these genes would make an ugly sister

these genes would make an ugly sister

Although I don’t have a sister, I found out some weird news this week. Turns out I can legally artificially inseminate my sister, but it’s against the law for me to actually have intercourse with her. That’s a relief, right?

Wait, what? It’s true. Them’s the rules.

Unless you’re in Germany or pay attention to German media, you likely haven’t heard about this. Here check out my colleague Michael Owen‘s take on the whole thing in Incest laws in Germany may be a bit outdated.

Here’s the section of his article that I found most intriguing:

‘Many developed countries have no laws banning incest, though often they are not allowed to marry. These include France, Japan, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Finland and Brazil to name a few. The countries which do have strict laws forbidding incestous relationships tend to be former countries of the British Commonwealth like Canada and Australia, and include the USA. Germany‘s law on incest is quite peculiar. If a woman would like to be artificially inseminated by the sperm of a lineal relative, i.e. by a brother or her father, this is allowed. But if she becomes pregnant through coitus (sexual intercourse), this is outlawed. The law is actually a law against sex between two consenting adults. Incest is not banned for the safety of the possible progeny, but is a kind of legislation on what happens within the bedroom.’

Perplexing, isn’t it? Now, let me be really candid here. When I first heard about this, I thought, ‘Of course incest is illegal. As well it should be. Right?

Yet I read about this in so many papers, and the general consensus was that laws against incest were old-fashioned. Not everyone, mind you. Just many more than I expected. And it made me really ponder the whole issue. Why was I not only repulsed by the very thought?

Was it purely an issue of religious beliefs that then seeped into my sense of right and wrong? Was it a matter of ethics?

I immediately found myself insisting that there’d be birth defects in not only the next generation but in the ones to come. If you’re truly libertarian in your beliefs, then maybe you can insist that the government has no right to interfere with the actions of two consenting adults. And it’s not like I relish the idea of interfering with people’s private lives.

However, I must admit that I still don’t like it. I think there are some situations where the State must set rules to protect people from themselves. My gut reaction is that this is exactly that sort of matter.

So all of this is academic…theoretical. You know, the having no sister thing. But if I did, I hope I would know better than to procreate with her.

No matter what the law was.


  1. One would think that I’ve read so many books/seen so many movies broaching the topic that it would seem common place to me now – but that is not the case. I agree with you that there’s just a gut reaction that says this. is. wrong. I realize that in many cultures in the past it was quite commonplace for brothers and sisters to marry and have children with each other to avoid pollution of the familial line, but…ew.

    Really. I have little brothers. Maybe it’s that they’re 10 and 11 years younger than me and I can quite clearly remember them as littlies, but I just…ew again.



      1. Side Note: I also appreciate the little smirky thing you have going in this picture. Everyone has been all distracted by the squickiness of the subject matter to comment on your nice photo. [nod]

  2. I guess I can see that it’s really not anyone’s business (except for the birth defect thing, which could be passed down to someone unsuspecting, someday) but I’m with sj. I DO have a brother. And, just, no. No, no, no. Not ever. Like, if given the option of a slow death, say, being stung to death by fire ants, or sexy-time with Little Bro? Bring on the fire ants. BRING THEM ON.

    No. No, no, no. Who ever thinks that’s a good idea? Also, my brother and I fight CONSTANTLY. We can’t be in the same room for longer than ten minutes without someone screaming. We couldn’t get close enough to each other to sin that egregiously; someone would punch someone in the face, or claw someone’s eyes out, or something. And, also, ew. NO NO NO.

  3. So to summarize lucysfootball, the problem with incest between consenting adults is the injuries? I’m with Ken, having no sister, it is academic, but I think we can empathise with sj’s “ew”

      1. BAHAHAHA! Oh, Ken. I laughed so hard at this response. I don’t even know if you were making with the srs bsns face as you said this, but I’m going to assume you were (and that you ended with a head shake instead of a nod). That just made it funnier for me.

  4. I believe the ‘it’s wrong’ gut reaction is based on the lack of genetic variation in our species, which could have evolved into a strong resentment towards incest. (In fact, take any two human beings in the world and they will be more genetically similar than two mountain gorillas from the same group.) It would therefore be a benefit to not want to mate with your close relatives to avoid triggering recessive genetic disorders.

    1. That’s a good set of reasons, but I have no idea how ‘to avoid triggering recessive genetic disorders’ plays a part if you’re really attracted to your sibling.

      1. Well, the genetic reason is not necessary the manifested one. Rather, any sexual attraction to siblings would be selected against, as the offspring would have a higher rate of genetic disorders. So even though we wouldn’t realise why, we would develop a strong distaste of incest.

  5. Interestingly, it turns out that sexual attraction between siblings is quite common in cases where they’ve been separated from a very young age. This would suggest that judging if a relationship is incestous or not is based on having grown up in the same family.

    (I also believe it’s not actually illegal in Britain to have a sexual relationship with your brother or sister as long as precautions have been made to guarantee that no procreation can take place.)

    1. ‘Interestingly, it turns out that sexual attraction between siblings is quite common in cases where they’ve been separated from a very young age’ Really? This is truly curiouser and curiouser. Thanks for all the blog attention Andreas. I know that when you hover here, I’m doing something right.

  6. Maybe we only make stuff illegal because it is creepy. The idea of kissing your brother might be creepy. But the idea of getting a vial of sperm and… never mind. This is creepy. This is really freaking me out. Why am I even here? Why did you even bring this up?

    1. Because it was big in the news a few weeks ago here in Germany. A man went to jail for incest, and a colleague did some research about the law here.

      It’s the actual sex act between the relatives that’s illegal rather than the procreation. That’s why the topic came up.

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