – that I was trying to draw an analogy that I think most of the population isn’t going to have sex with anyone in their family than already do now. “Fear of agenda” is also not a fantastic reason to forbid any of this legally.

      • Mark the Pilgrim

        @Ursa Minor:
        “I take it, then, that you *do* have objections to the very large number of existing marriages/relationships that violate one of more of those rules for common accepted values of “reasonable”, “imbalance” and “adverse”? Just playing Devil’s Advocate here. This is a fiendishly complex topic.”

        To a degree, yes. If a relationship is lacking in that, then I think that the parties involved should dissolve it. Even if it is a legally recognised one. Although with that said, it is unrealistic to expect people to dissolve it and I don’t think the law can do too much with regards to this.
        To further highlight this point: I strongly object to relationships whereby one party has a disproportionate amount of power over another party. I also object to relationships whereby another party is likely to suffer adverse physical (unless, it’s consensual sadomasochism) or psychological damage. So yes, I do have an objection to a lot of relationships – although there’s not much I can do about it. It sounds strange, but I believe the world would be a much better place if the stigma around break ups and divorce was removed and people could freely move from a negative relationship to another.

        • UrsaMinor

          I don’t think there is any clear-cut answer to be found here. I’ve seen plenty of relationships that I think would be better off dissolved, and I recognize that it’s nothing more than my personal opinion and I keep it to myself. Unless one party is in the relationship under duress and is asking for me for help to get out of it, it’s none of my business. But what about relationships where the imbalance of power is entered into knowingly and willingly, and the option to end the relationship without adverse consequences is freely available to either partner? I don’t feel comfortable assuming the role of moral arbiter here. The farthest I’m willing to go is to say “this is not the way I would do things if it were me and not you” if somebody asks my opinion. It’s not something I would offer unless I was asked, and it would be offered only as my opinion, not as some absolute truth about relationships.

          Removing the stigma from break-ups and divorces is, on the balance, a good idea (in my opinion). I also think it could lead some people to hop from relationship to relationship without making much of an effort to make a salvageable one work, which is another problem (in my opinion). It’s an imperfect world. There is no one size fits all. I value freedom of choice, and if other people freely make what I think is a bad choice, so be it. If I had the power to arrange the world so that other people were prevented from making choices that I consider bad, and I exercised that power, I wouldn’t be any different from any other garden-variety dictator.

          • Kodie

            Mostly, the law should have no reason to enter into the entanglements of an individual. I don’t think there’s that much stigma around break-ups (not as much as there is for divorce – and there are some other reasons for this) but people suffer thinking it will get better. Better socializations in general, that people don’t manipulate each other or feel a strong attachment to someone, or dependent on them, despite not being completely happy, despite they obviously aren’t treating you as well as you deserve. That’s mental problems – yes, wouldn’t the world be a fantastic place if people didn’t have so many mental problems? Willingly entering a relationship with your parent/child is a mental problem, but why focus on it legally?

            Another thing is marriage and relationships are … kind of an economic bargain that’s becoming obsolete. I really believe a long time ago, people got married because they should, and they still do with that in mind. It’s a relatively stable economic pair in which the adults (because they want to have all the sex) make children and a home for them. Having children is no longer relative to marriage for a lot of people, it’s an either/or/neither/both, and breakups are probably stigmatized relative to children, and not really relative to whether the couple is happy or not, or even good at parenting. There’s no license for parenting, there are only certain guidelines you shouldn’t cross with their care. Only in regards to custody rights in divorcing/unmarried/non-cohabiting parents does the legality of how good you are at providing for your child’s welfare enter. I think people used to date a few weeks or months just to make sure the other person wasn’t too crazy, check a few things on their list of stable household (money and housework), none of this are we compatible in the long run, do we want children; it’s a machine, make sure the parts work, and then get on with your life. There’s really no stigma involved unless you have children. I mean marriages don’t always work out, but people usually had children before they found that out. Another antiquated stigma revolves around the damage to a woman, and perhaps the untrustworthiness of a man.

            None of this has anything to do with people who choose to stay together for whatever reason. In a lot of cases, you do get people who are economically locked in a marriage and perhaps they were locked there with beautiful promises and other manipulations – darling, you don’t have to work, let me pay the bills. While I would love for someone to say that to me, I also know in reality, things don’t last forever and I would be unskilled, unconnected, and broke when it did. That’s just another mental problem that has nothing to do with any stigma of divorce, although it does seem like a remnant of the type of arrangement marriage is. That piece of paper doesn’t guarantee you’ll be happy forever, only that maybe you have some nice pictures of the day. Many women (I don’t know about what men think of this) consider their wedding day an achievement. They plan for and look forward to it their whole lives… never sinks in that it doesn’t mean it will last forever, but it does seem to indicate very strongly that the quality of life will go downhill afterwards. That’s more what I mean about better socialization. There’s no real reason for the state to get involved with who enters a relationship with whom, for the most part, maybe not any part. If you could dictate who could pair up, most of the world would be single. Most people are bogged down in quirky little mental problems either someone can put up with or someone can’t.

            • UrsaMinor

              Marriage is not yet obsolete as an economic bargain in the United States. It costs quite a bit of extra money for same-sex couples to buy themselves the legal protections that a married couple enjoy for free, and then there are things like the fact that you can provide health care benefits tax-free for your legal spouse, but if you’re not married, those benefits get taxed as extra income. It’s infuriating to live in a country where the government says, “No, you can’t get married” and then taxes you for the privilege of being denied a basic right.

              I will agree that marriage is not the primarily economic relationship that it once was, at least in the West where romantic love has come to be viewed as the foundation of marriage. The division of labor along gender lines has also lessened in recent decades, but it’s still very much alive (our culture has a great deal of inertia). Progress has been made on several fronts. Women’s professional and economic prospects, while still not equal to those of men, have improved greatly since I was young. I can remember the days when a married woman needed her husband’s approval and signature in order to open a credit card account in her own name using her own financial resources.

              So, while we’re moving in the direction of marriage being just a piece of paper that says you’re married, we’re not there yet.

            • Kodie

              I was mostly concerning myself with the concept of marriage as a host arrangement for the purpose of bearing and providing for children (who are also known as tax deductions). Solid and dependable gender roles provide mostly predictable financial and home needs of the child met. The wedlock arrangement really cares about the children’s needs more than anything else. Women used to be considered property and secondary to the man (sometimes they still are), and as a housekeeper and sex slave for the man to choose someone not terribly insane, lazy, or careless to raise his children while he worked all day.

              This arrangement doesn’t seem too pleasant or interested in being pleasant for either parent. Agreeable, no more, no less. People have children out of marriage a lot more now, and it’s being stigmatized less and less. Having two parents in two different homes is something they have had to adapt to, as is having a mother working outside the home, people get married without the prospect of children just because they love each other, and people have children outside of marriage with someone they don’t even love. I really don’t think the state was ever concerned before and should not be now whether the couple is happy together, or involved in a co-dependent sick relationship they both agree to, or even too much if the children are being raised any specific way. The state really doesn’t like to take children away from their parents unless the parenting is below a minimum standard for fed and taught. Having children is still incentivized because it’s a job a lot of people want, but nobody gets paid to do, and without somebody doing it, they turn feral and wouldn’t make for functional adults, which is all having children is good for the state – providing the incubation for future labor and taxation.

              Nobody cares if you’re happy or fulfilled. They only care about incest really so far as societal rejection of the child, possibly due to some birth defect brought on by being too closely related to both its parents, but not necessarily so. If the parents are crazy for each other, they mostly care only that you don’t make children unnecessarily dysfunctional. There’s pretty much no doubt that a parent and child who love each other as partners have to be a little co-dependent, but so are a lot of other people, and the state doesn’t involve itself in those affairs UNLESS there’s a divorce and they’re invited to settle custody.

            • UrsaMinor

              I was mostly concerning myself with the concept of marriage as a host arrangement for the purpose of bearing and providing for children

              That’s an ancient definition of marriage, and in many ways still a useful one in many contexts, but it no longer obtains in the United States of the 21st century. The state places no burden on married couples to have children; indeed, the state does not even perform the fairly simple tests needed to determine if a couple applying for a marriage license *can* have children. Once children are in the picture, though, the state definitely has an interest in ensuring that they grow up to be functional adults. The quality of the marriage for the parents is of no interest to the state as long as the children are not harmed. And, as you correctly point out, enjoyment of the marriage by the married couple has not been a requirement or goal of marriage for most of its history. It has historically been approached as a business or political arrangement- a worldview so far from the American norm of today that most Americans would consider the idea of a marriage contracted for these reasons to be distasteful or bizarre.

              Your point about social rejection of a child who is the product of incest is well taken, but consider: such a child is usually rejected regardless of whether or not it suffers from genetic problems that burden the society at large, purely on the basis of who its parents were and how they behaved. The child is arbitrarily punished for its parents’ breaking of social taboos, which is rather at odds with society’s interest in ensuring that the child grows up well-adjusted and functional as an adult.

            • Kodie

              Well, I’m saying that the state doesn’t, on the surface, care whether you have children, but the laws about who can get married still have more to do with providing offspring not even a loving home, but that they are fed, clean, taught, and supervised, but in the effect they are not socially ostracized by having two daddies, which I think is more along the lines of gender roles – boys will not grow up to be proper men if their fathers are gay and they don’t have a mom. I don’t believe this is true, but that’s the only “threat” I can think of that gay marriage (and adoption or surrogacy) can threaten society at large. If you’re not gay, don’t marry gay. I think when the state forbids it as a societal requirement that gays not marry, all the biblical reasons in the world don’t really make sense in that “it threatens the institution of marriage itself.” It threatens people’s sense of what is fair for the child, that he or she not grow up “skewed” or perverse. Children are future labor and taxation for the most part – and we still feel like we need masculine men and feminine women, or that because it’s mysterious (or sinful), that it won’t provide a child with the best parents.

              I’m just making a case here for a form of marriage that still functions as a taboo in many places. Inter-racial marriage is another one. The state forbade it on the case that it was a social taboo for the child. While that is also still true many places, it is a lot less so than it used to be. Biracial children still tend to feel as though they are not quite one thing or the other and struggle to figure out where they fit in until they just “be” – who they are and that it shouldn’t matter, but it still does to a lot of people. Lest we forget, our president is biracial, but the world identifies him as black only because he’s not white.

              Is this taboo necessary or arbitrary? The state doesn’t interfere with a lot of malfunctioning adults if they are heterosexual and the same race, they draw a line at distinctive taboos they can name, but they don’t say alcoholic misogynists with no jobs and mis-matched shoes they scored from a dumpster can’t get married and/OR have children, only that they can threaten to take said children away if conditions are exceptionally poor – malnourishment, lack of basic care, exposure to rat poop, etc. We don’t make a prediction on their behavior as we might with a gay couple – i.e., cross-dressing and promiscuous (stereotypes), but mostly what amounts to a life of “sin” and disregard for the bible. Their “agenda” rubs off on the well-functioning child who accepts homosexuality and repeats that it is ok at school and doesn’t vote the “right” way when he’s an adult. Since gay people can’t make their own children, they are up against the same strict judgment other adoptive parents have to go through. Nobody’s managing all the dysfunctional hetero couples popping them out unless they fail to meet a minimum standard, but adoptives have to exceed that minimum by far, which, to me, indicates a state presence in the process almost no matter what.

              What does this have to do with the societal damage to a child born of incest? Well, we think it’s icky so they will catch on that we think it’s icky and feel bad. Arbitrary or necessary? What does this one dysfunction have that an alcoholic misogynist with no job and mismatched shoes he scored from a dumpster doesn’t have? We tend to outlaw who can marry on the basis of providing for a child, not prescribing that the couple has to have children or can’t marry because they can’t have children. Incest is outlawed as a basis of a relationship, not even just marriage. A 60-year-old man in love and sex with his 82-year-old mother? Can’t have babies, so why do we even care? Gay identical twins? Why do we even care? I really don’t think we should hold anything against a child, and preventing a child born into an arbitrary taboo situation from being outcast – why don’t we outlaw outcasting them instead? Or spend more time focusing on the prevention of child-making from the alcoholic misogynist with no job wearing mismatched shoes scored from the dumpster – his kids are going to be poorly-adjusted and embarrassed and born into severe disadvantage, but we don’t care. Well, we care, but we can’t outlaw him and his relationships, we can only take those kids away if they’re beaten and starved, and put them in foster homes and orphanages, where they’re only treated marginally better and still ostracized socially, and only adopt them out if the biological parents are irredeemably sub-standard, and the adoptive parents are exceptional, while in some states, exceptional gay inter-racial couples as parents are determined to be worse for a child than mediocre heterosexual couples the same race as each other and the child.

              But we better worry too much about incest, when I don’t think it’s that big a “problem” – I think most people are always going to think it’s gross and don’t cross that line. I don’t know. Where you get homosexuality is one thing – most people don’t make themselves personally gay from accepting homosexuality in others, whereas becoming accepting of inter-racial couples may make one consider dating/marrying someone of a different race more than they would have before, so if we let sisters and brothers and parents and grown children off the taboo, and actually legalize it (or un-illegalize it, per se), you think more people will date/marry/procreate inside their family than they do now?

  • claidheamh mor

    My anthropology instructor told us that among all the cultures she knew about, one might have a taboo against parent-child, another might have a taboo against a different familial link.

    To show how strong our cultural influences are, she also offered anyone an instant “A” in the class, if only they would stand up in front of the class and wet their pants, by peeing in them, while standing there. No one ever took her up on it. (Hi there, Joyce!)

    Robert Heinlein had his brother and sister marry, after his main character went on a long, preachy discussion of how it wasn’t immoral or harmful.

    I still can’t find any factual things wrong with inbreeding, if it isn’t carried on for many generations without any mixing. And……..

    my reaction is still “Eeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwww!”

    But not nearly as bad as my reaction to breast-feeding, especially a 6-year-old. Holiday weight gain will be offset my losing my appetite on *that*.

    • Ty

      Yeah, but what if your sister is hot? I mean, really really hot?

    • wintermute

      Heinlein also had his characters deliver long speeches about how fathers should be legally permitted to sleep with their 13-year-old daughters, no to mention very creepy in-detail descriptions of under-age girls being spanked.

      The man had some strange kinks.

      • claidheamh mor

        I think Heinlein was *very* weird. I like reading and quoting him, but he gets very preachy, and his women characters are fantasy-like unreal. They’re all paragons who have a boss and call him “Boss” and all but squeal “Girls just wanna have babies!” Blech. Something weird about him.

        I still don’t know about the hot sister, but still thinking about it. I might be down with hot cousins. One of mine was a charmer.

      • claidheamh mor

        BTW, I’m doing a search with “Heinlein” and “kinks” now. (Figuring Wikipedia’s not gonna go into it.) Throw the dogs a bone and pass ‘em on!

  • Fran

    I am under the belief that consenting adults have the right to behave how they wish, since power always plays a role somewhere for someone especially in any kind of sexual realm, incest could be especially damaging to a persons own sexuality outside of that particular relationship.
    As far as a child breast feeding into early childhood, this speaks more to me of the mothers need for control, to passivly force the child to ” need” their mother by not encouraging them to become their own self sufficiant person.

    Motherhood is a tricky witch, it brings all the persons personal issues forward inside that wave of personal empowerment. It can be dealt with and acknowledged for the betterment of the child or causes one to morph into a variety of personal covers to help substanciate a certain kind of behavior, which history shows, doesn’t help create well balanced people.

    I think in a male dominated society, asking a women to be desceet in breast feeding isn’t saying we are ashamed of seeing a child attached to a breast as much as it is an acknowledgement that not everyone, male of female will have the ability to differentiate basic child feeding and curious arrousal.

    Is it the mothers fault her child is hungry and needs to be feed in the middle of the DMV surrounded by strangers? Of course not, but to expect say 50 potential onlookers to bend to the will of one woman and her child, phsycologically, by expecting them to hold her point of view because she is “a mother” is quite ridiculous in the human scheme of things. people will do what they do. I still see it as a power struggle not for the rights of a child, but people contending with natures proclivities.

  • Meanie

    Just because one person is of the age to consent, does not mean that coercion was not a factor in a sexual relationship where one partner is in an obvious position of power over the other person. If the father in this scenario met his daughter for the first time when the daughter was (say) 18, and the relationship developed into a power position, that may be different than a man who has co-raised a child from infancy and groomed the child in such a way that a sexual relationship developed.

    No, on the other hand, even if the father first met the daughter when she was an adult, there are still psychological issues regarding the daughter’s abandonment issues, attachment issues, and desire for affection from a father figure that could be too easily exploited. Better he should sleep with his daughter’s college roommate.

    • wazza

      but the same is true of any kind of relationship. Right now, this very second, I am drifting towards a relationship with a girl who is probably a lot more open to the idea of polyamory because she’s been through several rounds of guys who stuck around until they got what they wanted and then bolted, and she just wants to be loved. Does that mean it’s going to be a bad relationship? She might never have thought of being with me without that prior history of being used, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a caring relationship which might for all we know have positive effects for the rest of our lives.

      • Kodie

        I agree, people have baggage no matter what, and if people are adults, you can’t really judge their relationships by their issues. Mostly I can’t get over why we think the father has exploited his close relationship with his daughter and not the other way around. If she was really 21 when it started and not a lot younger, hadn’t she gone out with other guys before her dad? He may be her hero, this is a complex. No other man is as great as her dad. I mean, I get that, say, coaches or teachers who sexually abuse teenaged girls take advantage that they get “crushes” on them, and while they have no age of consent, this doesn’t mean they didn’t really want to go out with him and have sex. They are just legally too young to make that decision at all, but not if it’s a boy the same age – sex is great and all, but boys their own age exploit the same needs (again, they’re supposedly not old enough to have the ability to exploit “power” but they do, and yet that is not always the case). Yes, the adult should say “no”. But when they are both adults? People’s sick reasons for finding too much comfort from their family is none of my business, just the same reasons adult women and men get in other bad relationships. Baggage.

    • Olaf

      Love does not follow logical rules I have experienced myself.
      Also I think the first sexual experiments are probably with some sister, brother family member when you are very young. E.g. 2 sisters discovering their bodies together. 2 brothers having a threesome with someone else…

      Incest on its own is in my opinion not wrong, even though I would not do it myself.
      What is wrong is a father with his under aged daughter. She is not fully mature yet to understand the consequences. But once adult I do not see any reason why it should be forbidden. Especially when you see many couples with a big age difference out there.

  • Meanie

    No, I meant
    “If the father in this scenario met his daughter for the first time when the daughter was (say) 18, and the relationship developed into something romantic and sexual….

    Why can’t my computer just type what I’m thinking?

    • UrsaMinor

      I’m sure that Microsoft is already hard at work on the problem. Having access to your thoughts would be a real boost for their marketing schemes. :)

  • Konrad

    I Think the case in Ireland maks for a better moral dilemma. Here the couple in question didn’t find out they had the same father until some time after they had had a child.–half-brother-sister.html

    Other than that I agree that the breast feeding story is beside the point. Really there are a lot of cultures where female breasts aren’t sexualised at all, or wearn’t until the christian missonaries came and forced women to cover up.

  • Mark the Pilgrim

    I agree with you on everything except the last sentence. I think incest is wrong, as highlighted by my earlier post above. However, I want to address that little dig at the end. There are examples in the Bible of incestuous relationships. Read about Lot having sex with his daughters – that’s the most prominent example. Themes of incest are also common in other religions too. So I don’t know how much smarter they can be, considering that a lot of people view the Bible and other sacred texts as being literal or more or less true but don’t see the contradiction in these tales.

    And you’re missing the point that most of us here are actually rather repulsed by such a notion, there’s just a debate on the rationale behind such an aversion and whether anyone has any right getting involved in the private actions of two consenting adults.

    • Mark the Pilgrim

      That was a reply to Rey. What happened?

  • Darwin

    I would just like to say this to everybody posting on this topic.

    • Kodie

      Do it, don’t tell anyone about it because it’s gross, don’t have kids if you do it.

      • Darwin

        Kodie, I appreciate the effort it took for you to make a post less than a 100 words long.

        • Kodie

          I appreciate you not giving me a hard time about it. Well, I would have.

  • M. L.

    If he’s a political “science” prof, then I guess it makes it alright.

    I’m an atheist father of one, and my job is to ensure that he/she doesn’t live with a sad and desperate father.