Monday, July 12, 2010

Love is Not Bizarre

There’s a blog called Bizarre Behaviors & Culture-bound Syndromes, and it has discussed Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA).

Last September, “Kevin” published a piece titled “Genetic Sexual Attraction and the Westermarck Effect.”

He started off with Mackenzie Phillips, and then went to on to write about a German brother-sister couple, Patrick and Susan Stübing, who are married with two children. Patrick spent time in prison for the crime of loving his sister.

They have been trying to overturn Germany's Paragraph 173 of the civil code which makes incest a crime. Medical and genetic experts claim there is a good public health reason for the law. Children produced by incestuous relationships are much more likely to have medical issues. Indeed Patrick and Susan's son has epilepsy and learning difficulties, while their daughter is a special needs child. Nevertheless they maintain that these problems are not the result of the incestuous pairing of their genes.

Plenty of couples who aren’t closely related have children with problems, and we know that sex and marriage are not about children anyway. So why criminalize consensual relationships?

He then brings up Barbara Gonyo and her website, then the “Westermarck Effect,” and then Freud, before concluding with…

GSA is thought to occur in up to 50% of reunions of close relatives. The advent of in-vitro fertilization where the one or both parents do not contribute DNA to their children, could lead to a future epidemic of GSA. At the very least this is something to be aware of in the future.

Awareness is good, especially coupled with support.

Last month, another article was posted on the same blog by “Kevin Volkan & Neil Rocklin.” It focuses on Intergenerational Love, and begins with the example of Phil Bailey and Pearl Carter.

Besides the general features of GSA Phil and Pearl's relationship also has two unique features. The first is that the couple was fully aware of the GSA phenomena. However, unlike Barbara Gonyo, who used her awareness of GSA to understand her feelings for her son so she could have a normal relationship with him, Pearl and Phil cite GSA as something that makes their relationship legitimate!

So the writers take the position that loving sex between consenting adults can be abnormal - and questions the legitimacy of Bailey and Carter’s relationship?

They elaborate on the intergenerational aspect of the relationship, and child abuse, before ending with…

Predictably enough, when I describe this case to my students their collective reaction is "that's digusting!". Until more research is done on intergenerational incestuous romance our understanding will be limited to this understandable sentiment.

Sounds like the students need some sensitivity education. Rather than trying to make people feel lesser because of the love they share, we should be celebrating.
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  1. In our post on we try to be non-judgmental about phenomena like GSA. Most of the the things you cite above refer to statements made by other people, not us. However, as you point out lots of people, like my students do have an initially negative reaction. The reason I teach them about things like GSA is exactly to help them to be become more sensitive and compassionate towards others regardless of their own feelings about a certain type of behavior.


  2. Thank you, Mr. (or Dr.) Volkan, for commenting and for adding clarification. I don't want to mislead anyone.

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