Tuesday 20 February 2018

Dangerous liaisons: couple were unaware that a biological tie exists

They met at university and immediately were at ease with each other. They had a lot in common. Both came from broken homes and from families that had split when they were toddlers.

In both cases the parental separation had been acrimonious and neither had any further contact with the parent.

The fell in love, the girl became pregnant and the couple decided to marry. As part of the pre-marriage ritual in South Africa the two families got together to meet shortly before the wedding. The couple's parents immediately identified each other and knew that the couple, so in love and preparing for marriage, were actually the progeny of their marriage some years earlier. The couple were brother and sister.

Knowing this, the distraught and shocked couple have decided to split.

The emotions such couples describe are typically intense and often instantaneous. They feel like soul mates, as though they were meant for each other and have been together all their lives.

Although such relationships are banned under incest laws, they differ from incest as the public usually understands it since the relationship develops in ignorance of the blood tie.

Genetic sexual attraction (GSA) is the name for sexual attraction between genetically related couples, siblings, parents and children, or cousins, but without either having knowledge of the biological tie.

The term seems to have been coined by a woman, Barbara Gonyo, who was unprepared for the sexual attraction she felt being reunited with her 26-year-old son whom she had given for adoption as a baby. The feelings dissipated after he married and the relationship was not consummated.

Gonyo speculated that it resulted from a disruption to the normal bonding process and wrote movingly about it in her book 'The Forbidden Love'.

She believes that the normal gestures of love between a mother and baby, such as ruffling the hair, kissing on the cheek, stroking their soft skin, are potentially sexual between and mother and adult son due to the disruption to the mother-child bond.


She has recently started a website to help those understand their experiences and a book called 'I'm His Mother but he's not My Son.'

But why should this attraction affect only those who have been separated at birth and not children who have lived together all their lives? Freud's theory was that members of families lusted after one another creating an incest taboo.

However, the Westermarck effects, so called because of the studies of an anthropologist of that name, found that when two people live in close proximity during the early years of life, both are desensitised to later sexual attraction.

Sexual imprinting, or the identification of the characteristics of a desirable mate, is reversed in those brought up together especially during the first six years of life.

So those separated at birth will not have achieved this and on meeting may potentially be attracted to each other because of similarities in personalities or looks, unaware of the biological connection.

Studies carried out on children brought up in Israeli kibbutzim found that of 3,000 marriages only 14 were between those brought up in these communes and of these none had lived together for the first six years of life, lending further support to the Westermarck theory of reverse imprinting.

A few high-profile cases have been described including one in Britain two years ago when a couple, adopted at birth by different parents, subsequently met and married. Only then did they discover that they were siblings.

The marriage was annulled since such unions are banned in all European countries.

Other similar cases have been recorded round the world such as that between a Cambodian man and his sister and a German couple, Patrick and Susan Stuebing, who have four children, two of whom have developmental problems. Patrick has already served a prison sentence for incest and unsuccessfully challenged Germany's law on this.

These tragic stories are rare but could potentially escalate as anonymous sperm and egg donation for IVF increases.

They would throw up uncertainties of a legal, ethical and emotional nature and challenge the last remaining, and arguably most profound injunction -- the incest taboo.

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