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fluthernutter's avatar

Is incest a socially-constructed moral?

Asked by fluthernutter (6323points) March 4th, 2015 from iPhone

Personally, the answer to this seems obvious to me. (Hell no.)

But there are some questions and responses that seem to suggest that other jellies feel otherwise.

Is this type of thinking more common than I thought?

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24 Answers

ucme's avatar

I kept away from that wreckage of a thread because the op thinks me answering their questions, which I very rarely do, means much more than it actually does, which is nothing.
Anyway, the answer to your question is a resounding no, of course not.
Internet weirdos will argue otherwise, let’s face it, they’d argue about anything.

squirbel's avatar


No – moral reasons are not the reasons every society rejects incest. Humans learned over millennia that it fucks people up. Creates poor quality humans.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
funkdaddy's avatar

In our closest animal relatives, incest is a requirement and the norm. There’s nothing natural that prevents it.

So at some point we decided it was wrong as a group, wouldn’t that make it a social construct? I’m not arguing, just trying to talk it through.

I think we decided it was wrong because your family should be your protectors in all ways. Whether we like it or not, there’s a lot about human sexual behavior that isn’t protective and for much of our history there wasn’t an age of consent.

I don’t think it had to do with more than that initially. Learning the genetic implications came a lot later and only reinforced what was already there in terms of taboo.

so I guess I’m the internet weirdo?

syz's avatar

Asexual reproduction (parthenogenesis) is essentially the pinnacle of incest (reproducing with one’s self), but sexual reproduction allowed for potential huge benefits in genetic diversity.

There are also potential serious drawbacks to sexual reproduction, including the possible continuation and compounding of “bad” or harmful genes through inbreeding, eventually weeded out through natural selection. (Not all incest is bad – there are a few examples in nature of species that use incest to their advantage, although they are certainly in the minority.)

I believe that nature has (largely) weeded out incestuous behavior through natural selection, resulting in humans, as a species, having evolved mechanisms for detecting and avoiding mating with close relatives (in isolated populations like islands, this becomes much more difficult and may not even be possible).

One evolutionarily developed mechanism could be what is know as the Westermarck Effect which essentially says children who co-reside are much less likely to breed with each other when they reach adulthood. This is a hot topic subject in reproduction since offspring from sperrn donors do not have the opportunity to grow up in the same household but at the same time, “primo” sperm may be used to produce multiple offspring who may later come in contact with each other.

So, no, incest aversion does not appear to be a socially constructed event (at least according to the majority of sociobiologists, anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, and behaviorists).

Darth_Algar's avatar

Yes. All morals are social constructs. Also I’m curious as to what societies reject incest. Marriage between 1st cousins are not uncommon in pretty much any society (even into modern times), and marriages between half-siblings can also be found throughout history.

Mariah's avatar

There are certainly biological reasons why incest is viewed negatively. It has high risk of birth defects due to recessive genes being triggered disproportionately often when people with similar genetic code mate.

But most of the time when people have sex it’s not for reproduction and honestly, if there is no conception involved, I’m hard pressed to find an objective reason why incest is wrong. If it’s a child pressured into sex by a parent then that’s wrong but for different reasons, for the same reason why any adult-child or coercive sex is wrong.

The concept grosses me out a lot personally, but to say that it’s inherently, objectively wrong is a stretch. Nobody is necessarily getting hurt when incest occurs and that is my ultimate yardstick for whether something is wrong or not. As long as nobody’s getting hurt it isn’t wrong.

dappled_leaves's avatar

First, by “incest is a socially-constructed moral”, I assume that you mean that “incest is wrong” is a socially-constructed moral.

My answer is yes, just like all morals are. Where else would they come from? Incest is a behaviour that humanity has, by and large, rejected as wrong.

Your question seems to imply that if it is a socially-constructed moral, then it isn’t wrong. But that is a contradiction. A moral is a moral, regardless of how we decided on it.

fluthernutter's avatar

@dappled_leaves Yes, thanks for clarifying. My writing can sometimes be unclear.

I think socially-constructed morals are wrong—within the structure of that society. They may also be wrong outside of said society. But not necessarily.

To me, there’s a difference between a socially-constructed moral and an inherent moral. Admittedly, it’s difficult to separate the two when you exist in a society.

fluthernutter's avatar

@dappled_leaves Also, if you inferred that from my question, that wasn’t my intention. Again, poor writing on my part.

I don’t think that if it is a socially-constructed moral, then it isn’t wrong.

Buttonstc's avatar

Just do a simple search and spend some time reading about generic disorders among Amish. I think the answer becomes pretty clear.

Society abhors incestual sex for solid medical reasons which have a very practical basis rather than a moral one. Of course it has become part of the moral code of a healthy society but simple observation over several generations has provided a very sound basis for the prohibition.

Nowadays we have the luxury of eliminating pregnancy from the sexual equation but that has been a pretty recent development. For thousands of years it was not an easy option so inherited genetic weakness and medical problems were just a reality for those who repeatedly had a pattern of incestual reproduction.

Does the abnormally high
incidence of Hemophilia which plagued the Royal families of Russia (where inbreeding was the norm) ring a bell here ?

Mariah's avatar

@Buttonstc Does that mean that you don’t have an argument against incest in modern times in which birth control exists and is reliable?

Just curious.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Buttonstc's avatar

No, I didn’t say that at all. But the question was more along the lines of the origin of the incest taboo so that’s what I primarily focused upon.

And for that matter, the problem among the Amish is a very present day reality and getting worse with successive generations.

And the ironic part of it is that as a society, as a whole, they are very moral people with all sorts of prohibitive rules and regulations that are even stricter than the Bible wpuid necessarily demand.

And they certainly don’t consider their behavior to be “incestuous” in the way that the word is usually understood.

I mean, they certainly don’t condone sex between members of a nuclear family like siblings or parent/child situations.

But the problem is that they are such an insular group and marrying outside their Amish/Mennonite community is forbidden and usually only happens if a child decides to leave the Amish when they reach adulthood.

It’s akin to what was going on with the Russian royals years ago who wouldn’t stoop to marry commoners. Repeated inbreeding tales a drastic toll.

And, as I clearly said, it has become part of the moral social code of society and even with modern birth control, I don’t see that taboo being overturned.

Sure, there are cases of close cousins marrying and such, but that’s clearly not the majority. And it’s not like each and every case of sex between close or distantly related family members is going to produce defective genes in the offspring.

It’s more the cumulative effect of when that becomes standard and repeated practice over time.

And, interestingly enough, all these miscellaneous sperm donors floating around do increase the chances of half siblings to marry each other without even knowing it.

But I don’t think the numbers are high enough to warrant a dangerous trend and the options for less secrecy are continually expanding so that’s a good thing.

I recently saw a doc on MTV about a young girl who went ok a search to find as many of her half sibs from her sperm donor biological father as she could and to meet them.

He had specified that he had no objections to any future offspring contacting him by letter or email.

It was really interesting to see how much they physically resembled each other when they finally met one another. It was really fascinating to watch her entire journey.

SavoirFaire's avatar

All morals are socially constructed. This isn’t to say that they don’t reflect underlying facts about the human condition. But it is our interpretation of and reaction to such facts that lead us to invent the notions of right, wrong, justice, injustice, and all of the various bits of moral technology that help us get by in the world.

Questions of distributive justice would not exist in a world without scarcity. Prohibitions on incest would not exist in a world without genetic disorders. But this world includes both, and so we have adapted to those facts. In some cases, the adaptation is aided by our biology. As @syz notes, we have evolved in such a way as to exhibit the the Westermarck effect. But notice that the Westermarck effect is not yet a moral prohibition. It is a biological aversion that we have decided to reinforce through the power of political and social pressure. And that is a social construction.

JLeslie's avatar

I think between parents and children and grandchildren it might be innate. I can’t imagine sexually desiring a parent or child having nothing to do with society.

Among siblings it is really a big stretch for me too, especially if they grow up in the same household. I would say we innately don’t desire our siblings sexually either. I know some sibs experiment with each other, but it’s still very odd to me.

Beyond that, I think it is a socially constructed set of morals. Some societies are ok with first cousins being married, some say no you have to be at least second cousins. Some say any known blood relation is just very weird. The line is drawn in different places depending who you talk to.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Mariah No form of birth control is 100% effective. Knowing this, based on what you said, there is always the chance than an incestuous couple can produce offspring that will, depending on how close the couple’s relation is, be mildly to moderately deformed or mentally handicapped.

Say that a brother and sister engage in intercourse, but use one or more forms of birth control, but that it/they fail. Now also say that neither one of them believes in abortion. Is incest wrong?

(A general note to everyone: I am only asking additional questions and am not necessarily stating what any of my personal views are.)

ragingloli's avatar

Birth defects are also more likely with older parents.
Is it immoral for old people to have children?
Not to mention people that already have a heredetary disability. Should they be banned from breeding?
The increased probability of birth defects is not a good argument for the immorality of incest, unless you apply that same argument to other cases.
And then you end up in 1938.

Bill1939's avatar

Adults who have intercourse with their children and siblings with each other create more problems than genetic. Psychological damage is frequently a product of incest. I suspect that a sexual activity within a family is instinctively avoided, though I do not have any information to support this notion. In small groups where there is little opportunity to find mates, this inhibition is likely overridden by sexual desire. Before knowledge of adverse effects of incest, early societies controlled sexual activities to limit sexually transmitted diseases and to establish alliances between families. Codified in religion, this tradition continues.

Mariah's avatar

@DrasticDreamer CDC says the rate of birth defects overall is about 3%.

It’s harder to find the rate of birth defects for siblings but one site said a worst case number was 17%.

Condoms are 98% effective. So a sibling couple that is using condoms has a 2%*17% = .34% chance of having a child with a birth defect, nearly 10 times less than a non-incestuous couple that purposefully has a child.

Is it wrong to purposefully have a child because it might have a birth defect?

I personally have problems with people purposefully having kids when they know their risk of passing on a lot of suffering is high (older couples, couples with known genetic diseases, etc) but many people don’t have a problem with this. The incestuous couple wasn’t even trying to have a child it just happened by accident. I think their biggest fuck up was their refusal to have an abortion.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Mariah Thank you for answering nicely – and without accusing me of something. lol I was truly just interested in further discussion and wanted a better understanding of your thought processes. :)

rojo's avatar

According to Freud everyone would be sleeping with their close relatives given half a chance. Society had to keep these deep-seated desires in check

Darth_Algar's avatar

Freud also swore by the miraculous properties of cocaine for both mental and physical health, so I’m not sure how valid his opinions really are.

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