Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Decriminalizing Genetic Sexual Attraction

This is necessarily a long essay, and I apologize, but I’ve heard so many arguments before that I want to deal with them preemptively.

In many places, certain acts of affection between close genetic relatives are still a crime, regardless of all involved being consenting adults, regardless of their backgrounds. This includes when the adults have experienced Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA).

The fact is there are people who are happy together, in every way, who were brought together through GSA. The main problem in the relationship is the discrimination, often codified in laws that include the possibility of criminal prosecution, against their relationship. There are other people who are experiencing GSA who, for any number of reasons, do not want their relationship to become sexual, or remain sexual if it has already become sexual. Both of these groups, and the other people who love them and depend on them, would benefit from decriminalization.

The first group would be free to live their lives.

The second group would be more able find effective help and support.

There is no reason to keep laws against any affection between consenting adults in these cases that is consistently applied elsewhere. For example, in the USA, we have firmly established the legal concepts that adults have the freedom of association and a right to privacy that extends to consensual sex and that protects them from prosecution, and we have firmly established as a social concept that consenting adults should be allowed to do with each other what they want. It is just taking some time for these to be consistently applied.

A Good Reason for Criminalization?

Let’s look at the reasons people give for making criminals out of consenting adults who are experiencing GSA by denying them the freedom to be together…

1. “It is disgusting.” Also known as the “ick” or “eww” factor, this explains why the person using the argument wouldn’t want to do it, but their own personal disgust is not a justification for preventing other people from doing something those other people want to do. We all have seen relationships that disgust us, but it is up to the adult involved, not anyone else.

2. “Not a lot of people want to do it” or “I don’t want to do it.” The second one is much like #1 above, and many people who are in, or have been in, GSA relationships never thought they would want to do something like this before they experienced it for themselves. The first is not a justification for keeping something illegal. If anything, it is a reason laws against these relationships are wasteful and unnecessary.

3. “It goes against tradition.” So did the abolition of slavery. A tradition of inequality is not a justification for continuing to deny equality.

4. “My religion is against it.” We should all have the freedom of religion and in places like the US, we have separation of church and state, so this can’t be a justification for keeping laws against GSA, only a reason why one person would not feel free to be affectionate that way.

5. “It's not natural." Actually, yes, it is. GSA is a normal, natural reaction to the circumstances (see references below). But even if it wasn't, people are allowed artificial things all of the time, like using smart phones.

6. “What’s next?” “Where do we draw the line?” Freedom for consenting adults. Who has a problem with that?

7. “These relationships are abusive.” These types of relationships are not inherently abusive. Abusive people are the cause of abuse. We have several examples showing that outlawing consensual behavior correlates to an increase in problems as people try to avoid law enforcement and other authorities. Legalizing these relationships will most certainly reduce abuse, as abuse victims can go to the authorities with much less fear. So the solution isn’t the status quo, it is in decriminalizing such relationships and prosecuting abusers. Victims will be much more forthcoming.

8. “It ruins, confuses, or distorts family relationships.” Ever notice how people who use this argument against GSA relationships almost never say the same thing about any other relationship? It is okay for say, siblings, to be coworkers, business partners, roommates, lender and borrower, best friends, on and on… but never lovers. Why the inconsistency? They don’t say it about any number of additional relationship dimensions relatives might have with each other, or at least this objection is not enshrined in law, as it is with laws criminalizing GSA sex. It is as if these people think sex is a bad thing and about doing bad things to the other person(s). Maybe they are doing it wrong?

Most people experiencing GSA already have sociological families. The genetic sibling, child, or parent with whom they have been reunited or to whom they have been introduced is an addition to their life, not someone who is dropping or conflicting with an existing sociological role. Some people in these relationships see the affection as a form of compensation for what was lost and can never be regained.

9. “There is a power differential.” This applies least of all to siblings close in age, but even where the power differential exists, it is not a justification for making criminals out of lovers. There is a power differential in just about any relationship, sometimes an enormous power differential. One person is more emotionally needy than another. One earns more than the other. One is more educated than another. One has more friends and family than another. One has more life experience than another. On and on it goes. To question if consent is truly possible in these cases is insulting and demeaning. There are sober, functional, healthy adults who consent to sex with an older relative. It shouldn’t be illegal or questioned, unless you would do the same to any intergenerational relationship between adults.

10. “There are so many people outside of your family. Go have sex with one of them, instead.” This is usually said out of ignorance of what GSA is. There is a relationship going on that can’t be duplicated with anyone else, and if sex is involved, it is just one aspect of a powerful whole. Consenting adults should free to make their own decisions about their relationships, regardless of the prejudices of others. There are plenty of people within one’s own race, too, but that is no reason to ban interracial relationships.

11. “This will hurt children.” This is usually meant one of four ways:

   a) “Children you have together will have two heads.” This is one reason why some lovers have decided not to have children together. But does it hold up as a reason for criminalizing GSA sex? No. 1) As I just said, many lovers have decided not to have children together, and would keep that decision regardless of law. Most people do not believe sex is only for reproduction. Most sex does not result in a birth, and there are gay and lesbian GSA relationships, and other GSA relationships where pregnancy is not even a possible result of sex. 2) We don’t prevent other people from having sex or deny them their reproductive rights based on increased odds of passing along a genetic problem or inherited disease. 3) Most births to consanguineous parents do not produce children with significant birth defects. Unless someone is willing to deny reproductive rights and medical privacy to others and force everyone to take genetic tests and bar carriers and the congenitally disabled and women over 35 from having children, then equal protection principles prevent this from being a justification for criminalizing GSA. Anyone concerned about these things should have genetic testing and counseling. People who are not close relatives can pass along health problems, too.

   b) “The children will find out their parents are related, and will be taunted.” First, see above. Secondly, what the children will know is that their parents love each other, and love them, and that is what is important to a child. Finally, people used to say this about interracial and gay parents. The biggest problem appears to the rudely outspoken bigotry of others. Don’t want the kids to be taunted? Then don’t taunt them.

   c) “It will make it easier for children to be groomed for sex or otherwise abused.” GSA specifically involves people who were not raised together or by each other, so grooming doesn’t really apply with GSA. But will decriminalizing GSA make it easier for custodial guardians and parents to abuse children? The law could be written in such a way as to only decriminalize GSA and not apply to guardians/custodial parents, but there are places, such as Rhode Island and various countries in the world, where consensual sexual affection between close adult relatives is legal, GSA or not. Where is the proof that child abuse increased in those places as a result? Consensual sex and abuse are two different things. There are people abusing their own children RIGHT NOW in places where consensual adult incest is illegal. Meanwhile, does anyone really think that allowing consenting adults to have their love lives means more adults will prey on children? Society already disapproves of preying on children, and it still happens, sadly. Many things legal for adults are not legal for children, such as joining the military, getting married, purchasing prescription medication, driving automobiles on public roads, buying adult media, working in coal mines, etc. Not every law or norm or sensitivity can cater to young children.

   d) “This will break up the home of children.” This is applied to GSA situations involving people who have existing relationships that are threatened by GSA, and those relationships involve children. Personally, I think children would rather their parents not split up unless one is abusive, and I do not think it is OK to violate existing vows to others. This is definitely an important consideration for someone experiencing GSA. But… it is their consideration, not for strangers to try to decide for them in law. We do not prevent people from breaking up or divorcing even if they have children. It is perfectly legal, or any reason. In most places, laws against adultery are no longer applicable. A parent can have sex with a complete stranger every night, or divorce and remarry multiple times; it is all legal, even if it is often a bad idea.


As we can see, there isn’t a compelling reason for the continued criminalization of GSA. It will make laws more consistent and people will be better off if GSA is decriminalized. In many places, is legal for complete strangers to have group sex, with different people every night if they’d like, but not legal for two people who have an ongoing relationship and love each other to, say, have oral sex, simply because they are close genetic relatives. Does that make sense?

GSA is real and is a common, normal response to the circumstances involved, which are often circumstances nobody experiencing the GSA can be blamed for creating. GSA is not an indication that anything is wrong with the people involved. It is not wrong to have these feelings. I also argue that in many cases, it is not wrong to act on such feelings, that there is no good reason why adults in these cases who are not violating existing vows to others, who are right for each other, should feel a need to refrain from being together in whatever way they want. Even if and when wrong, that doesn’t mean it should be criminal.

Has acting sexually on GSA ruined the lives of some people? Like all sexual relationships, the answer is yes, for some it has. Some people are not right for each other, even if they are strongly attracted to each other, and some people are abusive (sometimes that is a reason for the separation circumstances to begin with). Some people aren’t free to be together. But that is no reason to categorically condemn and criminalize all GSA sex.

It is a waste of precious resources to keep GSA criminalized; it is also harming people.

For those brought together through GSA who are enjoying their relationships in every way, nothing else compares. They should be free to share their lives with each other, if that is what they want, and they should not be prosecuted, bullied, or discriminated against.
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  1. A well reasoned article, thanks! But the great success of the same-sex marriage movement - 35 states forced to grant marriage licenses now, and more soon to be added to that total - illustrates that real change happens not in response to blog posts, but in response to numerous high-quality federal lawsuits pressed onward to victory by competent civil liberties organizations.

    Certainly the states will bring up some or all of the points discussed in this article, which provides an excellent guide for rebutting them. But federal court is where the action needs to happen.

    Will the Full Marriage Equality blog someday grow into a civil liberties organization capable of filing federal lawsuits? Like it or not, that's the price of admission to the winner's circle.

    1. sex doesn’t equate gender so what don’t you understand?

  2. Hi Keith. I am someone affected by GSA, not the father and daughter who are now in a relationship, but the person who was left behind when they couldn't fight their feelings for each other any longer. I understand their feelings, but others lose out big time, I'm devastated, heartbroken and lost my whole world because of it. Whilst I understand it, it still isn't right on any level, they only feel that way because they're father and daughter, and wouldn't have those feelings for the other person if they were anyone else. I can't go into personal details here in a public forum, but would like the opportunity to discuss this with you in a more private message scenario, if this is possible? How do I contact you directly? Thank you.

    1. Anonymous, please contact me at fullmarriageequality at yahoo dot com


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