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Approaches to the study of incest

Incest in contemporary societies


Incest is the infraction of the taboo upon sexual relations between any two members of the nuclear family except husband and wife, that is, between parents and children or any sibling pair. The taboo may be extended to include other specific relatives or categories of kin, whose relationship ties may be biological, affinal, classificatory, or fictive, and sexual relations between any two individuals so defined will be treated as incest. “Taboo” is a more appropriate term than “prohibition,” for the incest interdiction, which often lacks any legal sanction, is typically accompanied by a special sense of intense horror. In its most stringent applications the taboo may preclude any overt expression of intimacy by, or interaction between, those affected by the interdiction. Although the incest taboo in some form occurs in every known society, there is great variation among societies not only with regard to the extensiveness of its application and the range of intensity of associated emotions but also in the occurrence of ceremonial and customary abrogations and in the relative frequency of specific types of infraction.

As the incest taboo serves to distinguish between those with whom sexual relations are forbidden and those with whom they are permitted, it provides a basis for more elaborate types of differentiation. Discrimination among more distant kin may take the form of a gradual modification of the taboo upon intimacy, so that, by small degrees, permitted overt expressions of affection, ribald joking, and minor courtship behavior shade into permitted intercourse, informal cohabitation, and fully recognized marriage. The incest taboo may also provide a basis for distinguishing those relatives with whom marriage is preferred or upon whom it is enjoined.

In effect the incest taboo establishes bounded groups in complementary relationship to each other. In most societies one finds a complementary relationship between the small, inner group of kin, whose members are forbidden to have sexual relations with or marry one another (except where, under special circumstances, the taboo is abrogated), and a larger social group, within which marriage is condoned, permitted, preferred, treated as a legal right (as when a man has a claim on his mother’s brother’s daughter as a potential wife), or, in the extreme case, enjoined. In some societies, very specific boundaries to this group are set, insofar as marriage may be enjoined upon members of moieties, within a lineage or a caste, or upon members of two castes (Davis 1941). A further extension would forbid sex relations or, more specifically, marriage with anyone not belonging to a particular lineage or caste or with anyone belonging to a different religious, ethnic, or racial group. In some societies the penalties for crossing this outer boundary may be no less stringent than the sanctions on incest within the small kin group, and infractions of the prohibition may evoke a similar feeling of “grisly horror” (Murdock 1949; see also Davis 1941; Merton 1941). In other societies, however, the sanctions on out-group marriage may be very mild, and the occurrence of such marriages may evoke only slight disapproval (Fox 1962;Goode 1963).

Functionally the incest taboo serves to establish a double set of boundaries, the dimensions of which are specific to each society. Observances of correct behavior within these boundaries confer certain benefits, such as solidarity within the family and the household (Malinowski 1927; also Parsons 1954; Seligman 1929); clarity of rules (Homans 1950; Parsons 1954); continuity of social ties, based on marriage within families, clans, communities, tribes, or political states (Fortune 1932); and clarity of definition of the larger group —the caste, the class, the cluster of lineages, the village, the tribe, the religious group, or the nation—within which marriage is permitted and outside of which ties based on marriage should not be formed.

Conventionally the term “incest” has been applied to all infractions of the taboo upon sex and marriage with those who belong to the innermost circle, that is, the set of primary biological kin and those categories of persons who, by cultural definition, are assimilated to close kin. A category of this kind may include all members of the opposite sex in one’s own matrilineal or patri-lineal group—a definition that provides the basis for the association frequently made between to-temism and exogamy (Durkheim 1898; Frazer 1910)—or it may include all members of the opposite sex belonging to one’s own half of a dual organization. Other categories of persons who may be so defined include step and foster kin, coresi-dents of a household, a spouse’s close kin (as in England, where until recently marriage to a deceased wife’s sister was prohibited), children of hereditary trade partners, godparent and godchild, physician and patient, and, occasionally, two persons who once were but no longer are betrothed or married to each other.

In most societies, however, certain differences are recognized between those who are close biological kin and those who are, in fact, classificatory kin or whose kinship is based on affinal or fictive ties. Outside the immediate family group the sense of horror, which is so pervasive and intense an element in attitudes toward incest between primary kin, is progressively diluted, and penalties for infractions become milder. This weakening of restraints is reflected in the existence of devices by which prohibitions against sex and marriage may be overcome or evaded. Among aboriginal Australians, for example, elopement followed by a period of ostracism was a necessary prelude to the recognition of certain marriages. In much the same way in the United States, prohibitions that prevent marriage between ineligible persons are often modified by certain devices. For example, the- laws of some states forbid the marriage of a white person and a person of any known African ancestry to the third generation (Davis 1941), and in other states first-cousin marriage is prohibited (Wein-berg 1955). In such instances, marriage may involve travel to a state where a legal ceremony can be performed.

In the study of primitive societies, anthropologists differentiate between the rules of exogamy, which define the inner circle within which marriage is forbidden, and the rules of endogamy, which define the boundaries within which marriage is enjoined. Today, in large, complex societies endogamous regulations have for the most part fallen into disuse, and in general, specific legal prohibitions against marriage are limited to those affecting members of the nuclear family. There are, however, certain exceptions. The various laws against interracial marriage in the southeastern United States, the apartheid laws in South Africa, the decrees forbidding the marriage of Jews and gentiles instituted by the Nazi regime in Germany, and the special form of morganatic marriage between royalty and commoner in Europe (a rare occurrence today) exemplify politically enforced endogamy. Endogamy also may be enjoined by regulations based, not on political, but on religious sanctions. Examples of this kind of interdiction against out-group marriage are the sanctions that seek to prevent an Orthodox Jew from marrying a gentile, a Balinese woman from marrying a man of a lower caste than her own, a Quaker from marrying out of meeting, or a Singhalese Bahai from marrying into any other sect. Although the state in some countries (for example, Italy, Greece, and Israel) gives legal support to religious sanctions against certain types of out-group marriage, this practice contravenes the tendency of modern states to recognize as a civil right the freedom of any citizen to marry any other citizen.

In contrast, in primitive and exotic societies the distinctions between legal and religiously or magically sanctioned prohibitions may be far less clearly marked. Those who enter into inappropriate sex relations or who attempt to override prohibitions against marriage may be punished by socially enforced penalties such as banishment or death. Alternatively, punishment may be left to the automatic operation of supernatural sanctions, such as those expressed in the beliefs that the child of an incestuous union will be deformed or will die or that the whole line will be cursed. Similarly taboos upon intercaste, interreligious, or interracial marriage may be heavily supported by legal penalties, or alternatively, their observance may be enforced mainly by fear of the sense of outrage, loathing, and horror that any infraction would evoke.

Balinese traditional culture illustrates very well the complexity of such a sanctioning system. Primary incest, which was treated both as a legal and as a religious offense, required the banishment of the offenders and a ritual cleansing of the land. A sexual relationship between a high-caste man and a lower-caste woman could be religiously regularized, but the reverse situation, in which a woman became sexually involved with a man belonging to a caste lower than hers, was classified with bestiality, and the offense was treated with the same severity as primary incest. The birth of twins of opposite sex to low-caste parents was also treated as primary incest, as it was assumed that brother and sister had committed incest in the womb. In contrast, twins of opposite sex born to a family of the Ksatriya caste, from which rajas came, were enjoined to marry (Belo 1935). In these Balinese institutions, one finds both the expression of horror evoked by human behavior that is equated with the behavior of animals and inversions of a kind that occur in connection with the privileged breaking of taboos. Such contrasting forms of behavior are not genuine polar opposites; rather, they are aspects of different psychological categories and may have different historical antecedents.

Approaches to the study of incest

The most satisfactory hypotheses about the origins of the association of the incest taboo with the sanction of horror are those formulated by Emile Durkheim (1898) and Sigmund Freud (1913; 1919). Durkheim, in his analysis, emphasized the horror of shedding the blood of a “blood” relative, regardless of whether the blood-

shed was occasioned by an act of murder or came about as a result of defloration and childbirth. Freud, in turn, emphasized the psychic ambivalence that characterizes attitudes toward close kin and related to this the sense of horror combined with the sense of the uncanny associated with the commission of acts that recall repressed forbidden impulses.

Historically, discussions of incest have suffered both from a failure to distinguish fully among the numerous themes with which incest prohibitions and infractions of the incest taboo have been associated and from a failure to distinguish fully among the various social contexts within which infractions have occurred. The explicit abrogation of the incest taboo in royal marriage (e.g., in Egypt and Hawaii, among the Inca of Peru and the Azande of west Africa); the treatment of incest as a sacred ritual act (as when a man copulates with his sister or daughter before some magically sanctioned undertaking); the practice of marrying or of taking a forbidden relative as a sexual object on the part of a tyrant, as a demonstration of his power; the appropriation of women of a lower caste or class by men in superordinate positions; the tyranny exercised by a father or an elder brother within some isolated social group; and the occurrence of incest within a socially stigmatized group—each of these is a different kind of event in a different type of social setting; each must be interpreted within the specific context of that larger whole of which the broken marriage regulation forms only a part. If, for example, the marriage of royal brother and sister is itself regarded, not as a privileged, but as a sacred act, there is a fusion of attitudes toward the “sacred and holy” and the “sacred and horrible.”

Discussions of incest have suffered also from a failure to take into account the full range of relevant behaviors. Whereas some writers have focused primarily on the question of the origins of the incest taboo (Briffault 1927; Durkheim 1898; Frazer 1910; S. Freud 1913; Westermarck 1889), others have been concerned mainly with the problem of function—with the incest taboo as it serves to protect the integrity of the family (S. Freud 1930; Malinowski 1927; 1929; Parsons 1954; Seligman 1929), as it serves to prevent very close inbreeding, with its genetic implications (Aberle et al. 1963; Tylor 1888; Westermarck 1889), or, conversely, as it supports the social functions of exogamic rules (Fortune 1932; Levi-Strauss 1949; White 1948).

A different approach to the problem has been taken by those who have raised questions about various aspects of the incest taboo. Discussions of this kind have been concerned, for example, with the differences between parent-child and brother-sister incest (Fox 1962); with the relative importance of prohibitions on each of the four types of first-cousin marriage (Ember 1966); with the relationship of incest regulations to attitudes of aversion toward the primary kin with whom the individual is reared (Westermarck 1889) or, conversely, with their relationship to feelings of attraction toward primary kin (S. Freud 1913); and with the conflict between society’s demand for participation and the preference of pairs for withdrawal (P. E. Slater 1963). At different periods shifts in interest in specific aspects of behavior related to incest have been reflected in marked changes in emphasis in studies of the subject. While some years ago the problem of the relationship of incest taboos to totemism was a subject of major interest (Bergson 1932; Durkheim 1898; Frazer 1910), a contemporary analysis of totemism may omit any discussion of the problem of the association between the incest taboo and a kin group taboo on a plant or an animal (Levi-Strauss 1962).

Although several attempts have been made to treat incest inclusively (e.g., Lowie 1948; Murdock 1949), these tend to be very schematic, in the sense of including under one rubric an extremely wide variety of human institutions that are concerned with the prohibition of sex relationships. Moreover, the prevailing emphasis on incest taboos as they are related to the regulation of marriage has resulted in an almost total neglect of homosexual incest, except for Parsons’ role speculations (1954). Goode (1963) has demonstrated that Western ethnocentrism has affected adversely the ability of research workers to discern forms of incest found in non-Western societies. Recently, Cohen (1964) has attempted to relate methods of inculcating the primary incest taboos on other features of social organization. His analysis indicates that the early extrusion of children from the parental home is systematically associated with the assignment of teaching and training roles to specified kin and with the juridical interchange-ability of members of a kin group. In contrast, in those societies in which children remain within the parental home until adolescence, they are taught sometimes by parents and sometimes by strangers and there is individual responsibility before the law. Although Cohen’s study has opened up a new line of inquiry, it is compromised by the invocation of still another psychological single-origin hypothesis, namely, the idea that incest regulation is based on the individual’s need for privacy.

The fragmentation and the discontinuities that have characterized discussion of the incest complex have resulted in a vast proliferation of empty polemics. One source of the difficulty has been the undifferentiated use of a single, ethnocentri-cally loaded word to refer to historically and cross-culturally diverse forms of behavior (Goody 1956). But the development of an integrated theory based on a full consideration of available data also has been hindered by the accidents of the division of labor among the social sciences and by social scientists’ peculiar preference for originality—rather than progression—as the criterion for a “new” theoretical formulation.

In general, sociologists have been concerned with incest as it reflects social or familial disorganization (Weinberg 1955) or as it has been useful in the development of role theory or of formal models of social structure (Davis 1941; Homans 1950; Merton 1941; Parsons 1954). Dynamically oriented psychologists and psychiatrists have focused their attention mainly on the existence of impulses toward incest and on the psychological defenses against the expression of these impulses (Bettelheim 1954; S. Freud 1913; Roheim 1934). Anthropologists, who have obtained most of their data through studies of primitive peoples and kin-based social systems, have concentrated on the description and analysis of the basic forms of the incest taboo and its extensions. At times, however, as a result of undisciplined excursions into other disciplines (Devons & Gluckman 1964), they have attempted the formulation of various physiologically or biologically based theories of the origins of these taboos in imputed human emotions or cognitive capacities (Crawley 1902; Frazer 1910; Seligman 1950; Tylor 1888; Westermarck 1889).

Other factors, also, have contributed to the discontinuity of discussion and the lack of theoretical integration. Chief among these is the problem of inclusiveness. More recent attempts to make a comprehensive analysis (e.g., Cohen 1964; Davis 1941; Goody 1956; Merton 1941; Middleton 1962; Parsons 1954) underline the difficulties that are inherent in any attempt to treat within the limits of a single article or small book the ramifications of the subject of forbidden, permitted, and enjoined sexual relationships on a world-wide basis. This problem was foreshadowed long ago in Frazer’s massive four-volume study, Totemism and Exogamy (1910). Invariably, the effort to achieve conciseness has resulted not only in an overem- phasis on some aspects at the expense of others but also in the neglect of much of the comparative evidence. For example, we are lacking a careful examination of the sanctions on near-kin marriage among commoners in Egypt and possibly also in Iran (Middleton 1962). In addition, these partial studies have tended to emphasize discontinuous, as opposed to cumulative, theory building.

Recently, fresh approaches to the subject have been stimulated by research findings in a wider range of disciplines. The rapid expansion of knowledge about the conditions of pre-Homo-sapiens life has led to a re-examination of earlier premises about the institutional origins of incest taboos (Aberle et al. 1963; M. K. Slater 1959, based on Krzywicki 1934; Wallis 1950). Recent research on human genetics has been followed by new work on the dysgenic effects of endogamy as well as on the eugenic effects of specific types of marriage regulation (Aberle et al. 1963; Ember 1966; Stern 1949). Following on Sigmund Freud’s work, which was based on studies of adult patients, a more detailed examination, through child analysis, has been made of the involvement of individuals in various phases of development, specifically in respect to incest (Erikson 1950; A. Freud 1965). Psychoanalytic insights also have given a new impetus to the study of myth and fantasy as they express themes related to incest and incest prohibitions (Herskovits & Herskovits 1958; Layard 1960; Lessa 1956). In the same period closer observational and experimental studies of the behavior of wild and domesticated animals (Allee 1938; Altmann 1961; Count 1958; Hutchinson 1959; Lorenz 1959) have made it possible to place the issues of early experience and the establishment of forms of mating and parental behavior within the context of behavior as an evolutionary mechanism (Roe & Simpson 1958). And finally, the adaption of methods developed in modern clinical studies to modern ethnological materials has opened the way to detailed examinations of contemporary familial structures, such as the delineation of the three-generation pattern in eastern European Jewish culture (Landes & Zborowski 1950) and the analysis of the modern institution of the honeymoon (P. E. Slater 1963).

Considered conjointly, these approaches—which have provided new material on familial structures; on childhood behavior based on direct observation; on adult fantasy as expressed in myth, dream, and free association; on the structure of hominid communities in terms of age, generational spread, and size of group; and on the operation of natural selection on predispositions that are genetically controlled—have led to a reassessment of previously held assumptions in anthropology. In particular, they have made possible a re-examination of older anthropological conclusions about the Oedipus complex (Kroeber 1939). Today, Oedipal conflict can be treated as a biological survival from an evolutionary stage in which hominid forms reached reproductive maturity without an intervening latency phase (Mead 1961a; 1963a; 1963b).

Examination of cases of incest that have occurred in situations in which even limited intra-familial or community sanctions against incest were lacking (Barry & Johnson 1958; Rascovsky & Rascovsky 1950; Weinberg 1955; Wilson 1963) supports the hypothesis that incestuous behavior is a strong human potentiality. On the other hand, evidence to support the hypothesis presented by Westermarck (1889), namely, that familiarity and great permissiveness breed aversion, is provided by studies of children who have been reared as an age set in a Active kinship setting, as, for example, in an Israeli kibbutz (Spiro 1958; see also Fox 1962).

Incest in contemporary societies

Problems of immediate social urgency have arisen from the specific conditions of modern urban life. In general, very rapid and world-wide industrialization, urbanization, and modernization have tended to strengthen the nuclear family, at the expense of larger household and kin groups. But there also have been countermovements, in which attempts have been made to weaken primary family ties through collective forms of living, as in the case of the historic Hutterite communities, the earlier forms of collectivization in the Soviet Union, the modern Israeli kibbutzim, and, most recently, the collective communities reported for China. For those who are reared within it, each type of social setting—the nuclear family, the joint or extended family, or the collectivity of children organized into age grades—has its special hazard. In the nuclear family, this may take the form of overdependence on childhood ties; in the extended family, a tendency to develop endogamous over-specialization; and in age-graded children’s groups, an overdependence on the peer group. Within the context of industrialized urbanization the problems that are most prominent are those peculiar to the narrowly defined two-generation family.

At present in the United States, one finds associated with the institution of the two-generation family both very early, parentally stimulated sexual behavior and flaunted, exhibitionistic physical intimacy on the part of adolescents (Wolfenstein 1965). Early marriage and early parenthood are replacing economic independence as the most significant marks of the individual’s break with his (or her) family of origin and of the resolution of childhood attachments to the parents (Mead 1959; 1961b).

In contemporary societies the phenomena of increased life expectancy, reduced hazards of child-bearing, and frequent divorce have been accompanied by a widespread acceptance of a “scientific” explanation of the incest taboo as having no function other than the prevention of close inbreeding, with its assumed deleterious genetic effects. Where this explanation has been accepted as sufficient, it has meant a weakening of the sanctions that, in the past, protected the relations between adults and stepchildren or foster children, particularly between stepfathers and stepdaughters and between sons and fathers’ young second wives. Where the more broadly based sanctioning system has broken down, the household may become a setting for cross-generational reciprocal seduction and exploitation, rather than fulfilling its historic role of protecting the immature and permitting the safe development of strong affectional ties in a context where sex relationships are limited to spouses. This development has coincided with and must be seen in relation to a world-wide reorganization of traditional attitudes toward caste, class, racial, and religious interrelationships. Incest itself has become a literary theme, a symbol for the expression of violence, social discord, alienation of feeling, and various beliefs about the transformation of man under new conditions produced by science. Today there are even arguments in favor of incest, on the grounds that the taboo was associated with a now outmoded period of history, when small groups required this form of protection (Masters 1963), and that new evidence suggests that, in the past, high cultures have been able to incorporate the marriage of very near kin (Middleton 1962).

Incest taboos, as one aspect of the regulation of sex and marriage, are integral to all known forms of social organization. Their form and function have varied extremely from one culture to another, in small and large societies, and in simple and complex societies. There seem to be no grounds for attributing the formation of this sanctioning system, by which an equilibrium is maintained between close and wide social ties, to any single set of innate human characteristics or to any specific set of historical circumstances. The universality of the occurrence of incest regulations, whatever form they may take or particular functions they may serve in a specific culture, suggests that they are part of a very complex system with deep biological roots, a system that is both a condition and a consequence of human evolution. Variations in the form and function of incest taboos suggest also that the formation of human character and the functioning of social systems are so intricately related to specific historical forms that changes within a social system are necessarily accompanied by some breakdown in the previously recognized patterning of personal relationships. Widespread failure to observe incest regulations is an index of the disruption of a sociocultural system that may be even more significant than the more usual indexes of crime, suicide, and homicide.

Margaret Mead


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Incest is the sexual exploitation of a person who is legally unable to give informed consent due to age, intellect, and/or physical impairment by an older person having a close family blood tie (e.g., parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or cousin) or a substitute for such a blood tie (e.g., stepparent, stepbrother, or stepsister). In short, incest can be defined as the sexual exploitation of a child by a relative with more power. Incest includes sexual contact, exhibitionism, masturbation, anal intercourse, exposure to sexually oriented media, or any acts that have a sexually stimulating component for either the victim or the perpetrator (Renvoize 1993). Sexual contact includes touching, kissing, fondling, or overt sexual contact such as intercourse, manual stimulation of genitals, and oral-genital contact (Trepper and Barrett 1989).

Incest often involves collusion of the nonperpetrating parent and/or siblings and occurs in an inclusive system (Glasser et al. 2001). Psychological preparation for incest often occurs within a family by way of dissolving healthy generational boundaries. Some victims are manipulated by withdrawal of love or affection or with rewards of money, objects, and/or time with the perpetrator. Incest perpetrators often use elaborate methods of persuasion to manipulate victims. Isolation and secrecy is part of the grooming period that often comes before actual incest. Perpetrators use trust, favoritism, alienation, secrecy, and boundary violations to prepare children to participate in sexual activities (Christiansen and Blake 1990).

Prevalence of Incest

Prevalence rates for incest vary widely due to differences of definition, methods of study, and the population source of the data (Glasser et al. 2001). Commonly, studies report prevalence rates of child abuse in general and do not break the abuse into familial and nonfamilial. In the United States in the 1990s, it was estimated that 100,000 to one million cases of incest occur annually, but only about 10 percent of them are reported ( Johnson 1983). Although some research estimates that less than 2 percent of the general population experiences sexual abuse (Kutchinsky 1992), other studies estimate that incest is experienced by 10 to 20 percent of children in the general population (Briere and Runtz 1989; Finkelhor et al. 1990; Russell 1983). A few other countries have published research in English on the prevalence of incest. In Brazil, for example, prevalence estimates range widely from 0.05 percent to 21 percent (Flores, Mattos, and Salzano 1998).

It is not unusual to find very different prevalence rates of incest for males and females, as in the study conducted by Renvoize (1993) who reported that as many as one-third of all girls and one-fifth of boys have experienced incest. Researchers agree that girls are much more often the victims of incest. Others report that the incidence for males is less than half of that for females because a higher proportion of males are sexually abused by adults outside the home by strangers (Carlstedt, Forsman, and Soderstrom 2001; Finkelhor et al. 1990; Gonsiorek, Bera, and LeTourneau 1994). Male incest victims may also report less frequently because they are socialized not to express feelings of helplessness and vulnerability (Nasjleti 1980).

Estimates of the prevalence of incest have risen steadily since the late 1960s as knowledge of child sexual abuse and incest has increased. There is some controversy, however, over the validity of the reported prevalence of incest. The often painful and shameful aspects of sexual abuse within the family make the collection of data very difficult. It is generally thought by professionals that the underreporting of incest is common due to the secrecy, shame, the tendency to blame the victim, and criminal ramifications surrounding incest. However, false reports by children of nonoffending parents, especially in divorce-custody situations, may account for an increase in reported incidents. There has been criticism that therapists may encourage reports through a process of recovering memories forgotten by the patient. Even considering false reporting and misuse of recovering memories, it is still very likely that the number of incest cases is underreported.

Recidivism among incest offenders is estimated at around 8.5 percent, though up to the late 1990s, very few studies had been conducted on this issue, and recidivism is as underreported as are first reports of incest (Quinsey et al. 1995). A study of the sexual recidivism of 251 convicted adult male incest perpetrators in a clinical setting in Ottawa, Canada, found that 6.4 percent had committed another sexual offense six-and-a-half years after their incest conviction (Firestoneet et al. 1999).

Effects on Victims

Sexually abused children report and/or display affective, cognitive, physical, and behavioral symptoms (Shaw et al. 2000). Symptoms may include general behavior problems, delinquency, anxiety, regressive behaviors, nightmares, withdrawal from normal activities, internalizing and externalizing disorders, cruelty and self-injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, poor self-esteem, and age-inappropriate sexual behavior. A review of forty-five studies indicated two common patterns of psychological response to incest (Williams and Finkelhor 1993). The first are those associated with posttraumatic stress symptomology. The second is an increase in sexualized behaviors, including sexualized play with dolls, putting objects into anuses or vaginas, excessive or public masturbation, seductive behavior, and age-inappropriate sexual knowledge and behavior.

Long-term psychological sequelae of incest include depression, anxiety, psychiatric hospitalization, drug and alcohol use, suicidality, borderline personality disorder, somatization disorder, and eroticization (Schetky 1990; Silverman, Reinherz, and Giaconia 1996). Common, too, are learning difficulties, posttraumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders and conversion reactions, running away, prostitution, re-victimization, poor parenting, and an increased likelihood of becoming a perpetrator. The frequency and severity of psychological sequelae secondary to sexual abuse has been related to frequency and duration of the abuse, relationship to the perpetrator, use of force, type of sexual abuse, penetration, age of the victim, age difference between victim and offender, and the parental support variable (Schetky 1990). Most incest victims experience confusion about their own reactions to the incest experience. It is this betrayal of innocence and resultant confusion, along with the loss of control and power over one's own behavior, that lead to the emotional and psychological impact on the victim. Victims often experience, both at the time of the incestuous act and later as adults, a sense of shame, a feeling of powerlessness, and a loss of their childhood.

Sibling incest is often thought to be the least harmful form. Although one of the key aspects of incest is the difference in power between the perpetrator and the victim, sexual behavior between two siblings of equal power, where touching, looking, and exploring are mutual decisions, can still pose problems for the participants and/or parents. What Diana Russell (1986) calls the myth of mutuality in relation to sibling incest may put the victim in a psychologically and physically vulnerable position. In her research with adult women, she found that 78 percent of her subjects who had had childhood sexual experiences reported that their sexual behavior with brothers was abusive. When the reported sexual behavior was with a sister, 50 percent of the female subjects experienced the behavior as abusive. Approximately one-half reported sibling incest as extremely upsetting, and another one-fourth as somewhat upsetting. The degree of coercion and the emotional harm in sibling incest may be more underestimated than incest in general.

The effects of sexual abuse on children and their later development into adulthood depend on at least five important factors: the age of the child, the duration of the abuse, the type of the abuse, the manner in which the child frames the abuse, and the ability of the child to heal. It is likely that there are important gender differences in how girls and boys make sense out of incest experiences. Girls tend to view the incest experience within the larger context of the child-adult relationship and are likely to be more concerned with the perpetrator's feelings and family stability. In contrast, a boy may focus more on his own sexual experience. All children, whether male or female, attempt to make sense of or to create an explanation for the incestuous relationship as a part of the healing process.

The ability of people to heal from a damaging experience is related to their ability to confront their own feelings of fear, terror, anger, rage, confusion, helplessness, and vulnerability. A common report of adult victims of childhood incest is a clear sense of removing oneself from the event. A sense that it was being done to someone else and/or a sense of leaving the body during the sexual contact are common reports. The danger is that denial becomes the preferred or most common behavior to deal with stress. Moving beyond denial to healing requires that the incest victims allow themselves to experience the feelings of confusion, rage, and helplessness.

To manipulate the victim, most incest perpetrators foster in the child a set of behaviors that help the child maintain the denial and self-deception needed to survive an ongoing incestuous relationship. The effects of this on the victim can be manifested in multiple ways, including fear of violence, sex, intimacy, and people of the same sex as the perpetrator. Confusion of gender identity, as well as uncontrolled sexual activity, may also result. There is often a need to care for and control others, at home, school, and work. Feelings of isolation, shame, and guilt, often not associated with any specific activity, help to foster a poor self-image, which may lead to suicidal behavior. There is also a tendency for victims of incest to suffer from other disorders, such as sleep disturbances, nightmares, depression, and eating disorders. Incestuous relationships are at a minimum a contributing factor to the above effects, and for countless victims, they are the primary contributor.

Part of the process of healing is the victim's awareness of the context within which he or she made choices. Often, in treatment, victims gain a sense of empowerment when they can begin to trace the development of the incestuous relationship over time. Typically, victims can account for a gradual increase in their ability to make choices and implement them. Victims have often stated that at a certain time, they were able to stop the incest perpetrator's manipulations with the threat of breaking secrecy.

Profile of Offenders

Efforts to conceptualize incest before 1980 led to it being categorized as a subcategory of pedophilia (Stoller 1975). Since then, the trend is to describe incest in terms of interaction factors in the family context (Bentovim 1992; Trepper and Barrett 1986). Some researchers believe that incest does not have a single cause; rather it develops from a combination of influences (Finkelhor 1986; Friedrich 1990; Maddock and Larson 1995; Trepper and Barrett 1989). Incest is a complex and varied family dynamic, although at the same time some patterns of sexual abuse may be predictable and reflective of general disturbances in family patterns of interactions (Maddock and Larson 1995). Some of the systemic factors that influence whether or not incest will occur in a family include intrapsychic influences, relational variables, developmental variables, and situational or circumstantial that make incest more or less likely to occur.

Researchers agree that perpetrators of incest are more likely to be males than females, although plenty of evidence has emerged since the 1980s that shows that some mothers do sexually abuse their children. Fewer female offenders are willing to admit to committing incest (Allen 1991), and society may consider women to be sexually harmless. But it is important to recognize the increased opportunity that women have to perpetrate incest as primary caretakers of children ( Jennings 1993). Women in all societies are given a great deal of responsibility of raising children, and with that comes control over their dependents. They are more often in charge of many intimate activities surrounding the care of the child, including things such as breastfeeding, putting to bed, and bathing. Some cultures where mother-son closeness is the norm may have more occurrences of incest. For example, some Japanese mothers initiate sexual acts with their sons after witnessing their sons masturbate for the first time in order to teach him about sex (Katahara 1989). One very small Australian study of a clinical sample of male incest survivors found a number of factors most likely to influence the occurrence of sexual abuse of young males (Harper 1993). Those include living in a single-parent family headed by a woman of low socioeconomic status where the mother suffers from a schizophrenic illness and/or abuses drugs or alcohol, and where there is a history of violent parental behavior.

Women may commit incest for different reasons than do males. Gender expectations and socializations may vary for males and for female perpetrators, but this does not mean that one form of incest is less harmful to the victim than the other. Regardless of the type of perpetrator, incest perpetrators commit incest for a variety of reasons. They often have poor skills in dealing with their emotions, demonstrate poor empathy skills, and display a marked inability to observe the behavior of others. These perpetrators are often emotionally in a developmental stage equivalent to that of the child they are assaulting.

In a study of seventy-five male and sixty-five female sexual abuse perpetrators, the men and women showed no difference in educational levels, both reported that their marriages as less stable than their parents', and both reported their need for emotional fulfillment is greater than their need for sexual fulfillment (Allen 1991). Both offenders report the least intrusive form of offending (exhibitionism, voyeurism, touching) to be more frequent than oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse. At the same time, women offenders were less likely to report committing sexual activities with children, more likely to report their own experience as victims of sexual abuse, and reported lower marital satisfaction. Women reported greater satisfaction with the relationship with their children, more sexual satisfaction with their spouses/partners, and reported having more sexual partners than the male perpetrators. Women offenders reported significantly higher need for both emotional and sexual fulfillment. Women offenders report more physical abuse by their partners and family of origin. Many more women than men sexually abuse with another (usually male) person whereas men are more likely to commit their offense alone ( Jennings 1993). Females tend to use violence less often than males during their offending (Krug 1989). Females are more likely to know their victims; the abuse is usually less frequent and shorter in duration; and female offenders usually have fewer victims ( Jennings 1993).

Men as incest perpetrators are not a homogeneous group. In a study funded by a grant from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, researchers identified five distinct types of incestuous fathers: sexually preoccupied, adolescent regressive, instrumental sexual gratifiers, emotionally dependent offenders, and angry retaliators (Williams and Finkelhor 1992). This typology helps to foster better understanding of the motivations for abuse and may enable better treatment for incest perpetrators. It should be kept in mind that an offender may not fit perfectly into one type; most offenders are a combination of one or more types.

The first type, the sexually preoccupied offenders, is characterized by a sexual interest in their victim, usually from an early age. This offender usually begins molesting the child before age six and continues the molestation past puberty. The second type, the adolescent regressive offenders, has a conscious sexual interest in their victims but usually do not begin molesting until the victims approach or reach puberty. The third type of offenders, the instrumental sexual gratifiers, uses the victim as a vehicle for sexual fantasy. These offenders are more sporadic in their offending, and they often associate the action with remorse. The fourth type, the emotionally dependent, is often lonely and depressed, sex is not a primary motivator, and they often romanticize their need for closeness and intimacy. Fifth, angry retaliators demonstrate low sexual arousal toward their victims but instead use the sexual assault to focus their anger. Often, the assault on the victim is in retaliation for a real or imagined infidelity or abandonment by a spouse.

Besides there being some risk factors for becoming an incest perpetrator, the authors of one Swedish research study suggested there may be protective factors that prevent some victims from entering the victim-to-abuser cycle (Glasser et al. 2001). Those include: (1) positive self esteem; (2) the presence of other important adults in the child's life; (3) religious education stressing positive development and forgiveness rather than sin and damnation; (4) success in school, sports, or other activities; (5) personality, strengths, and social situations that promote long-term goals; (6) parental monitoring reducing the frequency of abuse; and (7) age-appropriate sexual knowledge prior to abuse.


Using trial and error, clinicians now see the necessity for systemic rather than linear interventions for the treatment of incest (Gil 1996). The characteristics of a healing environment are openness, honesty, support, and worthiness. Incestuous families are characterized by secrecy, deception, isolation, and worthlessness. Early in treatment, offenders will commonly protest society's and the criminal justice system's overreaction to their behavior. Offenders will often believe that the child liked the behavior, never objected, and was already sexually active and therefore not harmed by it. Other family members may participate in this pattern of denial as well. As the perpetrator and family begin to understand the effects on the victim of the secrecy and deception the incestuous relationship requires, they begin to break through the denial and rationalizations.

In general, early treatment should be designed to protect society from the offender and the offender from a recurrence of the abuse during the beginning of treatment (Conte 1990). Treatment should include careful assessments and well-informed treatment plans that are directive, cautious, comprehensive, and full of measurable and attainable goals and objectives (Gil 1996). No research has been published that definitively proves one mode of treatment is superior to others. Eliana Gil (1996) notes that clinical interventions focused on the offender were unsuccessful because they did not take into account the interactions between parents and children. She states that treatment carries with it the responsibility to alter harmful behaviors while making an effort to preserve the family without compromising the child's safety. Treatment often includes individual, family, couple, or group therapy for the offender, the victim, the nonoffending parent, and other family members. Finally, the perpetrator and other family members need to be evaluated for co-existing problems such as substance abuse, domestic violence, and psychiatric disorders.

See also:Child Abuse: Sexual Abuse; Incest/Inbreeding Taboos; Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); Sexuality in Adulthood


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The taboo surrounding incest has existed for thousands of years, but its social impact has shifted over time, reflecting changing notions of children, law, sexuality, and the family. The historian must exercise caution in interpreting the role of incest in the United States because rhetoric does not always reflect reality. People rarely spoke about child sexual abuse prior to the 1970s; nevertheless incest clearly occurred. Society's responses to allegations of incest reflect the changing and often ambiguous role of children in society and are shaped by notions of gender, race, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity.

Colonial America through the Nineteenth Century

In the colonial period, children were economic assets to the family and essentially under paternal control. Their economic function was eclipsed as Victorian concepts of middle-class domesticity emerged in the nineteenth century. Children were recast as innately innocent and malleable, and mothers replaced fathers as the moral guardians of the home. This image of innocence underscored the perception of childhood vulnerability. During the Progressive Era, child-saving professionals increasingly intervened in the family, subtly challenging parental authority and implying that faulty and inadequate parenting could harm children. The twentieth century saw the emergence of children's rights, often at the expense of parental authority.

Although rarely mentioned, there is mounting evidence that child sexual abuse occurred frequently throughout the last two centuries. Laws about statutory rape and incest reflect awareness that child sexual abuse existed, but their erratic enforcement suggests ambiguity about sexual abuse and society's role in child protection. Between the 1880s and 1900, for example, most states increased the age of consent from ten to at least sixteen, reflecting a common concern of the social purity movement that girls were vulnerable to sexual harm. Although almost every state outlawed incest, sexual acts between parent and child outside of intercourse fell under less stringent legal statutes.

Historians have argued that cultural practices may have facilitated sexual abuse in the home. Sleeping arrangements that placed adults in the same bed with childrensuch as occurred in the crowded conditions of nineteenth-century tenements, or the limited bed space in colonial and frontier homesgave adults easy access to children, enabled children to witness carnal acts between adults, and may have facilitated incest. Myths about venereal disease transmission may have contributed to sexual abuse by reshaping taboos against incest into acts of desperation. According to one myth, which still occasionally surfaces as an excuse, intercourse with a virgin will cure a man suffering from a venereal disease. During the nineteenth century, men who invoked this explanation for sexual relations with minors were considered less predatory and legally culpable.

Late Nineteen and Early Twentieth Century

During the Progressive Era the profession of social work was born; with it came increased scrutiny of the private lives of American families. When early social workers uncovered cases of incest, they frequently described the girls as seducers rather than victims. Considered sexually deviant, these girls risked incarceration in institutions for delinquent girls. Conversely, fathers who were named as perpetrators were rarely prosecuted; a promise to reform was considered sufficient. By the 1920s, children were often imbued with paradoxical qualities of being at once erotic and innocent, a tension epitomized in Nabokov's 1958 novel Lolita.

Commonly held beliefs may have deflected suspicion away from parents. Victorian domestic literature frequently warned mothers to beware of salacious domestic workers caring for children. Accused of calming young charges by masturbating them and introducing sexual activity prematurely, domestic employees were often the first household members to be implicated when sexual abuse was suspected. Little evidence supports these accusations against nursery maids; yet the frequency with which the concern was raised reflects a simmering fear that sexual abuse could perturb the seemingly calm Victorian home. Similarly, when a child contracted gonorrhea and a parent was found to have the disease as well, infected sheets and toilet seats were blamed instead of the parent. The mistaken belief that children could catch gonorrhea from objects led sexual abuse to go unrecognized as late as the 1970s.

Historians have shown how twentieth-century rhetoric may have hidden more abuse than it exposed. The strangerperpetrator, so threateningly portrayed in mid-twentieth-century media, diverted attention from more likely perpetrators in the home. Freud's notion of children's innate sexuality and his belief that memories of sexual abuse represented unconscious wishes stressed the erotic nature of children and caused many professionals to question the validity of memories of sexual abuse. Even as concern about sexual abuse grew throughout most of the twentieth century, most experts resisted the idea that incest might be common.

Child abuse burst into American social conscience in the last three decades of the twentieth century, but there were important antecedents, though initially they were focused on physical rather than sexual abuse. Organized social response to child abuse began in 1874 when a severely beaten girl was brought to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and thus led to the founding of analogous societies to protect abused children. Her case typified nineteenth-century stereotypes: abused children came from immigrant, impoverished, intemperate, and marginalized homes. These stereotypes buttressed middle-class values, reinforced notions of middle-class domestic tranquility, and persisted for over a hundred years.

Other social movements helped set the stage for the late-twentieth-century discovery of incest. Feminism empowered women to expose domestic abuse and encouraged society to protect other victims, like abused children. The social activism of the 1960s and 1970s created a sympathetic audience for abused children. Increased sexual freedom gave society a vocabulary to discuss sexual abuse. In the early 1960s pediatricians, inspired by social activism and responding to increased professional interest in developmental and behavioral issues, began to identify and protect physically abused children. By the 1970s this medicalization of child abuse had expanded to include child sexual abuse as well, and medical evaluations became standard features of child sexual abuse cases. As society increasingly felt obliged to protect abused children, the paternal hegemony that dominated early American families had eroded and a variety of professionals gained authority in policing and protecting the family.

See also: Law, Children and the.


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Gordon, Linda, and Paul O'Keefe. 1984. "Incest as a Form of Family Violence: Evidence from Historical Case Records." Journal of Marriage and the Family 46: 2734.

Jenkins, Philip. 1998. Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Mason, Mary Ann. 1994. From Father's Property to Children's Rights: The History of Child Custody in the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Odem, Mary E. 1995. Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 18851920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Pleck, Elizabeth. 1987. Domestic Tyranny: The Making of American Social Policy against Family Violence from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hughes Evans

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Characterization and definitions vary across cultures, but incest refers to sexual relations between close relatives. Prohibition may be according to custom or morality, and embodied in law. In psychoanalysis, the term is also and especially discussed in terms of fantasy and psychological conflict.

Freud mentioned incest for the first time in his correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess (Draft N, dated May 31, 1897), in which he explained "saintliness" in terms of its impious and anti-social character (1950a). A family primordially promiscuous would be forced to give up incestuous behavior in order to avoid being socially isolated.

Incest subsequently became a central theme in Freud's formulation of the Oedipus complex, defined as a child's conflict between sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex (the "positive" oedipal complex) and repression of that desire. The theory was put forth in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d) and in Freud's discussion of the case of "Little Hans" (1909b), among other works.

From the start Freud also discussed the incest taboo in an anthropological context, in terms of its role in the evolution of society. The first chapter of Totem and Taboo (1912-13a) was devoted to "the horror of incest" and was based on the work of contemporary ethnologists. For Freud it was important to establish that such a taboo operated in every human society. This view gained some support in the work of later anthropologists, including Claude Lévi-Strauss, who, however, maintained reservations regarding Freud's obligatory corollary, that the Oedipus complex was "universal." (See André Green [1995] for a discussion of Lévi-Strauss's views.)

Freud held that psychic energy which accumulates through repression of sexual gratification, prohibitions owed to the oedipal situation, becomes an essential force propelling the development of civilization, especially through channels of sublimation. In "'Civilized' Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness" (1908d), Freud suggested that repression can also provoke psychological disorders through the "damming-up" of libido (the "actual" neuroses) or by substitute symptom formation (the psychoneuroses). The price of civilized morality is high when repression adversely affects too many individuals and distorts the social fabric; Freud examined these issues in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c) and in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930a).

The incest theme has received little attention in contemporary psychoanalytic literature; an exception is Paul-Claude Racamier's interesting treatment of the "incestual" (1995).

Roger Perron

See also: Ethics; Family romance; Framework of the psychoanalytic treatment; Law and psychoanalysis; Myth of origins; Oedipus complex; Phantom; Privation; Prohibition; Psychology of the Unconscious, The ; Secret; "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes"; Tenderness; Totem and Taboo ; Transgression.


Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.

. (1909b). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.

. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.

. (1908d). "Civilized" sexual morality and modern nervous illness. SE, 9: 177-204.

. (1912-13a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.

. (1930a). Civilization and its discontents. SE, 21: 57-145.

. (1950a [1897]). Draft N. "Impulses, fantasies and symptoms." SE, 1: 173-280.

Green, André. (1995). La Casualité psychique. Paris: Odile Jacob. Propédeutique. La métapsychologie revisitée. Paris: l'Or d'Atalante.

Racamier, Paul-Claude. (1995). L'inceste et l'incestuel. Paris: Éditions du Collège de psychanalyse groupale et familiale.

Further Reading

Simon, Bennett. (1992). Incestsee under "oedipus complex": the history of an error in psychoanalysis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 40, 955-988.

Simon, Bennett, and Bullock, Christopher. (1994). Incest and psychoanalysis: Are we ready to fully acknowledge, bear and understand? Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42, 1261-1282.

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Prohibited sexual relations between members of a close kinship group, such as between parents and children or between brothers and sisters. The term is often expanded to include not only actual inter-course but other sexual acts as well.

While the incest taboo is nearly universal and exists in nearly all societies, notions of kinship vary greatly from culture to culture. Thus, some cultures would consider sexual relations between first cousins incest, while others would not. The same premise holds true for inter-course between a stepfather and stepdaughter. The very rare exceptions to incest, such as those found in ancient Egyptian and Incan societies, usually involve mandatory incestuous unions within royal families, which may have been motivated by economic or theocratic considerations.

In classical psychoanalytic theory, the psychosexual development of children between the ages of three and five is characterized by incestuous desires toward the parent of the opposite sex. Sigmund Freud called these desires in males the Oedipus complex , referring to the inadvertent incest between the title character and his mother in the classical Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex. Freud asserted that young boys form a sexual attachment to their mothers, accompanied by resentment and hostility toward their fathers, whom they regard as rivals for their mother's attention . The fear of retaliation by the father, which takes the form of castration anxiety, leads the boy to renounce his forbidden desires and begin to identify with his father, thus assuming his proper gender identity together with a superego composed of his father's moral values. Freud posited roughly the same condition, in reverse, for girls, which he called the Electra complex. While largely recognizing the widespread existence of incestuous desires (which many claim is indirectly demonstrated by the very universality of the incest taboo), contemporary psychologists differ widely with respect to the developmental and other importance they attribute to these desires.

Among the various types of incest, sexual relations between brother and sister and between father and daughter are thought to occur more frequently than mother-son incest, which is believed to be rare. The phenomenon of covert incest has been noted between mother and son, however, in which the mother acts toward her son in a sexual manner without actually seducing him. Usually, other members of the family are aware of the incestuous relationship, and it will govern the psychodynamics of the entire family structure. According to contemporary reports by incest survivors, most child sexual abuse is committed by male relatives. Fathers who abuse their daughters tend to have a history of psychological problems and emotional deprivation, and will often implement an incestuous relationship with more than one daughter. In many cases, the mother is aware of the abuse and either feels powerless to stop it or colludes with the father for reasons of her own.

Contrary to popular assumptions and stereotypes, incest occurs at all levels of society, is likely to happen in middle and upper-class families as in poor families, and takes place in families that appear outwardly happy, respectable, and well adjusted. Adults who have been incest victims in childhood are prone to depression , sexual dysfunction , and abusive behavior. Incest involving an adult victim is extremely rare. Although there has been increasing public awareness of this problem in recent years, it is believed that most cases of incest remain unreported due to the stigma involved and the powerlessness of dependent children ensnared in incestuous relationships. Over the years, many (more or less speculative) theories have been advanced regarding the origin, nature, structure, function, and interpretation of the incest taboo, but none has been generally accepted as completely definitive. One practical function of the taboo is that the prohibition of incest decreases the incidence of birth defects and recessive genetic disorders.

Further Reading

Maisch, Herbert. Incest. New York: Stein and Day, 1972.

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The crime of sexual relations or marriage taking place between a male and female who are so closely linked by blood or affinity that such activity is prohibited by law.

Incest is a statutory crime, often classified as a felony. The purpose of incest statutes is to prevent sexual intercourse between individuals related within the degrees set forth, for the furtherance of the public policy in favor of domestic peace. The prohibition of intermarriage is also based upon genetic considerations, since when excessive inbreeding takes place, undesirable recessive genes become expressed and genetic defects and disease are more readily perpetuated. In addition, the incest taboo is universal in human culture.

Rape and incest are separate offenses and are distinguished by the fact that mutual consent is required for incest but not for rape. When the female is below the age of consent recognized by law, however, the same act can be both rape and incest.

The proscribed degrees of incest vary among the different statutes. Some include parent and child, brother and sister, uncle and niece, or aunt and nephew, and first cousins. In addition, intermarriage and sexual relations are also frequently prohibited among individuals who are related by half-blood, including brothers and sisters and uncles and nieces of the half-blood.

In a number of jurisdictions, incest statutes extend to relationships among individuals related by affinity. Such statutes proscribe sexual relations between stepfathers and stepdaughters, stepmothers and stepsons, or brothers-and sisters-in-law, and such relations are punishable as incest. It is necessary for the relationship of affinity to exist at the time the intermarriage or sexual intercourse occurs in order for the act to constitute incest. In the event that the relation-ship has terminated prior to the time that the act takes place, the intermarriage or sexual inter-course is not regarded as incest.

Affinity ordinarily terminates upon the divorce or death of the blood relation through whom the relationship was formed. Following the divorce or death of his spouse, it is not a violation of incest statutes for a man to marry or have sexual relations with his stepdaughter or his spouse's sister.

Certain statutes require that the individual accused of incest have knowledge of the relationship. In such cases, both parties need not be aware that their actions are incestuous in order for the party who does know to be convicted.

When intermarriage is prohibited by law, it need not be proved that sexual intercourse took place in order for a conviction to be sustained, since the offense is complete on intermarriage. In statutes that define incest as the intermarriage or carnal knowledge of individuals within the prohibited degrees, incest can be committed either by intermarriage or sexual relations.

Some state laws provide that the crime of incest is not committed unless both parties consent to it. When the sexual relations at issue were accomplished by force, the act constitutes rape, and the individual accused cannot be convicted of incest.

It is no defense to incest that the woman had prior sexual relations or has a reputation for unchastity. Similarly, voluntary drunkenness, moral insanity, or an uncontrollable impulse are insufficient defenses.

Punishment for a conviction pursuant to an incest statute is determined by statute.

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359. Incest

  1. Amnon ravishes his sister, Tamar. [O.T.: II Samuel 13:14]
  2. Antiochus sexually active with daughter. [Br. Lit.: Pericles ]
  3. Canace Aeoluss daughter; committed suicide after relations with brother. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 49]
  4. Cenci, Count Francesco old libertine ravishes his daughter Beatrice. [Br. Lit.: Shelley The Cenci, Magill I, 131]
  5. Clymenus Arcadian who violated his daughter, Harpalyce. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 65]
  6. Compson, Quentin his only passion is for his sister Candace. [Am. Lit.: Faulkner The Sound and the Fury in Magill I, 917]
  7. Electra bore great, passionate love for father, Agamemnon. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 92; Gk. Lit.: Electra, Orestes ]
  8. Engstrand, Regina Oswalds half-sister and chosen lover. [Nor. Lit.: Ghosts ]
  9. Giovanni and Annabella brother-sister romance. [Br. Lit.: Tis Pity Shes a Whore ]
  10. Harpalyce bears child by father, Clymenus. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 114]
  11. Jocasta unknowingly marries her son, Oedipus. [Gk. Lit.: Oedipus Rex ]
  12. Judah unknowingly has relations with daughter-in-law. [O.T.: Genesis 38:1518]
  13. Lot impregnates his two daughters. [O.T.: Genesis 19:36]
  14. Myrrha mother of Adonis; daughter of Adoniss father. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 741]
  15. Niquee and Anasterax sister and brother live together in incest. [Span. Lit.: Amadis de Gaul ]
  16. Oedipus unknowingly marries mother and fathers four sons. [Gk. Lit.: Oedipus Rex ]
  17. Sieglinde and Siegmund twin brother and sister passionately in love. [Ger. Lit.: Mann The Blood of the Walsungs]
  18. Tamar seduces her brother and her father. [Am. Lit.: Robinson Jeffers Tamar in Magill I, 948]
  19. Tower, Cassandra (Cassie ) had relations with Dr. Tower, her father. [Am. Lit.: Kings Row, Magill I, 478480]
  20. Warren, Nicole suffers after having had sexual relations with father. [Am. Lit.: Tender Is the Night ]

Incompetence (See INEPTITUDE .)

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incest, sexual relations between persons to whom marriage is prohibited by custom or law because of their close kinship. Ideas of kinship, however, vary widely from group to group, hence the definition of incest also varies. Customs prescribing whom a person may and may not marry are found among all human groups, and these apparently antedated knowledge of the genetic effects of the intermarriage of close relatives. Even modern prohibitions of incest are based only in part on the observed fact that inherited defects tend to be transmitted in intensified form when both parents possess the same genes. In many societies, the marriage of parents and offspring, or brothers and sisters, is prohibited and abhorred—this is the incest taboo, much discussed in the anthropological literature. Only in some royal families, as in ancient Egypt and among the Inca, were such marriages customary, perhaps with the goal of conserving royal prerogatives and property; such marriages may have been largely symbolic. Theories concerning the incest taboo include sociological and psychological interpretations. In anthropology, it is often considered in relation to rules of exogamy, by which marriage serves as a means of social alliance between groups who might otherwise be disposed to fight one another. Incest is a recurrent theme in mythology and literature across the world, and it has played an important role in psychoanalytical speculation and theory (see Oedipus complex). For the contemporary legal aspects of incest, see consanguinity.

See J. Shepher, Incest: A Biosocial View (1983); J. B. Twitchell, Forbidden Partners: The Incest Taboo in Modern Culture (1986).

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in·ces·tu·ous / inˈseschoōəs/ • adj. 1. involving or guilty of incest: the child of an incestuous relationship. 2. (of human relations generally) excessively close and resistant to outside influence: the incestuous nature of literary journalism. DERIVATIVES: in·ces·tu·ous·ly adv. in·ces·tu·ous·ness n.

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"incestuous." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 16 Aug. 2017 <>.

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incest Sexual relations within a family or kinship group, the taboo on which varies between societies. In many countries incest is a crime that carries a prison sentence. It is likely that the rules of many primitive communities prohibited marriage between close relatives, long before the possible adverse genetic effects of such relationships were realized.

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in·cest / ˈinˌsest/ • n. sexual relations between people classed as being too closely related to marry each other. ∎  the crime of having sexual intercourse with a parent, child, sibling, or grandchild.

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incest XIII. — L. incestus, or incestum, sb. use of n. of incestus impure, unchaste, f. IN-2 + castus CHASTE.
So incestuous XVI. — late L.

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incest (in-sest) n. sexual intercourse between close relatives, e.g. brother and sister or father and daughter.

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"incest." A Dictionary of Nursing. . 16 Aug. 2017 <>.

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incestabreast, arrest, attest, beau geste, behest, bequest, best, blessed, blest, breast, Brest, Bucharest, Budapest, celeste, chest, contest, crest, digest, divest, guest, hest, infest, ingest, jest, lest, Midwest, molest, nest, northwest, pest, prestressed, protest, quest, rest, self-addressed, self-confessed, self-possessed, southwest, suggest, test, Trieste, unaddressed, unexpressed, unimpressed, unpressed, unstressed, vest, west, wrest, zest •manifest • talkfest • Hammerfest •Almagest • backrest • armrest •redbreast • headrest • imprest •chimney breast • footrest • firecrest •incest • palimpsest • unprocessed •road test • undervest • conquest

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incestuousAnanias, bias, Darius, dryas, Elias, eyas, Gaius, hamadryas, Lias, Mathias, pious, Tobias •joyous • Shavuoth • tempestuous •spirituous • tortuous • sumptuous •voluptuous • virtuous • mellifluous •superfluous • congruous • vacuous •fatuous • anfractuous • arduous •ingenuous, strenuous, tenuous •flexuous • sensuous • impetuous •contemptuous • incestuous •assiduous, deciduous •ambiguous, contiguous, exiguous •inconspicuous, perspicuous •promiscuous •continuous, sinuous •nocuous • fructuous • tumultuous •unctuous •Abbas, shabbos •choriambus, iambus •Arbus •Phoebus, rebus •gibbous •cumulonimbus, nimbus •omnibus • ceteris paribus • Erebus •rhombus • incubus • succubus •bulbous • Columbus • syllabus •colobus • Barnabas • righteous •rumbustious

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