Ok.....complicated one, recently found out my husband and his younger sister had sex for a number of years between the ages of 10-12, this is what he's telling me tho I'm aware this may have more to it? We are a young couple married with two children (boys) my relationship with his family has never been great and this hasn't helped! Can anyone give me any advice or your thoughts on how you would deal with this news? I'm up and down and so confused.....
Questions like this come up more than people might think. Person A is dating or married to Person B and Person A suspects or has found out that Person B has been sexually involved with a sibling or other family member. Person A usually wants to know what they should do.
It is important to clarify the situation by determining the answers to some questions.
1) Is this something that is suspected or has it been confirmed?
Not all families have the same behaviors and boundaries when it comes to physical affection, personal space, joking, and otherwise talking. As such, Person A can look at how Person B interacts with a sibling and think, “I wouldn’t interact with my sibling that way, only a partner” and so think that Person B must have sexual experience with their family member. It isn’t necessarily the case, though. On the other hand, with as common as consanguineous experimentation and sex is, it isn’t unreasonable to wonder.
Unless someone comes right out and makes a clear, credible statement either way, there probably isn’t an easy way to get the truth that will not cause some embarrassment. One way of handling it could be in expressing needs and negotiating boundaries. Even if someone is monogamous, they should never assume their relationship is monogamous unless that has been explicitly discussed. So perhaps one oblique way of trying to determine if there’s anything current is to say, “I need monogamy. Is that going to be a problem?” Or, if polyamorous, saying “I need to know exactly who else you are going to be having sex with.” Trying to determine if anything happened in the past is going to take being a little less vague. It might be helpful to say something like this, in a nonjudgmental tone: “I was reading that a surprisingly high percentage of people have had sexual experiences with a close family member, enough that everyone knows somebody who has. But I’m not aware of anyone I know who has. Are you?” Depending on how serious the relationship is getting, the questioning can get more direct, because if someone is going to be creating a family with someone else, they should be talking about the dynamics and family history of both families.
2) Was this something that happened in the past or is it ongoing?
If confirmation is obtained, it is important to know whether the sexual aspect of the relationship is likely over for good or if it is ongoing or could easily resume. If it ended, when, why, and how did it end?
3) Was this consensual activity or was it assault/molestation?
I don’t classify assault or molestation as sexual activity or experimentation, as I think those are entirely different things. But as far as abuse or molestation goes, there is a difference between a 12-year-old grabbing his 10-year-old sister once to upset her and realizing it was a terrible thing to do and a 14-year-old forcing themselves on a 7-year-old repeatedly and trying to excuse it with “kids will be kids.” If someone is planning to raise kids with their partner, they should not ignore a history of child abuse.
Some kids engage in mutual exploration or experimentation. Most therapists don’t consider it abusive if minor family members close in age explore by mutual agreement. A 13-year-old and a 12-year-old might be curious. A 20-year-old and an 18-year-old might be in love. And that brings us to another question.
4) If this was a consensual thing in the past, was it a one-time event, a casual family-with-benefits thing, a love affair, or what?
They may have engaged in everything from a one-time instance of playing doctor or some other game, or had an ongoing love affair that they thought was going to last forever. Or perhaps there was something in between. That matters.
Discovering that your partner is cheating on you, deeply in love with a sibling, is a different matter than finding out that your partner used to masturbate in front of a sibling when they were teens, for mutual enjoyment, and both are different than finding out that your partner assaulted three relatives.
Going back to the question that prompted this entry, it wasn’t clear whether both of the siblings were "10-12" or not. Assuming they were close in age, it was not a matter of abuse, and everything ended before they were even teenagers, then there’s nothing for Lauren to do, unless she thinks it is causing ongoing problems in her marriage, in which case she should seek marriage therapy and perhaps individual therapy. If he is a good father and a good husband, she should be happy knowing that he chose to marry her and loves her. That should outweigh what happened in his childhood, even if she thinks what happened is wrong.
All of the above refers to interaction with siblings, cousins or even aunts/uncles who are close in age. There is a different dynamic if the involvement was with an older aunt/uncle, parent, or grandparent (or, in the case of someone who is older, an adult child). Again, abuse is a whole different matter than consensual sex between adults. But consensual adult intergenerational sex does happen, perhaps not as often as intragenerational, but it happens.
If someone is not in a committed relationship, but is rather just dating someone, and they think the other person is “too close” to a family member, they are entirely free to stop seeing them. A casual outsider is not going to change family dynamics, and trying to do so will likely make everyone unhappy. Who wants to be suspicious that their partner is cheating with anyone, let alone a family member? A consanguinamorous bond can be an especially powerful one, and if someone suspects they are dating someone who is has such a bond, issuing an ultimatum will likely mean the dating will end.
Like anything else about a partner’s sexual history, it comes down to knowing what you’ll accept and what you won’t (and what you need to know to begin with). While you may be missing out on a great partner if you “can’t” accept some of the consensual sex in their past or that they will not tell you something, it isn’t a good idea to get in deeper with someone if you’re going to end up holding that aspect of their past against them.
Conversely, if you'll love them and let them know they can be honest with you about their past and whether or not it (still) holds an erotic charge for them, you can have a great time or a great life together, especially if you are willing to sometimes play off of that history in fantasies.