Are incest fantasies common? Are they healthy and acceptable?
February 6, 2006 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Questions about a sexual fantasy that may be disturbing to some people.

How common are incest fantasies (and I do stress the fantasies part - they have nothing to do with real life or real people. And no minors in the fantasies.)? Are they considered psychologically healthy fantasies to have? Are there theories as to the roots of such fantasies?

If they are healthy fantasies, will they ever become more socially acceptable, as bdsm and rape fantasies have done? And if anyone who has these fantasies him/herself is willing to speak up, how have you dealt with the shame attached? Are you able to be open about these fantasies to trusted significant others, friends or family?

And if they are not healthy, would simply trying to suppress them and not think about them make them worst or more intense?

I would love to hear people's personal opinions, but any helpful quotes from or links to professional studies and opinions would also be very much appeciated, as google didn't turn up any. Your comments may save me from unbearable shame and constantly beating myself up - I'm getting sick and tired of it and have enough other emotional problems to deal with already. I sincerely thank you for any helpful advice you can give me.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have much to add, but I will note that I have gotten spams which, by their subject line, seem to be advertising incest-porn.

So, it's definitely out there somewhere. You may want to look at some porno video websites to see how many titles they have, which ought to give you an idea of how common/popular it is.
posted by cell divide at 4:37 PM on February 6, 2006

Having known more than one person who actually went all the way to having sex with their sibling(s) in non-forced ways, I'd bet that they are pretty common.

No idea if they are healthy or not in general, but the fact that YOU are beating yourself up over them is a pretty clear indication that they are not healthy for YOU.

Let me be the first to suggest getting some professional help in dealing with your internal issues.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:37 PM on February 6, 2006

I wish I had a hot sister to fantasize about!

Seriously, it doesn't phase me a bit. My guess is that MOST people have fantasized about family members. Some of these fantasies have been of the "just wondering what it would be like" type -- others have been more intense. In any case, fantasies are fantasies. They hurt no one and can be great fun. Some people write them down and sell them in bookstores. Now, if you feel guilty about a fantasy, you might want to seek help to deal with the GUILT.

Of course, there are many prudish people in the world, so you might want to avoid talking about incest with people you don't know very well.

I really don't see a problem with incest (amongst consenting adults) going beyond fantasy. Just use protection. Incest isn't the best thing for the gene pool.
posted by grumblebee at 4:46 PM on February 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Again, to not answer the question directly...

Incest fantasies make sense. Family is put in very close quarters and given intimate access into each other's lives. Many people kiss family on the mouth, the hugs linger, you know most things about each other. Some even feel the safest with their family. Maybe examine those issues if this really bothers are you with building intimacy with those that you don't share blood with? how easy are you to trust? As Jude sings "Sometimes I call my lady mama, just to feel at home for a while".

If it bothers you, seek professional help, as you are the only one that really knows your own head.

If it doesn't, go to and realize you're not alone.

FWIW: I was forced into incestual contact with a sibling and this is not a fetish I share with you (as family is definatly not where i feel the safest), but I don't think it makes you crazy.
posted by nadawi at 4:48 PM on February 6, 2006

I think that incest porn is just another example of the fact that, for a lot of people, taboo=sexy. I would say that if it is something that gets you off, then you should go with it. If it becomes something that begins to affect your real life or your real relationships, then perhaps you should seek some help over it. Also, as Kickstart70 said, if there is some inner turmoil/conflict over these feelings, then you should probably look into that inner conflict -- it's probably a deeper-seated issue than the fantasies themselves.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:50 PM on February 6, 2006

You say that your fantasies don't have anything to with real life or real people- so I assume that means that your fantasies are based in some sort of eroticised version of a familial relationship, rather than fantasies about your actual family members.

If this is the case, I would say that yes, those sorts of fantasies are not that uncommon. I know plenty of people (self included) who are aroused, and even role play around stylized "incest" fantasies. Mommy/ Daddy things in particular seem to be very evocative, especially when there is a submissive/dominant component.

I don't think this type of thing is really even related to real incest. It's more of a short hand for a set of vulnerabilities, nurturance, and/or discipline that one might want to explore in sexual play. I think it can go in a number of different directions... from casual to extreme fetish (you can find many aspects explored in the Adult Baby community, although infantilism is something unto itself).

But I agree with kickstart... if these thoughts are causing you a lot of mental anguish, see a professional.
posted by kimdog at 5:01 PM on February 6, 2006

I remember watching a news segment or documentary that chronicled a curious condition: biological siblings who didn't meet until adulthood. It's evidently very common for one or both of them to develop a sexual attraction, and that attraction amounts to an enormous hurdle in the development of their relationship. Some of the siblings profiled indeed engaged in sexual relationships, until guilt or some other overriding emotion ended the affair. So I'd say that there can indeed be a powerful, perhaps biological force at work there.

Where I hail from, generations as recent as the Baby Boomers often have blood relatives who married. Some friends of mine belong to a family that is positively stuffed with cousins who married. They know more inbred jokes than you'd think existed.

The urge, I'd say, is extremely common, at least as fantasy. But cultural taboos are pretty effective at keeping that fantasy under wraps.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:02 PM on February 6, 2006

I think that incest porn is just another example of the fact that, for a lot of people, taboo=sexy.

I think that's a good point. It's really interesting how warped our sexuality is, is it cultural or innate in our nature? Like, there are so man taboos about sex, that the taboo itself becomes sexualized.

I have my own very limited "taboos" that I consider revolting, particularly sex with Animals. If someone tells me that they want to have sex with Animals then I'd be grossed out, but I wouldn't think less of them, I guess. Pretty much anything else doesn't bother me though, including incest fantasies.

I'm also grossed out by the idea of doing anything with my own sister, but I'm not grossed out by the idea of other siblings doing stuff together, if they want to. Frankly, I'm not quite sure why other people are bothered by it, other then cultural taboos.

The inter-sibling taboo is probably innate, we're (and most mammals and even some birds, IIRC) are not attracted to people who spend a lot of time with as children, regardless of genetic parentage.
posted by delmoi at 5:03 PM on February 6, 2006

oh. I forgot to mention, I have a good friend who has (for as long as I've known her) had a huge crush on her adopted sister.
posted by nadawi at 5:08 PM on February 6, 2006

I don't have much to say that bears on the question, but regarding the comments made, I just want to point out that there may be a biological foundation for the incest taboo. Consider the Westermarck effect.
posted by Brian James at 5:09 PM on February 6, 2006

I'll go with the "relax" chorus. How many guys fantasize about having sex with twins, or with sisters?

Here's the thing: everyone's thought of having sex with just about everything you can have sex with. Thinking isn't doing, and frankly, provided everyone's on the same page and careful not to make babies, doing's just fine too.

Fantasies about sex with actual children, as in, your children, well I'd just be careful not to get into a mindset where you'd do it. In my (admittedly anti-prudish) opinion, so long as you're not sexing up children or forcing / using emotional manipulation to get someone to have sex with you, or seriously considering doing those things, you're fine. lots of people have rape fantasies. Would they want to be raped? Hell no!

Good luck getting over your guilt. You ought to.
posted by lorrer at 5:11 PM on February 6, 2006

Incest fantasies are as old as Oedipus. They're fairly normal as fantasies go, especially as Kickstart70 says, consensual incest fantasies. You see them as major category headings in sex story archives. The only reason they even cross the line into more serious taboo is because for a lot of people incest is wrapped up in pedophilia and/or illegality by benefit of being potentially non-consensual. Add to that that the United States has a hard time getting in touch with its collective sexual imagination and it's hard to find solid studies on what people fantasize about, and how "okay" any of those fantasies are.

One thing that makes this different from other fantasy types is that there are fewer pictoral representations of incest fantasies because of the uber-illegality of underage sex (at least here in the US) contrasted with, say, bondage. As a result, you'd be less likely to trip over it in random porn surfing online, unless you tended to patronize all-audio porn or textual porn archives where, let me assure you, you'd find them in great abundance.

As far as published studies, you can troll through Google books to look up the phrase "incest fantasy" to see that it's not that unusual and, much like rape fantasies, people seem to agree that just bercause you fantasize about something doesn't mean you want that to happen in real life. Nancy Friday's books deal a lot with the topic of fantasy and yet are mainstream enought that you can find them at regular bookstores and libraries.

Lastly just as a side point, no fantasy is good for you if it gives you so much shame that it causes you trouble. So, while your fantasies may be okay, coming to terms with them is clearly causing you some stress and that in and of itself may be reason for some concern and exploration.
posted by jessamyn at 5:11 PM on February 6, 2006

I can't provide you with any statistics, but I can tell you that incest fantasies are one of the most common requests I receive as a phone sex operator. At a minimum, I would guess that 15% - 25% of my calls are incest related with the majority of those being brother-sister fantasies. Mother-son & father-daughter are also very common requests, although I don't think I personally draw those callers as much as some other girls do.

I also talk to a lot of men who, while their primary fantasies aren't incest, do find incest intriguing and like having it added into a role-play.

There are tons of sweet, wonderful people out there harboring all kinds of kinky fantasies you would never even imagine...things that would never even cross most people's minds. Obviously I have a unique perspective on this and opinions that aren't going to be mainstream, but I think incest fantasies are pretty dang normal.

I'm not sure what to say to help you with the shame, other than to tell you I think it would probably melt away if you could peek into the minds of all the people around you and see what kinds of fantasies are lurking in their minds.

I have been asked to be Smurfette, She-Hulk, a town executioner, the girl with a rosary up my bum and all kinds of crazy things. Incest? I get that daily and from some of the nicest and most together guys I talk to.
posted by diamondsky at 5:15 PM on February 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

Incest is completely unacceptable and disgusting...unless you're imprisioned in the attic. Then it's cool.

(I can't be the only girl who loved those V.C. Andrews books as a tween, so there's an example of incest fantasy in the mainstream. And as I recall the ending is a little happier that past examples of incest in literature.)
posted by neda at 5:17 PM on February 6, 2006

Incest fantasies are already pretty accepted. It's been commonly suggested that the majority of such fantasies out there--sex with children, sex with older people, bdsm, various fetishes--are all degenerate forms of the single ur-fantasy/taboo that is incest. See Freud, Oedipus, and many creation myths. Really, this stuff ways go way, way back like thousands of years to the Greeks and farther back to the dawn of civilizations. I'd suspect incest fantasies are pretty common both in pure and diluted forms. And it's not the case that taboo==sexy but rather that what gets marked as taboo is marked as such because it is essentially appealing to some people. Incest is one of these clear cases where society has clearly put its foot down in an effort to tame and control the natural urges of the individual.
posted by nixerman at 5:23 PM on February 6, 2006

I've seen quite a few Web sites out there devoted to incest porn. It does seem to be a very common fantasy. Hell, several years ago I was involved with a person who had a raging fantasy of getting me in bed with one of my siblings. I was less disgusted by the incest aspect of it than the facts that (1) I apparently wasn't enough for the person by myself, and (2) the sibling in question rather despised me.

Anyway, taboo = sexy is pretty true. I have a couple of fetishes of my own that are well outside the mainstream, and part of the fun of them is the fact that they're "weird" or "forbidden," but as others have said, if they're causing you real psychological probelems. they're no longer fun. Perhaps a sex therapist is in order -- not a regular therapist, who might try to convince you that suppressing your fantasies is the way to go, but someone who has more of an open mind for such things. Someone who can help you work on having a healthy fantasy life without juding you on the contents of it.

If they are healthy fantasies, will they ever become more socially acceptable, as bdsm and rape fantasies have done?

I think it probably will, eventually, but not necessarily in our lifetimes. I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud here, but a great many people hear "incest" and think "child molestation" immediately. I think it'll be a while before we get to the point where we're really open-minded about all different relationships between consenting adults.
posted by Gator at 5:27 PM on February 6, 2006

How does incest porn differ from other porn except it maybe has a caption saying "um, this dude is doin his sister, dude!"

Our brains go in all kinds of wacky directions - most of us have managed to come up with all manner of horrific shenanigans at one time or another. As a new parent 7 years ago, I completely freaked myself out, coupling my provider anxiety and deep desire not to completely ruin my kid's life with way too much thinking about pedophiles and how they probably just kinda ended up that way, and what if I wake up one morning attracted to my kid? Nightmares and neurosis ensued. The curse of having huge brains, that.

If you're obsessed and it's fucking up your life then get help. If you're just overthinking it and overworrying about something you have no desire to actually act upon, then chalk it up to being a zany human like the rest of us.

PS - I totally made out with my sister when I was a wee lad.
posted by glenwood at 5:50 PM on February 6, 2006

I answered a bit before, but I was off to watch the daily show and didn't get to answer in full. Someone mentioned the Westermarck effect by name, and that's what I had been talking about. Children who grow up together are not normally attracted to each other.

I think the "taboo" of it being gross for siblings to have sex with each other grew from that, people develop sexual taboos for the same reason they develop disgust when it comes to eating certain foods, there's a strong evolutionary advantage for people to do the 'normal' thing sexual and eat the 'normal' foods, and do the normal things to stay alive and have children. We determine what's normal by observing the people around us, and due to the Westermarck effect societies are not going to have many brother-sister parings and as generations progress the disgust will amplify itself.

That's my theory anyway.

And in any event, why are you beating yourself over feeling a certain way, just because other people might find it disgusting? Why bother to correct something inside your head, that no one else can see or hear? I don't think there is any reason to be bothered by your own thoughts, it's only when you act on them that there is a problem (I mean if you wanted to kill someone, it would be OK with me if you wanted to fuck your sister).

On the other hand, if you're in love with one of your siblings, that could be a pretty big problem.

Also, you asked:

And if they are not healthy, would simply trying to suppress them and not think about them make them worst or more intense?

Yes, not thinking about them will make them dissipate, however, if you fret and get stressed out then and think about not thinking about it, that won't work. What you need to do (if you really want to get rid of these thoughts) is try to think about something else. You definitely would want to avoid reading any stories or whatever about it. If it ever comes up in your head just concentrate on something else, not the same thing every time (because that will just associate it with that thing) but just some random thing from the day.

I think it would just be easier to accept the fact that this turns you on, and not worry about it, though.
posted by delmoi at 5:56 PM on February 6, 2006

Please read Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov.
posted by trip and a half at 7:52 PM on February 6, 2006

unbearable shame ... constantly beating myself up ... sick and tired of it ... have enough other emotional problems to deal with.

Setting aside the acceptance/non-acceptance issue here for a second ... these are some strong statements you make here, and these, combined with the fact that you're concerned enough about the issue to ask the question here ... if you're not already doing it, I suggest some low-impact (i.e. no drugs) professional therapy. There are clearly several unresolved issues here.
posted by frogan at 8:54 PM on February 6, 2006

While I heartily recommend Nabokov, Ada is in fact one of his tougher slogs of a read.

The subject of incest fantasies is discussed in Nancy Friday's collections -- My Secret Garden, Forbidden Flowers, and Men in Love. Both men and women have them, and chances are in one of those books you'll find one that will make your fantasy look casual. (If you want something more clinical, the question is addressed in books such as The Hite Report and The Kinsey Report.)

Friends dealt suggestively with incest more than once -- most obviously in the episode where Rachel was dating a guy who was just a little too close with his sister/roommate. Incest is an enduring source of comedy, especially in (say) French farce, as well as of tragedy and drama in literature. Without giving away too much, it was a key plot element in the recent Korean Sundance favorite, Oldboy. So certainly you're not the first to have these thoughts, and not the first to want to find a way to deal with them.

Really, it's probably pointless to feel shame for something that takes place only in your mind. If you have a partner, role-play can be one way of exploring your attraction to various fantasies (and may even lead to you discard them), and will over time "free your mind" as it were to the consideration of alternate sexualities as just one more thing we stupid monkeys do. If not, well, there's always Real Sex on HBO. ;-)

delmoi has good advice, but sometimes a more active approach is called for. A simple trick is to use a rubber band on your wrist or a wrist counter as a form of biofeedback. Every time you have the thought that disturbs you, snap the rubber band, or hit the counter button. Soon this will become automatic, and the association with a negative outcome -- the pain of the snap, or the number at the end of the day -- will help your mind banish what it does not want to consider. (I've done this in the past for bouts of depressive and suicidal thoughts, and it does help.)

At a more aggressive level yet, you can use cognitive therapy to pile on negative associations to your fantasies -- something you don't want, like imagining the people in your fantasy hurting each other; or you can perform a bait-and-switch by looking at porn (like the Friday books, or adult films or websites) or just creating for yourself a non-disturbing fantasy, and every time the one that bugs you flows into your mind, switch as soon as possible to the new one. With time (and the positive feedback from orgasm) this could retune your inner television channel.

But really, just talking it out and accepting your inner freak is probably healthier.
posted by dhartung at 9:17 PM on February 6, 2006

I know someone who engages in "real play" fantasies online, which have to do with acting out family scenarious with people you're not actually related to. A lot of it is really mundane, but some of it is sexual. She's actually going to marry someone she met through these communities.

I just tried to google some "real play" and didn't come up wiht anything resembling what my friend is into, however, so I may have the name of the subculture wrong.

Oh yeah, in response to dhartung's analysis of pop culture incest: Check out any V. C. Andrews book. Even creepier than the fact that every one of her books seems to feature some form of incest is the knowledge that after she died her children started writing the books using her pen name. Her children. Just think about that.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:35 PM on February 6, 2006

Questions about a sexual fantasy that may be disturbing to some people are interesting to most people judging by all these responces!

posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 9:45 PM on February 6, 2006

"Your comments may save me from unbearable shame and constantly beating myself up - I'm getting sick and tired of it and have enough other emotional problems to deal with already."

This was basically me two or three years ago. All of a sudden, I was paralyzed by fear that I wanted these things to happen, in reality, and it literally stopped me from functioning. They included fearing that I was attracted to family members; fearing that I was a pedophile; and worrying that I had violent urges.

Unlike a fantasy, which is kind of something that you can take out when you want to play with it, so to speak, and put it away, I felt like I had lost total control over myself and my sexuality. Unbearable shame? Check. Constantly beating myself up? Check.

A little bit of talk therapy and a little bit of anti-anxiety meds later, I'm healthy and happy and I don't feel desperate and ashamed anymore.

Bottom line: when I tried suppressing these fantasies, what I found that I ended up suppressing was all of my sexuality, in case I ended up feeling sexual and acting on one of these thoughts. It took me a good long time to feel like I could function normally as a sexual person.

Consider meeting with a therapist at least once - bare minimum, it will help to hear from a trained professional that you're perfectly normal. If it's more than that and you can't shake it in a healthy fashion, a little more therapy might help. Good luck.
posted by la belle infidele at 10:07 PM on February 6, 2006

sometimes a more active approach is called for. A simple trick is to use a rubber band on your wrist

And then soon enough you start associating sexuality with pain. Quick, someone say something about a frying pan and a fire.

/me shakes head

Consider meeting with a therapist at least once - bare minimum, it will help to hear from a trained professional that you're perfectly normal. If it's more than that and you can't shake it in a healthy fashion, a little more therapy might help.

Best advice yet.
posted by frogan at 11:00 PM on February 6, 2006

You asked about the roots of such fantasies. Basically, when you're hitting puberty, who are the people around you the most? Your family. If you've got a straight teenage boy thinking constantly about sex, for instance, and he's got sexually mature or maturing women living in close proximity, well.... it's not much of a stretch.
posted by occhiblu at 11:14 PM on February 6, 2006

There is nothing intrinsically unhealthy about any sexual fantasy. There's also nothing intrinsically unhealthy about any sexual act, so long as it doesn't harm (physically, mentally, emotionally) any of the participants.

Speaking anecdotally, incest fantasies are garden-variety. I'd be willing to bet that just about everyone has at least one, in some degree, at some point, and the majority of people probably more than one.

Go to a nice supportive therapist who specializes in sexual issues. Believe me, you'll feel much happier jacking/jilling off without shame to a hot fantasy about your cute brother/sister/whatever.

As for social acceptance, I highly doubt it. Incest taboos run deep, much deeper than most others. They inspire a visceral horror (which is obviously a big part of the attraction), and visions of deformed babies and Hanover chins. (Obviously not a concern with same-sex incest). Add in that most (but certainly not all) incest is coercive and abusive, and there's a recipe for no social acceptance.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:11 AM on February 7, 2006

If you have a clear sense of the division between fantasy and reality, then by all means: enjoy whatever fantasies you want. Seriously. I hope the top of your head blows off due to sheer erotic intensity.

I think that comparing incest to BDSM will get you nowhere. It's not just that people have accepted fantasies of those practices. Those practices themselves have become commonplace. That same thing is not gonna happen for inecestuous relationships.

So I think that you're going to have to keep on enjoying your fantasies on the sly. But you know what? If you're a man, then you probably have sexual fantasies about fucking women ALL THE TIME when it wouldn't be "acceptable." Get used to it. And grow up and realize when you just enjoy fantasizng the forbidden. Don't be one of those shitheads who needs to DO the forbidden. The reality is not as good. It's nowhere near as good. It's light years worse in fact.
posted by scarabic at 12:47 AM on February 7, 2006

There was a British soap opera called Brookside which had a long-running thread about a brother and a sister who carried on a sexual love affair with one another. The whole thing was done in quite a sexy fashion and I remember at the time lots of people commenting that the supposed brother and sister were really hot.

Doing a search on the characters' names - Nat and Georgia Simpson - led me to this Guardian article which discusses whether "consensual" incest can ever be acceptable. The journalist describes the Brookside portrayal as "somewhat salacious" - ie, it was designed to turn people on, suggesting that there could even be a mainstream interest in incest as a sexual fantasy.

As some other posters have said: if this is just a fantasy and stays that way, and unless some sense of coercion or abuse is involved, there's no reason to beat yourself up.
posted by skylar at 1:01 AM on February 7, 2006

I'm gay, only have a sister. I've always enjoyed fantasizing about having had a brother, and what might have happened.

I think having a deep fantasy life is good for you. Feeling guilty about it is mostly counterproductive. But then, some people also get off on fantasies involving guilt and shame.
posted by Goofyy at 1:04 AM on February 7, 2006

See my post on Genetic Sexual Attraction. The link seems to be dead, but you should Google the term - use quotes and you should get a lot of good results. Here's one from the Guardian; the money statistic is in the intro: 50% of reunions between siblings, or parents and offspring, separated at birth result in obsessive emotions. "Obsessive emotions", btw, is a calculated eupemism for sexual feelings.

Here's the biology simplified. Most mating is assortive on almost all traits. Here's Jared Diamond from 1986 Discover magazine article:
If you measure enough things about enough couples, the answer that finally emerges is unexpectedly simple: on the average, spouses resemble each other slightly but significantly in almost every physical feature. That goes not only for the traits you'd think of first, like skin and eye and hair color, but also for an astonishing variety of other traits, such as thickness of lips, breadth of nose, length of ear lobe and middle finger, circumference of wrist, distance between eyes, and lung volume. Experimenters have made this finding for people as diverse as Poles in Poland, Americans in Michigan, and Africans in Chad.
This is because we share a lot of genes with our families and both with humans and animals, women seem to seek out traits associated with dad and bro, and boys traits associated with mom and sis. Diamond discusses several animal experiments such as mice whose mother's vaginas were sprayed with lemon juice grew up to prefer female mice with lemon-sprayed vaginas.

Why is this? Well it's possibly related to immune system and MHC compatibility. A recent Discover article on incest pointed out that these marriages may be even more fit in the Darwinian sense:
Moderate inbreeding may also produce biological benefits. Contrary to lore, cousin marriages may do even better than ordinary marriages by the standard Darwinian measure of success, which is reproduction. A 1960 study of first-cousin marriages in 19th-century England done by C. D. Darlington, a geneticist at Oxford University, found that inbred couples produced twice as many great-grandchildren as did their outbred counterparts.
The article also notes that 80% of marriages in history have been between second cousins and closer. The flip side to that instinct to assortive mate, is the danger or recessive genes that can lead to all sort of nasty diseases (which is why we tend to see more recessive gene disorders in more inbred populations; thus Ashkenazi Jews appear to have more crazy disorders, than say, the French, and the Amish appear to be the most fucked of all). So we have some additional psychological mechanisms to keep these other psychological mechanisms in check. I'll just quote my comment from several years ago on the Westermark incest avoidance mechanism:
Hidalgo your alternative theory (not accepted today) was actually first formulated by Sigmund Freud. Frued concluded that our earliest sexual feelings were for our family (particularly our mothers), and that, as you say, we develop incest taboos as an unconscious method to suppress these latent urges. Westermark, on the other hand, said almost the opposite, that the incestuous urges never develop. What method did he propose for this?


The scientist Konrad Lorenz (1937) discovered that newly-hatched chicks would follow the first colorful moving object that they encountered, regarding it as their mother (realized after Mr. Lorenz himself unwittingly became the mother of some baby geese). They mentally 'imprint' that object as their mother, with a pre-programmed set of rules regarding it (follow, imitate, etc.). Imprinting had to occur within the first 25 hours of hatched brain development; and the sooner the more reliably it was imprinted This mother identification is known as 'filial imprinting', but the birds also avoided mating with their siblings by a similar mechanism of 'sexual imprinting.' Like the fake mother, those avoided as mates don't necessarily have to be genuine siblings, just anything 'imprinted' as a sibling, which it will be if it shares the correct combination of sibling-like traits (proximity, motion, etc..) As troutfishing said, all this 'sexual imprinting' is for avoiding the harmful effects of inbreeding.

Westermark then proposed a 'sexual imprinting' model for humans, that has received much support through the years. To name some good evidence: A) Unrelated children raised together in communal Israeli kibbutzim, seldomly pair bond as adults, despite a lack of discouragement to do so. And B) In Taiwanese arranged marriages, the female is raised together with her future husband. Looking at data from over 14,000 of these, Anthropologist Arthur Wolf compared fertility and divorce rates from these marriages to traditional arranged marriage cultures, and decided there was a significant amount of greater dissatisfaction.

What's even more, it appears not only that children 'imprint' their siblings and parents, but that grown adults 'imprint' children as well. Looking at evidence from sexual abuse (no links, damn.) , it can be seen that the more removed from a child's infancy a step-parent enters into the family unit, the more increased the likelihood of eventual sexual abuse. This is not only true for step-parents, but for actual parents as well, who may be missing from a child's earliest years for whatever reason, and later return.
posted by dgaicun at 2:16 AM on February 7, 2006 [3 favorites]

Anyway, to summarize there are powerful psychological mechanisms telling us to breed with our parents and siblings overpowered mostly by powerful psychological mechanisms telling us to be disgusted by these thoughts (if we are raised with them at least). I suppose I didn't answer your exact question about how common incest fantasies occur within "Westermarked" families (as opposed to adopted and reunited relatives), I'm sorry, but hopefully it partially helped demystify the whole subject a little.
posted by dgaicun at 2:40 AM on February 7, 2006

By the way, as an only child, I find the abstract concept of a twin sister who is like my soul mate incredibly sexy. In the abstract is the key word, because I feel as much attraction toward my actual close family members as I do dog poo. (that Westermark shit really works)

I remember in highschool observing one of my best friends and his close age sister joking and fighting while we were walking home from school one day, and I thought they were like the cutest, sexiest couple ever. Of course, when I mentioned this to them they were none too happy, to say the least!
posted by dgaicun at 2:52 AM on February 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

As long as we're talking about writing on the theme, incest is a big part of the plot of The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving and also lacks any Oedipal 'gotcha!' about it.
posted by phearlez at 7:46 AM on February 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

A lot of what dgaicun is talking about with opposite-sex partners also seems to apply to same-sex partners. I remember a gay friend of mine reading about the "narcissistic" tendencies of gay men -- not in the egotistical sense, just in the general "I love my partner because he's just like me" sense.
posted by occhiblu at 8:57 AM on February 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Follow up from the original poster.

Thank you so very much for all your responses, they have been very
helpful, and I already feel like I have a huge load off my shoulders
(it's something I've carried for years and years).

I think though that perhaps I haven't been very clear in my original
question. My incest fantasies do not involve real family members, I am
not attracted to any of them, these fantasies are simply fictional
scenarios involving fictional characters. While I agree with many of
you in thinking that as long as such real life relationships involves
consensual adults it's okay, I have no desire to have such
relationships myself in real life.

I am more than aware that incest fantasy is very popular in sex
stories archives, but when does something being popular on the
internet means it's good, right? And depending on which sex stories
archive you look at, incest fantasy frequently strays into paedophilia
and abuse, and while I avoid those, just stumbling upon them disturbs
me greatly. I start thinking, am I ever going to head in that
direction? etc.

The comment from la belle infidele articulates it better than I can
(thanks so much for your honesty!) In society incest is generally seen
to be closely tied with paedophilia and abuse. The thing is, I also
happen to know and have known many many people who have been sexually
abused as children by their family. (My fantasies were in place before
I met them.) The idea that I may be turned on by something even
remotely related to their suffering makes me disgusted with myself,
and seriously worry that I may hurt people one day, which was partly
why I asked the question about whether if you try to suppress it it'd
become more intense. I've heard the theory that there are so many
priests who abuse children in the church because they are asked to
unhealthily suppress their sexuality and it comes out in such warped
forms. I fear that happening to me. I'd never ever want to hurt

I don't think therapy or counselling is an option for me, as I've just
left years and years pretty intensive therapy (for other emotional
problems) and have never been able to trust anyone enough to mention
this. But your comments have helped me muchly, and I hope they will be
enough to free me from the shame.

The reason I asked if there are any roots to such fantasies is that I
happen to be extremely emotionally distant from my family, and have
very poor relationships with them, if you can call them relationships.
The family is for me a very cold place. I am turned on most by incest
fantasies where family members are devoted and loving to each other
and the sex is just another way of expressing that, almost as if
combining the best and most intimate parts of familial relationships
and romantic and sexual relationships. I wonder if my sexual fantasies
are a way to compensate for what I don't have.

This incest fantasy is probably my biggest secret. That may be
relatively tame to some people, I now understand, which is great, but
it's still very much socially unacceptable. I'm a person who likes to
be absolutely honest, who hates keeping secrets, and I'd like to think
that one day I can mention these sexual fantasies to someone, and
he/she won't leave in disgust. I was wondering if any of you have had
good experiences with being open about such things.

Thank you so much again for all your help - I am very, very grateful.
posted by jessamyn at 12:02 PM on February 7, 2006

I can definitely see how such fantasies could be a turn on. And I wouldn't worry about sliding into pedophelia or something else scary. Look, I'm straight and enjoy sleeping with women. Rapists enjoy (not sure that's the right world) having sex with women, too. I don't, even for a second, worry that I'm in danger of becoming a rapist.

As for being honest with people, I'm sure you can -- with the right people. I've admitted various kinks to people I know really well. Obviously, I'm not going to be honest about these things to members of the Moral Majority. But with my liberal friends, sure. Most of them just laugh it off -- or become really interested and ask for more details.

If you want to chat with someone non-judgemental, my email is in my profile.
posted by grumblebee at 12:19 PM on February 7, 2006

Your comments may save me from unbearable shame and constantly beating myself up - I'm getting sick and tired of it and have enough other emotional problems to deal with already . . . my incest fantasies do not involve real family members, I am not attracted to any of them, these fantasies are simply fictional scenarios involving fictional characters.

Any sexual fantasy not linked to victimization is unambiguously nothing to be ashamed of. In fact S&M stuff and school girl fetish gets into way more of a gray area than what anon is describing. Way more. Fantasize away friend, trust me you're normal. The only thing that's unhealthy is that you have any shame whatever about your kinks.
posted by dgaicun at 12:27 PM on February 7, 2006

I was wondering if any of you have had
good experiences with being open about such things.

That's an emphatic "yes." I was raised an only child by a single mom, and missed out perhaps on a lot of social conditioning. While I haven't fantasized a whole ton, I've been very open with partners when it's come up (and it does, when you start talking about sexual play and sometimes in just random situations) that I'd find the idea of having sex with a brother or sister of mine pretty sexy (though not my real half brother or real half sister, on reflection).

I actually had one guy toward the beginning of my sexual life who said he'd be like a brother to me, and it made me feel closer to him. So for positive stories, there you go. Really, you're fine. Telling people about your fantasies, so long as it's not done in a really intense "this is a HUGE DEAL to me" sort of way, probably won't result in revulsion.

Only caveat is that it is possible other women are more conservative than I am sexually, whereas I tend to presume (and recently found out that I was wrong in this presumption) that most guys are more sexually experimental or willing to try all kinds of things than I am. It is possible that women are generally more conservative, but you'll be able to feel this out with whoever you're with. Other things that may be approximately as taboo would be roleplaying, power play, anal sex, willingness to try crazy positions or locations, exhibitionism, fetishes, etc... so if the girl is into any of that, it's more likely she'd be open to your particular fantasy, or at least not think you're an oddball for it (and you aren't). Especially if you can find out if she has any fantasies that you can act out with her.

You're fine. You'll be fine.
posted by lorrer at 5:50 PM on February 7, 2006

Several of Irving's novels have incest (or other kinks) as subplots, not just Hotel.

Check out any V. C. Andrews book. Even creepier than the fact that every one of her books seems to feature some form of incest is the knowledge that after she died her children started writing the books using her pen name.

This is incorrect. Andrews never married and had no children (which is quite in parallel with both dgaicun's and the OP's comments, actually). Her books have been continued by a ghost-writer (it is true that this is with the authorization of Andrews's estate). This Guardian article is relevant in terms of how the incest angle figured in her writings, and in her readers' interest.

OP: I don't think anyone meant to impugn your google-fu by bringing things to your attention! I do find it interesting that you have trust issues so extreme you'd rather not discuss this even with a professional. In fact, I would say that may be a major clue as to why incest fantasies are prominent in your mind. A family member is someone you don't have to learn to trust before revealing your secrets. Understanding this might be a key to understanding your fantasy world.
posted by dhartung at 7:34 PM on February 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

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