New York Magazine recently published an article interviewing an 18-year-old woman, who has reportedly been in a sexual relationship with her once-estranged biological father. For almost two years!
The article has put the spotlight on, the seldom-talked about yet increasingly prevalent practice of Genetic Sexual Attraction, or GSA.
GSA describes a deep sexual attraction between close relatives, such as siblings or half-siblings, a parent and offspring, or first and second cousins who have been separated during the critical years of development and bonding, and then meet for the first time as adults.
Speaking to Redi Tlhabi, Dr. Eve says that there are claims that 50% of related people who have been estranged and reunite as adults, express that they have sexual attraction towards each other.
Barbara Gonyo was the first to identify the phenomenon in the late 80’s, after she wrote a book called ‘I'm His Mother, But He's Not My Son’, which detailed her personal story of reuniting with the son she placed for adoption at 16. She and her son proceeded to have a sexual relationship and Gonyo says she fell in love - a byproduct of delayed bonding that typically occurs in infancy between new parents and their child, according to psychologists.
What makes people uncomfortable is that it distorts social boundaries…because people have to realign their concept of intimacy and of family.— Dr. Eve, clinical sexologist
Dr. Eve says it is important to understand GSA in the context of the Westermarck effect. The Westermarck effect is otherwise known as reverse sexual imprinting and is a psychological term that describes an effect of resistance to having a sexual attraction to people in close proximity to us.
She says that people who experience GSA have supposedly not had this critical period of Westermark effect of desensitisation together. As a result, when they meet there is a strong attraction due to the familiarity, both emotionally and physically, of the newly found relative.
What comes naturally to us is to be sexual with the people who look, sound and feel like us; who have the same interests; who live in the same proximity as us and who share very similar traits - physically and emotionally.
Forums exist to support people in GSA relationships. They’re fighting for their right to ‘full marriage equality’ which advocate for the right of consenting adults to share and enjoy love, sex, residence, and marriage without limits on the gender, number, or relation of participants.
They feel an instinctive familiarity, closeness and attraction, but it happens to be that they are biological related.
There are different circumstances under which GSA relationships form, whether or not they are aware of their relation:
- Sperm donors
- Family separations such as incarceration, divorce and migration to different parts of the world
It appears that father - daughter relationships are the most contentious and create complicated conversations around consent and feelings.
Dr. Eve says that the subject may not be palatable for many people, and that those in GSA relationships often suffer persecution and prejudice. And though there may be discomfort discussing it, it is necessary to acknowledge its existence.
We have deeply inbred taboos to forbid us from doing what comes natural to us.
By comparison very few calls came in to the Redi Tlhabi Show, which may be indicative of the taboo nature of their conversation. However Jennifer called in to share her experience of being friends with first cousins who were married and are now in the process of a divorce, after 28 years. Carlton in Parow also shared his story of discovering a former lover at his family reunion where over of 300 unacquainted relatives attended.
Scholarly work or evidence-based research is limited, so it is the emerging narratives that GSA insights are based on. The stories have always been there, but have become more pronounced because of social media. It helps that we've given at a name, and with it, have become more aware.
Listen to Dr. Eve's discussion on the Redi Tlhabi Show below...