Incest : The Forbidden Flame

Photo by Alex Martinez on Unsplash

Incest. The word itself is enough to make us squirm in our seats or twitch our noses. The idea of being sexually involved with the family members — people in consanguinity or those related by affinity is despicable to most people. But some find it enticing and erotic, irrespective of the acceptable moral standards at stake. However, morality is not the only roadblock that thwarts the desires of two people burning with the flames of ‘incestuous love’. There are many countries where the legality has also prohibited such relations.

The legality

In some countries, incest is punishable by the death penalty, such as in Brunei, Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan. In the United States, incest is a statutory crime with the exception of two-three states. However, there are a few countries where it is legal. For example — in Spain and Russia, consensual incest is fully legal. It is also legal in some other countries like Argentina, Brazil, India, the Ivory Coast, Japan, Latvia, South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey. But the abhorrence of incest is fairly universal, transcending all national and religious boundaries.

History Tells a Different Tale

But, history has a different tale to tell. Many erstwhile instances of incest in royal families make us mull over the propensity towards incest as a natural or human occurrence. Close-kin marriages — between fathers and daughters and between siblings — were certainly known in Egypt, right up to and including Cleopatra, who married two of her brothers consecutively. The Spanish Habsburgs, who ruled for nearly 200 years, frequently married among close relatives. If we were to believe in the fable of Adam and Eve, we would have to accept that the entire race was a product of incest because for the world to populate incestuous activity had to take place. Sigmund Freud coined an entirely separate term called the Oedipus complex after Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who according to Greek mythology, unwittingly killed his father and married his mother. As per his theory, the Oedipus complex occurs during the phallic stage of psycho-sexual development and involves a boy, aged between three and six, becoming unconsciously sexually attached to his mother, and hostile towards his father.

Whether the royal families were only trying to perpetuate their royal lineage and protect their assets by ensuring the sharing of riches and privileges among their relatives, or there was a deep affectionate connection driving these bonds is a conundrum. But these episodes suggest that the connection of human beings with incest is not just artificial insemination of information in the minds of modern beings. And we can’t deny these associations, however depraved they might be.

The Biochemistry Involved

A common justification for prohibiting incest is avoiding inbreeding. Some studies have revealed that the children of parents with a close genetic relationship have elevated risk for congenital disorders, death, and developmental and physical disability. But this can’t be the only reason for the universal taboo. The suppression of erotic bonding among the people who spend their formative years together is explained by a different psycho-social mechanism, called the Westermarck effect.

And it is believed that the adults who fail to be together in their early life and meet first as adults are ‘victims’ to the GSA (Genetic Sexual Attraction) syndrome. Gonyo’s book on GSA, “I’m His Mother, But He’s Not My Son”, suggests that GSA is a result of a ‘delayed by-product of missed bonding’ which would have taken place between a mother and her new-born infant. As uncommon or unscrupulous the cases of incest may be, it seems that proclaiming the consenting adults with GSA as ‘freaks’ or ‘sickos’ may be too harsh and judgmental.

The Breeding Psychology

Needless to say, not everyone’s childhood is a fairy dream. The lives of many children are afflicted with the trauma of belligerence, hatefulness, domestic violence, and atrocities between their parents. They may grow in a conservative family that places restrictions on women. They may have to witness failed marriages, resulting in a divorce or practically estranged parents. In some of these cases, one of the parents, mostly the mothers automatically funnel their emotions towards their sons. This emotional dependence may surpass the appropriate boundaries of intimacy. The son may visualize himself as his mother’s knight in shining armor. And consider himself responsible for the fulfillment of her needs. While in some other cases, a broken family may push two siblings closer than they ought to be. They may find solace in each other’s company and try to explore their happiness, even their sexuality together. This, combined with the raging teen hormones is enough to blur any sense of social righteousness. A teenager, who is boiling with hormones and unable to venture outside to satisfy his sexual inquisitiveness may try to search for answers within his home. Proximity to the opposite sex at home, in the absence of proper guidance, may lead to unabashed sexual encounters.

While speaking of incest, any kind of sexual assault, child abuse, or rape is a ghastly criminal activity. And in no way, should it be condoned. But the proponents of incest draw clear boundaries between the behavior of consenting adults and molestation. According to one incest participant who was quoted for an article in a daily, “You can’t help who you fall in love with, it just happens. I fell in love with my sister and I’m not ashamed … I only feel sorry for my mom and dad, I wish they could be happy for us. We love each other. Of course, we’re consenting, that’s the most important thing. We’re not fucking perverts. What we have is the most beautiful thing in the world.” They are unapologetic, unabashed, but most importantly, helpless. Their emotions, if not nipped in the bud, get beyond their control.

Morality is a Constantly Evolving Question

Fighting a constant battle with guilt and irreplaceable feelings is not easy. Especially, when society degrades someone to the point of being an abnormal wanton, unaware of virtuosity. The widespread aversion makes them question themselves multiple times, beat them up for being different. But they are unable to comprehend why something so inappropriate seems so right, so beautiful to them.

For a moment, if we dissolve the relationship labels that differentiate our rapport with others, we all are just human beings with a wide spectrum of feelings and traits. All of us have the basic anatomy of what makes us look like people. If we are attracted to a range of people, it is also possible that our friends and family members can be attracted to those traits. It is only through the sheer enforcement of what society deems acceptable, that we as individuals can choose to have relationships with some and not with others.

It cannot be argued that incestuous relationships can lead to pregnancy with a higher probability of birth disorders. And that may justify its illegal status in many jurisdictions. But on a human level, it poses a question to all of us. The human race has a history of shattering social conventions on so many levels which no one thought to violate in the past. We have always floated on the waves of right and wrong as we progressed, emerging victorious over various social norms. And eventually, we have earned freedom time and again. Freedom to practice our rights as long as we don’t harm anyone. So, should we be overly critical of two people who are in love because it is morally unacceptable to the society as we live in today? Of course, it’s our choice to renounce any relationship that repulses us. And in no way should such relations be deliberately fostered. But should we disgrace those who choose otherwise to the limit that they drown in guilt and shame?

One way is to counsel these people about the possible repercussions of what path they have chosen. But if they are still unable to place their social instinct above their unwavering love, should we push them too hard? Should we drive them to the verge of suicide? As Tabitha Suzuma quotes in her book Forbidden, “At the end of the day it’s about how much you can bear, how much you can endure. Being together, we harm nobody; being apart, we extinguish ourselves.”




I write stories that challenge the established social norms, motivate people to believe in themselves, and focus on rhyme or reason. Science before caprice.

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I write stories that challenge the established social norms, motivate people to believe in themselves, and focus on rhyme or reason. Science before caprice.

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