Genetic Sexual Attractions


Reunions Set Off Sex Urges

The intimation of incest emerges from the imperceptible to the barely perceptible to the blindingly perceived.

- Alison Adburgham

by Anamika Vasil

Reunions between birth relatives separated by adoption can spark off intense sexual feelings, according to a visiting psychiatrist.  Maurice Greenburg, a consultant to London's Post-Adoption Centre, was speaking at the Adopting New Ways conference about genetic sexual attraction, a phenomenon he has studied.  During the study he analysed 40 case histories and interviewed 10 people who said they had experienced this attraction.  The reunions included those between parents and children and between siblings.  The people concerned were both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Four of the six he interviewed said they had engaged in a sexual relationship with their birth relative while others described experiences ranging from intense erotic feelings toward their relatives to sexual behaviour such as fondling and touching.  When meeting their lost relative for the first time the respondents all experienced "an overwhelming and complicated rush of emotions" and an "almost irresistible sense of falling in love."  They all said they had a need to discover an unusual form of closeness and intimacy with their relative, who had felt the same way.

Dr Greenberg said the respondents had discovered themselves in their relative as a form of mirroring.  "It seemed almost inevitable that they would express this through sexual intimacy, and when this resulted in sexual intercourse the sexual urge was described as irresistible."  He said the prevalence of genetic sexual attraction was unclear, though staff at the Post Adoption Centre had estimated it affected up to half the centre's clients.

Factors that could contribute to these sexual feelings included the mutual attractiveness of physical similarity and the fact that when they were last together, when the adopted child was six months old and under, their physical relationship could have included fondling and close skin contact.  Dr Greenberg said in these cases the absence of early bonding diminished the incest taboo and encouraged genetic sexual attraction.

Source: The Dominion 25 June (I don't have a year - I would guess 1997 or 1998)

The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential defines genetic sexual attraction (GSA) as:


Experienced between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, and between more distant relatives, but most common between siblings of opposite sex who bear a close resemblance.  It takes the form of an overpowering, almost electrical grip of emotion, associated with an inability to keep away from the other person and an almost primordial sense of having belonged together all their lives.  The attraction gives rise to a sense of underlying shame and guilt, together with a feeling of rejection that may prevent effective communication because the emotions are too threatening to share with anyone.  This may be compounded by any sexual relationship resulting from the attraction.


Particularly noted in the case of adopted children who are subsequently reunited with the biological parent or sibling of the opposite sex, seemingly because the normal bonding mechanism has been disrupted.

Genetic attraction is a frequently noted response to reunion.  Feelings include the need to touch, to spend time together, talk and share.  Suggested reasons for the attraction include:

bulletSimilar Characteristics - Similar genetic makeup can produce similarities in temperament, appearance, and other areas that are common in all birth families to a certain extent.
bulletSelf-Love - While we may not want to admit it, we generally tend to feel more comfortable with those whose characteristics are similar to our own.
bulletAromatic Identification - It has been suggested that a subconscious memory of the smell of one's own family may be recognised and, if so, would cause an actual physical reaction.

When the desire to consummate the relationship enters the equation, genetic attraction becomes genetic sexual attraction.

Fear of Discovery/ Fear of Separation

Acknowledging the existence of such feelings raises the spectre of incest, and when these feelings become so intense that they threaten to cross the line over into the realm of physical and deep emotional involvement, many break off the relationship completely, or limit its scope rather than try to talk about it.  Others can be so overcome by fear of another separation that they too keep silent but, instead of pulling away, may view a sexual relationship as the only way to keep the connection alive.

Confront It

As with any issue, this needs to be met head-on despite its sensitive nature.  It is a natural human desire to be with our own, and it's not at all unusual to react with excessive emotion when experiencing reunion.  If you find yourself "falling in love" or sexually attracted to a new-found birth family member, here's what the experts advise:

bulletStrong feelings of attraction are not abnormal.
bulletThere's nothing wrong with you.
bulletRecognise the initial excitement for what it is: the first rush and thrill of reunion, and the birth of love for family.
bulletRemember that relationships take time to develop, and that goes for long-separated birth family members as well.  Time will serve to settle the relationship in its proper context.
bulletTalk to others who have experienced reunion.
bulletFind a support group whose leader is comfortable talking about the subject.
bulletSeek counseling from an experienced adoption therapist.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Requests
Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2007 12:10:42 -0500

This message was posted via the Feedback form.

Phone: 416-901-8879 cell 647-400-8879

Comments: I too have experienced GSA to the extreme.  My Brother and I had an intense loving relationship after being reunited, and after a few more separations conceived a child.  We are not together now and I have custody of our beautiful normal son.  I wish there was a way that we could at least talk to each other again.  If not for each other than for our son.  We even dreamed of writing a book together about our GSA experience, and our forbidden love.

Hope others would like to talk with me.

Crystal King


It takes courage to speak up.  I wish you well.  Anyone reading this who would like to start a group, consider getting in touch with Crystal.  It helps to talk things over.

Good luck.

This message was posted via the Feedback form.


Your article regarding adopted siblings uniting was an answer to prayer.  My brother and I were united this past September after being separated at his birth; he is 68 and I, 70.

When we met we experienced all that your article stated: " overwhelming and complicated rush of emotions ... an almost irresistible sense of falling in love."  Yes, we fell in love, and our love has grown beyond any other love either of us has ever known.  (I have known love and been loved, and been widowed twice.  He has been a devoted husband for 45 years, to a woman who's just revealed to him that her first true love and desires have always been centered on a career she feels denied of, intimating that a loving and nurturing husband and children were not enough.)

My brother and I know there will be many who will not understand our sibling love, so rare, so beautiful.  Even we are stunned.  Yet we believe it was God intervening in our lives.  So all we can do is pray that someday family and friends will understand that, when we met, we were strangers, that our love today is pure and not sinful in God's sight.

Our intentions are to live out our lives happy and fullfilled, to love one another through all time — together at last — and to give God the Glory.

Please, if you have any further studies or research on the aftermath of adopted siblings loving and living together, we would be grateful for the information.

Thank you for your time, and for the wonderful research you do at Flat Rock Forests.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Help
Date: 30 Jun 2005 09:17:40 -0000

This message was posted via the Feedback form.
Name: Liz

Comments: I am in love with my brother and he with me - reunited after 45 years.  Both our families aware of situation.  I am just being told over and over that the relationship is doomed to failure.  How can I believe that?  We just want to be together.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Help
Date: 3 Mar 2006 12:04:52 -0000

This message was posted via the Feedback form.
Name: staceyann

Comments: i need some help with the gsa, i think i need counciling but i am unsure of where to go and who to see.  if you could point me in the right direction i would be very grateful.  i met my brother last year and we ended up conducting a sexual relationship but it was one sided.  i was not comfortable and feel he has done this before with our half sister who he no longer sees and who i have never met.  i don\'t know this for sure but when i talk of meeting our birth mother and half sister he does all he can to put me off.  i can't go to my doctor for help as what we have done is illegal.  this really is getting me extremely down as i feel very ashamed even after reading that it is "normal".  i really don't know where to turn to.  if you could help please please help!

This message was posted via the Feedback form.
Date: 8 Mar 2007

Comments: I didn't know my lover of 7 months was my brother till now.  We are thrilled but sad at the revelation.  Everybody knows and is happy for us but I'm finding it very hard not to feel more in his presence.  I want to stop these feelings and I'm scared they'll never go away.  I know he is stronger than me and will move on and get a new girlfriend quickly which is what I want for him.  I just can't imagine bothering with anyone else for I've never been so happy - and in love.  And now it must stop.  It is stopped.  I just can't tell my heart to let go even though the rest of my body has.


Dear Serious

Have you by any chance seen the two articles following?

Yours is not a common problem - but it is an illegal one.  I very recently discovered I have a sister I never knew about.  We have not met (she lives in England) but already, if she doesn't email me back RIGHT AWAY my feelings are hurt.  This finding close relatives as adults is a very odd thing.  Luckily my situation isn't painful.  You have my deep sympathy.


Husband and Wife Discover They Are Siblings

Phnom Penh - A Cambodian man's joy turned to dismay after he discovered that his long-lost mother, who had survived the bloody Khmer Rouge regime, is also the mother of his wife.  Tep Song, 35, and his wife Tep Ly, 38, had been removed from their village in the southern province of Svay Rieng and separated by Khmer Rouge troops in 1975 when they were 5 and 8, respectively.  The pair told aid workers they met again when Song was 17 and extremely ill in hospital in neighbouring Takeo province and Ly was assigned as his nurse.  They fell in love and married soon afterwards, unaware that they had any more in common than having been born in the same province.

The couple had believed that the rest of their families had been wiped out.  But Song, an itinerant worker, saved everything they had to make a trip to his home village to search for any surviving family - where he discovered his mother, Thit Sohn, 77.  "At first, of course, they were overjoyed, but then the son and mother began naming other relatives who had been murdered," Prom Bopha of the Collect Safe of People (CSP) aid agency told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by telephone.  "Ly was surprised, and told them these were also her relatives' names, and then they discovered they shared the same childhood memories, and before long they realised that they had the same father and mother," said Prom Bopha, whose group is caring for the family.  It should have been a time of great joy, but now the mother cries all day and all night," Prom Bopha said.  "They are surprised and very upset and all three are now very ill."

The couple has 4 children, aged between 14 years and 14 months.

The ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between 1975 to 1979.  Up to two million Cambodians died during the regime's drive to turn the nation into an agrarian utopia, free of class systems, markets and money.  The regime emptied the cities and often removed children from parents to more easily indoctrinate them.  Thousands of Cambodians are still searching for family members. - Sapa-dpa

Source: 6 August 2005

Couple Stand by Forbidden Love

Patrick Stuebing and Susan Karolewski
Patrick and Susan did not know each other as children

by Tristana Moore

At their home in Leipzig, Patrick Stuebing and Susan Karolewski are in the kitchen, playing with a young toddler.  They share a small flat in an east German tower block on the outskirts of the city.  It looks like an ordinary family scene, but Patrick is Susan's brother and they are lovers.

"Many people see it as a crime, but we've done nothing wrong," said Patrick, an unemployed locksmith.  "We are like normal lovers.  We want to have a family.  Our whole family broke apart when we were younger, and after that happened, Susan and I were brought closer together," he said.  Patrick, who is 30 years old, was adopted and, as a child, he lived in Potsdam.  He did not meet his mother and biological family until he was 23.  He travelled to Leipzig with a friend in 2000, determined to make contact with his other relatives.  He met his sister Susan for the first time, and according to the couple, after their mother died, they fell in love.

"When I was younger, I didn't know that I had a brother.  I met Patrick and I was so surprised," said Susan, who is 22.  She says she does not feel guilty about their relationship.  "I hope this law will be overturned," Susan said.  "I just want to live with my family, and be left alone by the authorities and by the courts," she went on, in a hardly audible voice.

Jail sentence

Patrick and Susan have been living together for the last 6 years, and they now have 4 children.  The authorities placed their first son, Eric, in the care of a foster family, and two other children were also placed in care.  "Our children are with foster parents.  We talk to them as often as possible, but the authorities have taken away so much from us," said Susan.  "We only have our little daughter, Sofia, who is living with us," she said.

Incest is a criminal offence in Germany.  Patrick Stuebing has already served a 2-year sentence for committing incest and there is another jail term looming if paragraph 173 of the legal code is not overturned.  The couple's lawyer, Endrik Wilhelm, has lodged an appeal with Germany's highest judicial body, the federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, in order to overturn the country's ban on incest.  "Under Germany's criminal code, which dates back to 1871, it is a crime for close relatives to have sex and it's punishable by up to 3 years in prison.  This law is out of date and it breaches the couple's civil rights," Dr Wilhelm said.  "Why are disabled parents allowed to have children, or people with hereditary diseases or women over 40?  No-one says that is a crime.  This couple are not harming anyone.  It is discrimination.  And besides, we must not forget that every child is so valuable."

The couple's case is controversial and it has prompted a heated debate in the media.  "We need this law against incest in Germany and in the whole of Europe," said Professor Juergen Kunze, a geneticist at Berlin's Charite Hospital.  "It is based on long traditions in Western societies, and the law is here for a good reason," said Prof Kunze.  "Medical research has shown that there is a higher risk of genetic abnormalities when close relatives have a child together.  When siblings have children, there is a 50% chance that the child will be disabled," he said.

Patrick and Susan say they have no other choice but to fight the current law.  "I have read that some doctors claim that children born to siblings could be disabled, but what about disabled parents who have children, or older parents?" asked Patrick.  "People have said that our children are disabled, but that is wrong.  They are not disabled," said Patrick.  "Eric, our eldest child, has epilepsy, but he was born 2 months premature, he also has learning difficulties.  Our other daughter, Sarah, has special needs."

Ruling soon

The couple claim they have received a lot of support from friends and neighbours.  "When we go out to the supermarket, people recognise us and many have told us that they support our legal challenge," said Patrick.  "We would like society to recognise us, as any other normal couple," he said.

In 2004, Patrick voluntarily underwent a vasectomy.  "It's legal for the couple to live together, and to share a bed.  But they are breaking the law once they have sex.  If there are no more children, then who will be able to prove that they are a couple?" asked their lawyer.  Dr Wilhelm said a ruling was expected in the next few months.  "We've already heard that the vice-president of the Constitutional Court said that there will be a 'fundamental discussion' about this issue in Germany," said Dr Wilhelm.  "Many criminal law experts say that we are right and I'm confident that my clients will win their case.  The law against incest is based on very old moral principles.  The law was abolished in France, it's about time it should be scrapped here in Germany as well."

Source:  7 March 2007

Four children by the age of 22?  And she's lived with her brother for 6 years?  He seems to be guilty of more than incest.  And they both seem to lack self-discipline.

Aimee L Sword Gets Prison for Sex with Her Son

by Tammy Stables Battaglia

A Waterford mother will spend at least 9 years in prison for having sex with the 14-year-old son she gave up for adoption when he was a few days old.  Aimee L Sword, 36, apologised for her actions at her sentencing Monday in Oakland County Circuit Court, said her attorney Mitchell Ribitwer.  Judge Daniel O'Brien sentenced Sword to 9 - 30 years in prison.

Sword received yearly updates and pictures from the boy's adoptive family in Grand Rapids, Ribitwer said.  But when she didn't get a picture when the boy turned 14, she contacted him online through a social networking site.  Ribitwer said the boy knew Sword was his mother.  "When she saw this boy, something just touched off in her - and it wasn't a mother-son relationship, it was a boyfriend girlfriend relationship," said Ribitwer, who added that Sword said she was sexually and physically abused as a child.  "Aimee's searching for a reason why this happened.  She can't understand it.  She's going to get some counseling."

Originally charged with 4 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, the former Macy's makeup counter clerk pleaded guilty to having sex with the boy once.  Investigators said she had sex with the teen in a Grand Rapids hotel and also at homes in Waterford in 2008.  After the teen got into trouble in Grand Rapids, his adoptive mother - not knowing about the relationship - agreed to allow him to stay with Sword in Waterford.  Married at the time, Sword shared her home with her husband and 5 other children, toddlers to late teens.

But after he returned to Grand Rapids, he talked about the incidents to a counselor, who reported them to police.  "It's the first time I've really seen something like that between a mother-son," Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said Monday after the sentencing.

Contact Tammy Stables Battaglia: 313-223-4456 or


This is sad for both mother and son.  And they made it all the way through a trial without anyone testifying about Genetic Sexual Attraction?  If this possibility of strong attraction were more widely known, the participants in a reunion would understand beforehand that supervised visits would be best - at least until these feelings could be assessed and brought under control.

See also:

bulletClones of Nature (in the Science section) - for some interesting facts about (mostly identical) twins reunited as adults...
bulletTwins in Black and White (in the section on Oddities) - for information on some unusual pairs of twins...

To Urgh is Human

by Paul Bloom

What, precisely, is so bad about sex between adult siblings, bestiality, and the eating of corpses?  Most people insist such acts are morally wrong, but when psychologists ask why, the answers make little sense.  For instance, people often say incestuous sex is immoral because it runs the risk of begetting a deformed child, but if this was their real reason, they should be happy if the siblings were to use birth control - and most people are not.  One finds what the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt called "moral dumbfounding", a gut feeling that something is wrong combined with an inability to explain why.

Haidt suggests we are dumbfounded because, despite what we might say to others and perhaps believe ourselves, our moral responses are not based on reason.  They are instead rooted in revulsion: incest, bestiality and cannibalism disgust us, and our disgust gives rise to moral outrage.

Some see disgust as a reliable moral guide.  Leon Kass, chairman of the President's commission on bioethics, wrote an article in 1997 called "The Wisdom of Repugnance" where he conceded that this revulsion was "not an argument", but then went on to argue: "In some crucial cases, however, it is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond wisdom's power completely to articulate it."  This conclusion has practical implications: Kass argued that the idea of human cloning is disgusting, and he saw this as good reason to ban it.  Some from both sides of the political spectrum, would agree.

Disgust has humble origins.  At root, it is a biological adaptation, warding us away from ingesting certain substances that could make us sick.  This is why fæces, vomit, urine and rotten meat are universally disgusting; they contain harmful toxins.  We react strongly to the idea of touching such substances and find the notion of eating them worse.  This Darwinian perspective also explains why we see disgusting substances as contaminants - if some food makes even the slightest contact with rotting meat, for instance, it is no longer fit to eat.  After all, the microrganisms that can harm us spread by contact, and so you not only should avoid disgusting things, you should avoid anything that the disgusting things make contact with.  For these reasons, the psychologist Steven Pinker has described disgust as "intuitive microbiology".

Some of our disgust is hard-wired, then.  This does not mean babies experience disgust.  They are immobile and it would be a cruel trick of evolution to have them lie in perpetual self-loathing, unable to escape their revolting bodily wastes.  But when disgust first emerges in young children, it is a consequence of brain maturation, not early experience or cultural teaching.

Children are prepared to do some learning, because while some things are universally dangerous, others vary according to the environment.  This is particularly the case for animal flesh, and so in the first few years of life, children monitor what adults around them eat and establish the boundaries of acceptable (and hence non-disgusting) foods.  By the time one is an adult the disgust reactions are fairly locked in, and it is difficult for most adults to try new foods, particularly new meats.  (Most readers of this piece, for instance, would be queasy at the idea of eating grubs, cockroaches or dogs.)

If disgust were limited to food, it would have little social relevance.  But, as a perverse evolutionary accident, this emotion that evolved for our protection has turned on us - we can be disgusted by ourselves and others.

The history of disgust is an ugly one.  The philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who is the main critic of a disgust-based morality, observes that "throughout history, certain disgust properties - sliminess, bad smell, stickiness, decay, foulness - have repeatedly and monotonously been associated with Jews, women, homosexuals, untouchables, lower-class people - all of those are imagined as tainted by the dirt of the body".

The Nazis evoked disgust by depicting Jews as vermin, as unclean and as engaging in filthy acts.  Male homosexuals are an easy target here; Nussbaum points out that when she was involved in a trial concerning gay rights in Colorado, opponents of gay rights testified that gay men drank blood and ate fæces.

Disgust is not entirely sordid.  It can be used as well to motivate a spiritual existence, by eliciting a negative reaction to our material bodies.  St Augustine, for instance, was influenced by Cicero's vivid image of the Etruscan pirate's torture of prisoners by strapping a corpse to them, face to face.  This, Augustine maintained, is the fate of the soul, chained to a physical body as one would be chained to a rotting corpse.

You cannot talk someone out of disgust.  But it can be defeated by other emotions.  After Stephen Fry outlines what he sees as the disgusting nature of sexual intimacy - "I would be greatly in the debt of the man who could tell me what would ever be appealing about those damp, dark, foul-smelling and revoltingly tufted areas of the body that constitute the main dishes in the banquet of love" - he notes that sexual arousal can override our civilised reticence: "Once under the influence of the drugs supplied by one's own body, there is no limit to the indignities, indecencies, and bestialities to which the most usually rational and graceful of us will sink."

Love can have a similar effect - consider a parent changing a child's diaper, or the Catholic depictions of saints cleaning the wounds of lepers.

Disgust can also fade as it begins, through association and imagery, through positive depictions of once-reviled objects.  In the 1960s, most Americans and Europeans disapproved of interracial marriage, and revulsion at such couplings played no small role.  This has changed considerably, as has the reaction to homosexual relationships.  It is not abstract argument driving this change in cultural values; it is Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

The irrationality of disgust suggests it is unreliable as a source of moral insight.  There may be good arguments against gay marriage, partial-birth abortions and human cloning, but the fact that some people find such acts to be disgusting should carry no weight.

Does this conclusion go too far?  Commenting on the sadistic abuse of Iraqi prisoners, George Bush expressed "deep disgust" and said the images made him sick to his stomach.  This common reaction seems to be the right one; disgust is more apt than anger or dismay or even shame.  In fact, disgust plays a double role here.  Not only are the images of torture disgusting to those who view them - and their sexual nature plays no small role in this regard - but also part of the torture inflicted on the prisoners was their forced participation in acts they found revolting.  Wouldn't the staunchest critic of disgust agree that here at least this emotion does tell us something about right and wrong?

Not necessarily.  What was wrong about Abu Ghraib had to do with the suffering of the prisoners and the sadism of those who caused this suffering.  It would have been just as wrong if there were no visual record.  It also would have been worse if the prisoners had been shot dead.  But news of simple murder does not usually prompt disgust, and would never have led to the same sort of moral outrage.  Even in cases like these, we are better off without the distraction of disgust.

Paul Bloom is professor of psychology at Yale University, author of Descartes' Baby: How Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human

Source: The Guardian Thursday 22 July 2004

See also:

bulletDisgusting but True (in the War on Terrorism section) - "It has been long observed that every movement designed to stigmatise or malign some group - Jews, black, gays, the poor, women - has used disgust..."

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