Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Allies For the Consanguinamorous

Rachel wrote  "Sunday School: On Kissing Cousins" at, and I want to thank her for the link to this blog, but even more for showing solidarity for the consanguinamorous.

Also, thanks to the person "C" who asked Rachel this...

Lately I’ve read advocacy for *full* marriage equality, including for close relatives (consanguineous relationships). The only reasonable objections I’ve ever heard have to do with the increased risk of disorders and immunodeficiency. However, I’m not versed in the scientific / medical literature, and unless the risk is extreme it seems more appropriate to educate rather than stigmatize (as with teen pregnancy).

So, what should we bear in mind about consanguinamory? Where can we find reliable information (esp. for our large and geographically mobile population)? What should we learn before becoming consanguineous allies?

From the response...

“Essentially, yes, there is a certain amount of risk in consanguineous breeding,” answered Leslie Kendall, a graduate researcher in genetics at Texas A&M University. “Genetic testing can mitigate some of this as far as well established genetic disorders, but you have to remember that not everything is testable, so even if these parents had clear tests, there is the possibility of something popping up (a greater chance than from non-consanguineous breeding). It depends solely upon what they are bringing to the party.” For a more thorough entry-level explanation, she recommends this very illuminating 2003 Discover article.

Given that cousin marriage is pretty widespread and has been through the majority of human history, and that as a species we seem to have done just fine–albeit with some pretty high-profile outlying exceptions, like the Tsarevich Alexei–rejecting it on a biological basis is illogical. Even an isolated close-relative coupling (half-siblings or closer, as expressed by a mathematical coefficient of inbreeding F) within an otherwise robustly branched family tree is unlikely to have serious deleterious effects, so long as the partners aren’t carriers for a marquee genetic disorder like hemophilia or Tay-Sachs, both of which are testable.

So, Discredited Argument #18 isn't strong, but is likely a cover for DA #2...

Cultural stigmas surrounding incest, however, can’t really be =dismissed with straightforward math in the same way. Ultimately I believe that consenting adults have a right to whatever bedroom activities tickle their individual fancies, so long as they exercise some minimum amount of due diligence to ensure that nobody’s getting hurt in a way they didn’t ask for. Healthy, satisfying relationships between individual persons are good for all of us in aggregate. If a couple experiences genetic sexual attraction, for example, there is no rational reason to treat them differently than any other couple.

Thank you!

In a fairly stunning coincidence, while I was working on this column, Dear Prudence on Slate ran a letter from half of a consensually incestuous gay couple that basically said exactly what I would have said, except better. I definitely would refer readers to Emily Yoffe’s answer. She appears to be a pretty good model for consanguineous allies!

Yes, I looked at that one in this posting. Thanks to the people leaving comments at who've linked to this blog.

There were comments after Rachel's answer.

I speculate that a lot of the stigma around incest has to do with the Westermarck effect. The idea is that incest is evolutionarily unfavorable, and thus people evolved a psychological mechanism to prevent attraction to relatives. The mechanism uses “people you grew up with” as a proxy for “close relatives”. Thus, people sometimes become attracted to close relatives that they did not grow up with. And other people must simply not experience the Westermarck effect.

When people think of incest, they think about how averse or unattracted they are by the prospect of getting with their own close relatives. If enough people think this way, it can lead to a powerful cultural taboo. I consider the health risks to be an after-the-fact justification (not that there is no truth to it).
 miller is on to something.


I clearly have more to learn, but i am ready to be a consanguinamorous ally.


Jason gets it right, too...

Tons of people are genetically predisposed to having offspring with developmental abnormalities. Huntington’s Disease is a dominant trait… half of the children born to an individual with Huntington’s will develop this terrible neurodegenerative condition that causes them to die young. Certain types of colorectal cancer are caused by dominant mutations. Women over the age of 35 have a hugely increased risk of having children with chromosomal aberrations like Down syndrome. Should we forbid people with Huntington’s, colon cancer, or women over the age of 35, from getting married? Absolutely not. I think that it follows that the potential “genetic fitness” of one’s offspring should have no bearing on whether you can get married or not.
This is a really interesting one to me, because the concept fills me with absolute revulsion and disgust (particularly in that I may have experienced a bit of incestuous abuse myself). But when I actually THINK about it, I realize that it does fall perfectly and well within the boundaries of what I consider ethical sexual intimacy… that is, adults capable of granting full informed consent, and not harming anyone else (except perhaps any children they conceive… I’d argue that in the case of VERY close relatives, like siblings, they should not have children).
Kudos to Natalie for recognizing the difference between abuse and sex, and supporting the right to consensual sex even if the thought of it makes her uncomfortable.

It's nice to see the solidarity from allies. Thanks!
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