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Sibling Incest: Does US Society Understand the Associated Risks?

Sexual contact between siblings may be destructive, though it doesn’t always constitute abuse.
 
 
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Game of Thrones 'Twin-Cestuous' Relationship
Photo Credit: YouTube

 
 
 
 

Sibling incest has been a longstanding taboo shrouded in secrecy and rarely discussed. But in recent times, television programs like Game of Thrones have brought the issue to the forefront by glorifying the “ twin-cestuous” relationship between Cersei and Jaime Lannister, attracting millions of viewers and evoking much discussion about incest in popular Reddit threads

Similarly, MTV show “Happy Lands” just announced its upcoming brother/sister incest plot, with the show's star Bianca Santos making headlines for declaring, “Incest is hot, and we’re going to have fun!”  Victims of incest abuse reacted angrily over Santos’ remark, saying that promoting the idea that incest is "hot" is heartless for victims of incest molestation.

“My father was a bisexual, transgender pedophile who molested me. Anyone who is willing to even joke about incest being hot is paving the way for a degradation of society and is attempting to make something obscene acceptable. It’s very unfeeling towards victims like me,” an anonymous blogger wrote in the Independent Sentinel.

Such examples raise the question of whether this new trend of depicting incest as sexy undermines the seriousness of what is still classed as a criminal offense in the United States. To what degree do we in society accept incest today in light of the rise in sibling-incest themes in pop culture?

Australian Judge Garry Neilson came under fire last month for suggesting that society may no longer see sex between siblings as “unnatural” or “taboo,” Sydney Morning Herald reported.   

Neilson’s comments arose from an incest case he presided over earlier this year in which a 58-year-old man was charged with repeatedly raping his younger sister in 1981, when she was 18 years old and he was 26. The judge refused to admit evidence to the jury that the defendant had earlier pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his sister when she was 10 years old and he was 17 in 1973, “reasoning” that the sexual abuse that occurred previously was not connected to the sex that happened when she was 18.

In his controversial statement, Judge Neilson said just as homosexual sex used to be socially unacceptable but is now recognized, “a jury might find nothing untoward in the advance of a brother towards his sister once she had sexually matured, had sexual relationships with other men and was now ‘available’, not having [a] sexual partner.”

He went on to say that the “only reason” incest was still a crime was because of the high risk of genetic abnormalities in children born from consanguineous relationships “but even that falls away to an extent [because] there is such ease of contraception and readily access to abortion.”

Predictably, the judgment sparked mass public outcry, most notably from child protection and gay rights advocates, and leading to a full investigation by the New South Wales Judicial Commission and disciplinary review. Nielson was subsequently stood down from criminal trials and the ruling set aside.

Of course, unlike this case, not all sexual contact between siblings constitutes abuse or rape. As repulsive as many people would view having sex with their siblings, tales of brother/sister love, particularly between long-lost siblings or step-siblings are not uncommon and have been around for centuries, most famously in royal families aimed at preserving their bloodline.

Aside from the cultural stigma associated with incest, most people cite genetic abnormality concerns as the principle reason why siblings shouldn’t get together. Full siblings are 50% genetically identical and 99.95% biochemically identical and therefore there is a greater risk of sharing the same recessive genes which, when combined, can result in a medical abnormality.

 
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