The British press is a fathomless mine of lurid but thought-provoking, strange-but-true explorations of the dark side of the human condition. Last week’s revelation was published in a magazine called The New Day — a passionate incestuous romance between a 51-year-old British woman and her 32-year-old American son.
Kim West was studying in California when she had a child out of wedlock. She gave him up for adoption and turned to England. Nearly 30 years later she learned that her son Ben Ford wanted to contact her. When they met, they immediately felt an overwhelming sexual attraction. Ben ended up abandoning his wife and moving in with his mother. They live together and are considering having children.
Post-adoption romance is a poorly-understood but well-documented phenomenon. In 1980s an American adoption counsellor, Barbara Gonyo, coined the term “genetic sexual attraction”(GSA) for these passionate feelings. Two British psychologists interviewed several people in the grip of GSA who all described “a romantic ‘falling in love’, intense and explosive, sudden and almost irresistible”.
Since incest is not only taboo but illegal in most jurisdictions, people are reluctant to discuss it. However the psychologists estimated that such feeling are present about 50 percent of the time when siblings and parents are reunited. Their article was published 20 years ago in the British Journal of Medical Psychology (later renamed Psychology and Psychotherapy), so it is possible that the number of cases has increased.
In fact, as a sympathetic columnist for The (London) Telegraph pointed out, the use of anonymous sperm donation could cause a huge increase in the prevalence of GSA. Children can contact their biological parents as soon as they turn 18 in the UK, so numbers are bound to grow as “genetic orphans” seek out the parents they have never seen. She concluded that:
Perhaps one of the biggest causes for concern is egg and sperm donation. Over the last few decades, it has never been easier for organisations – and individuals – to dish out large quantities of eggs and sperm to different locations. The last Human Fertilisation & Embryology (HFEA) report shows that sperm donations, especially, have been rising since 2005 – with many coming from the US and Denmark.
This seed sprinkling will essentially mean lots of children go through life without ever knowing their biological father and/ or mother, and other important close relatives, in the time where the desensitisation effect should happen.
Should they never meet with their (unknown) biological family, then they will never put themselves at risk of GSA. But such reunions have become much easier – especially as new rules brought out by the HFEA mean that any child conceived on or after April 2005 can now seek information on their parents when they turn 16 years old. This will inevitably mean more children discovering their biological relatives in adulthood, with the potential for hundreds, if not thousands, of more GSA cases
Legal arguments are already being rolled out. In an article in the journal Criminal Law and Philosophy, an academic at Rutgers School of Law, Vera Bergelson, has argued that the traditional reasons for banning incest are over or under-inclusive, inconsistent or clearly inadequate. For instance, when pressed, opponents of incest argue that children are harmed. But she responds that science does not bear this out:
“ … it is far from clear that inbreeding presents a threat to society. The number of serious genetic disorders associated with inbreeding is quite limited. Moreover, some scientists believe that, in the long run, populations may suffer from the prevention of consanguineous marriages …”
In any case, a higher probability of genetic defects is hardly a reason to ban marriage. If that were the case, society would ban IVF, which has an elevated rate of birth defects. She concludes, as supporters of homosexuality did in the 1970s:
“the true reason behind the long history of the incest laws is the feeling of repulsion and disgust this tabooed practice tends to evoke in the majority of population. However, in the absence of wrongdoing, neither a historic taboo nor the sense of repulsion and disgust legitimizes criminalization of an act.”
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