Genetic Sexual Attraction: Being attracted to a person with whom one has blood ties is deeply disturbing and raises a host of moral and ethical issues.
Genetic Sexual Attraction
What are we talking about?
Ben, 32, and Kim, 51, live as a couple, want to get married and have a child. It was neither the age difference nor the late pregnancy project that shocked public opinion when this case was revealed. But the fact that Kim is Ben’s mother. Separated after the birth of this one, they only found themselves at adulthood. In fact, the cases of love at first sight between related individuals are not uncommon. If specialists have trouble explaining the phenomenon, some have given it a name: genetic sexual attraction.
Ben Ford and Kim West smile on the front page of The New Day magazine . The title echoes a statement by Kim: “I’m in love with my son, and I want a baby!” What trigger a flood of comments, on the website of the British newspaper, but also on those of many-other foreign media who relayed the story. Amid criticism and judgments about this incestuous relationship granted, some argue the concept of “genetic sexual attraction” (or GSA, for genetic sexual attraction ). Starting with Kim herself, who says in the columns of the magazine: “It’s not incest, it’s sexual sexual attraction.” A devious way to get rid of a taboo or a real biological process? The answer is complex.
A love at first sight in one case out of two
Kim West was 19 and still a student when she became pregnant. She decided to entrust her son to adoption after birth. Ben was raised by adoptive parents, and he was married when he decided to look for his birth mother. When he contacted her, via Facebook, he lived in the United States, she in England. The love at first sight was immediate.
Since then, he has left his wife, and his mother has crossed the Atlantic to live with him. They explain that they were helped in their approach by another “GSA couple”. In North America, but also in Europe, self-help and discussion groups have been created. Many stories are about brothers and sisters, but stories between parents and children are also told, a kind of modern repetition of the famous myth of Oedipus … except that the young Greek was not aware that Jocasta was his biological mother when he took her for a wife.
According to some sources, relatives who have not lived together and meet adults would have a chance in two to develop a love attraction! “No study has been able to confirm this figure, however moderates Ariane Giacobino, assistant physician at the Department of Genetic Medicine of Geneva University Hospitals (HUG). This proportion seems very high. ”
The term GSA was coined in the 1980s by Barbara Gonyo. Neither a doctor nor a psychiatrist, this American is behind a support group in Chicago for parents and adopted children. In his book The Forbidden Love(The forbidden love), she tells her own experience, and the love emotion she felt when she found her son, abandoned at birth. She describes a feeling of excitement more powerful than anything she had experienced so far: “I wanted to be naked with him, feel his skin against mine,” she explained in an interview with the Guardian when her book appeared. What saved her marriage, she admits, is that her son never felt the same way. He has since married and maintained a peaceful relationship with his mother, even though it took several years to stop feeling a real sexual attraction for him.
Inbreeding increases the risk of transmission of genetic diseases
Genetic medicine does not speak of incest, a moral value that varies across cultures, but consanguinity, which impoverishes the transmission of genes (see infographic). And the phenomenon would not be so rare, even in Switzerland. “Consultations of consanguineous couples are not exceptional,” says Florence Fellmann, associate physician at the department of genetic medicine of the Vaud University Hospital Center (CHUV). As for the HUG: “However, we mainly see first- or second-degree cousin couples,” says Ariane Giacobino, assistant physician in the department of genetic medicine.
“The risk of transmitting an” autosomal recessive “disease, such as cystic fibrosis, is increased among first-degree relatives, says Dr. Fellmann. Indeed, it is more likely that both parents are healthy carriers of the mutation, and the risk of transmission is 25% each pregnancy.
Between cousins, the risk of transmitting a genetic disease to the offspring is increased, but it remains low: about 6%, against about 3% in the general population. “The risk of congenital malformations also increases with kinship ties,” says Florence Fellmann, who recalls, however, that consanguinity is still very present in some countries; 60% of unions would be affected in some areas of Pakistan. Around the world, 10% of couples would be second cousins, or closer.
The Westermark effect
By developing the concept of GSA and daring to talk about her case, Barbara Gonyo has released the word of many people, struggling with a feeling that is often difficult to manage. But for now, no scientific proof of this “genetic” attraction exists. “Several works are conversely interested in people, relatives or not, who are raised together, continues Ariane Giacobino. And it seems that it diminishes the reciprocal attraction. “It was the Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermark who, in 1921, first issued this hypothesis, since confirmed in various studies.
Research conducted on children raised in kibbutz thus concluded that there was no marriage between people of the same age group. Other research carried out on the island of Taiwan, when it was still customary to choose a wife for boys very early and raise them together, showed that the fertility of these couples, who had become adults, was lower than in the general population, and the higher divorce rate. “Cohabitation in early childhood reduces the probability of becoming a couple, confirms Francesco Bianchi-Demicheli, a specialist in sexology and sexual medicine at the HUG. There is a kind of “negative imprint” that starts very early, probably in the first three years of life. ”
It is then possible that if they have not developed this negative imprint, the relatives can be strongly attracted to each other, and relive the initial attachment that they could not live. Barbara Gonyo recounted that in the early days, her attraction for her son was not specifically sexual: “As with my other children, I wanted to breathe the smell, to run my fingers through her hair.”
The number of relatives who dare to appear is growing, but many countries still consider the relationship between consenting relatives as a crime. This is the case in Switzerland.
Naturally attracted by who we are
“Sexual attraction and desire are very complex phenomena,” warns Francesco Bianchi-Demicheli, a specialist in sexual medicine at the HUG, who has been working on the subject for many years, and has shown that scents play a very important role. important, “and not just those we are aware of”. In addition to the odors we identify, other signals would be perceived by the brain. “Certain proportions of the body or face and other implicit factors (symbolic, mental associations, etc.) are also known to be determinants,” says the doctor. Regarding the attraction of relatives, he reminds us that we all seek a share of similarity in our partner. “It has been proven that we have more empathy for those who look like us!”