What is Incest Taboo, Theories, Overview and Types

Incest What exactly is it?

The word incest derived from the Latin word incestuous refers to the sexual relations between people who are members of the same family. This usually extends to immediate family members as well as those closely related to the individual.

When the word incest comes up, most of the millennial population immediately think of  Game of Thrones, a popular book turned tv series where a pair of twins have incestuous relationships. This isn’t very far off the mark, because just like in that fantasy world of Westeros, incest is mostly looked down upon in today’s world.

Incest Taboo Theories

When one thinks of what exactly counts as incest the concept of nature or nurture plays a vital role. Is is it considered incest if you have sexual relations with someone who’s a part of the family you were adopted into but have no biological relations with? Or if you have those relations with biological family members you’ve not been raised with?

There are various schools of thought about the taboo of incest and why it’s unappealing to so many people. Most scholars believe that the Westermarck effect, also known as reverse sexual imprinting first proposed by Edvard Westermarck in 1891, which is a hypothesis that people living in close domestic proximity during the first few years of their lives become desensitized to sexual attraction. This is the only school of thought which has empirical support. Another school argues that the prohibition of incest is a social construct that arises due to the common practice of exogamy used to form alliances.

However, incest is a practice often followed in some cultures both in the past and in the present. Marriages and sexual relationships between first cousins are stigmatized as incest in some cultures but accepted by the rest of the world. In multiple Asian cultures, including India, cousin marriage is accepted and even common in a few.

Incest Taboo Overview

A well-known example would be the Egyptians who believe that marrying within the bloodline would maintain the purity of the Royal Family. In almost all cultures in the past where incest was considered acceptable, the concept of purity, i.e to keep the bloodline ‘pure’, where some groups considered themselves to be better than others and mingling with these other groups would make their offspring ‘impure’.

For the most bit, however, incest is a taboo and is frowned upon in most cultures and societies. This is likely due to its medical effects such as genetic disorders suffered by the offspring of sexual relations between family and those with close genetic relationships. Such children are also expected to be at greater risk for other disabilities such as premature death, physical, mental and developmental disabilities.

Following types of incest are

  • between adults and children
  • between childhood siblings
  • between consenting adults
  • aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews
  • defined through marriage
  • between adult siblings
  • cousin relationships

The risk of the offspring suffering from such disabilities is proportionate to the measure of how closely the parents are genetically related to one another. If two individuals have distant biological relations, it’s less likely that their offspring will suffer from any of these disabilities. 

Many countries have imposed laws that make incest illegal, but the legal parameters of that law and its components vary from country to country.

These laws include restrictions on marriage rights, which however vary based on the area. Almost all places prohibit parent-child and sibling marriages, most prohibit aunt-nephew and uncle-niece marriages while others also prohibit first-cousin marriages. Generally, incest is illegal, regardless of the ages of the two partners.

To sum it up, incest is the practice of an individual having sexual relations with members of their family, and while it is considered acceptable in some places, it is mostly frowned upon and is considered to be a deviation from norms.

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