Incest Taboo | All You Need To Know

What is ‘Incest’?

The term ‘incest’ means sexual relations between people that are closely related and relatives of each other. In other words, it means ‘sexual intercourse between two people of the same kinship’.

For example, the father having sexual relations with daughter; sexual relations between son and mother, or between brother and sister in a family, etc.

Understanding ‘Incest Taboo’

Taboo means ‘prohibition of a particular activity or discussion in society on social, religious, cultural, or moral grounds’. Thus, ‘incest taboo’ means cultural or social rules and norms prohibiting sexual relations between closely related members of a family.

Barring few exceptions, incest is a universal taboo prohibited both by religions and laws in the world.

There is a hierarchy in the incest taboo; the most unacceptable being mother-son, then father-daughter, then brother-sister incest; then follow cousins, uncles, etc. Though, marriage and sexual intercourse between cousins are allowed in Islam. However, clinical evidence somehow discourages it. We will discuss it later.

The incest taboo has shaped human society since mankind’s recorded history. Some sociologists like S.K. Weinberg has called it ‘the most extreme form of deviant behavior – the universal crime’.

Theory Associated with Incest

  • Psychoanalytic Theories by Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud has presented Psychoanalytic theories ‘Oedipus Complex and Electra Complex’ that suggest the subconscious desires and psychological needs of incest (sexual relations) between the closely associated members of a family.

Oedipus complex is a term describing the sexual desire and involvement of a male child (son) with the parent of the opposite sex (mother) and a sense of rivalry with the parent of same-sex (father).

Electra complex is the opposite of the Oedipus complex. It involves a girl’s unconscious sexual desire and attraction to her father and her hostility to her mother.

Quite similar psychological elements can be traced in the novel ‘The Mill on the Floss’ where we can find the girl’s attraction to her father and the boy’s to her mother.

Incest taboo: Prohibiting Incest in Society

It was to prohibit this subconscious psychological sexual attraction that society has imposed incest taboo.

The incest taboo is the prohibition of incest or sexual involvement of closely associated opposite sex in a family on social, cultural, ethical, moral, medical, and religious grounds.

Theories Associated with Incest Taboo

  • Family-disruption Theory

‘Bronislaw Malinowski’ has suggested in his theory ‘Family-disruption Theory’ that ‘Sexual competition among family members would create so much tension and rivalry that the family would not function as an effective one unit. Hence, the incest taboo is thus imposed to keep the families intact.

  • Cooperation Theory

Edward B. Tylor has propounded the ‘Cooperation theory’. The theory suggests that incest taboo is healthy to eliminate suspicions and hostility from among the family members. With incest common in families, it would have caused suspicions, animosities, and disruption in families.

Explaining why Incest is Considered a Taboo

Incest is discouraged and considered a taboo on the following medical, religious, and social grounds.

  • Medical Reasons

On medical grounds, incest is discouraged due to the deleterious impacts of inbreeding. Clinical evidence suggests that inbreeding (incest) results in homozygosity. This condition increases the chances of deleterious or recessive traits in offspring. The offspring often suffer from multiple birth defects. Moreover, it usually leads to a lack of biological fitness in inbred.

Medical evidence encourages sexual relations between opposite sex belonging to two different families. In short, on medical grounds, the incest taboo in society is fully justified.

Based on these medical facts and reasons, a theory named ‘Inbreeding Avoidance Theory’ posits that inbreeding results in offspring that suffer from multiple genetic diseases, illness, and weakness. Thus, the theory discourages incest.

  • Religious Reasons

All the major religions in the world prohibit incest; i.e. Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Therefore, almost all religious communities consider incest a taboo. Furthermore, many religions have ascribed severe punishments against incest.

We can gauge the severity of prohibition by the fact that people even consider it unethical to discuss incest with each other.

  • Society and Cultural Norms

Taboo imposed by religion and science has become a norm and law in societies. Thus, societies as a whole discourage incest and see it as deviance and major crime.

Countries where Incest is Legal

Historically, Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile in ancient Egypt, married her brother. She herself was the product of a series of incestuous royal marriages. In the past, incest seemed to have occurred within rich and powerful families.

A few primitive cultures existing today still allow and regulate incest. In Kentucky, incest is common even in this decade.

According to worldpopulationreview, there are a few countries that allow incest. For example, in Greece, incest is illegal for adults but no law prohibits minors from incest. In Slovenia, Serbia, and Lithuania, incest is legal for persons over 18 years of age. Similarly, in Israel, it is legal for people over 21 years old. Moreover, incest is legal in Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Latvia, South Korea, and Thailand.

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