Incest is defined as “sexual intercourse between persons so closely related that they are forbidden to marry; also: the statutory crime of such a relationship1.” In more simple terms, incest is sexual intercourse between people who are very closely related. Incest can occur between people in a consanguineous relationship or between people who are related by affinity. Consanguineous relatives are people who are related by blood. People related by affinity are step-relatives, those related through adoptive measures or marital status, members of the same household, or in other cultures, members of the same clans and lineages.
Incest is widely held to be a universal taboo, with almost all cultures frowning upon incestuous relationships. In the United States, as with a lot of sexual assaults, incest is extremely underreported2. Nationally-reported statistics regarding incest may be inaccurate because incest is often concealed by victims and not discussed at large in society. Survivors may be hesitant to come forward because of guilt, shame, fear, social and familial pressure, and/or coercion from the perpetrator. Research shows that 46% of children who had been raped had been assaulted by a family member or close relative2. Younger victims of incest are most often assaulted by people in a trusted position, and therefore are led to believe the lies, explanations, and threats of this person. Perpetrators may lead the child to believe it is a learning experience that all children must go through; some victims may not even know that what is being done to them is wrong.
In the United States, incest is a sex crime that is usually punishable by law. All incestuous relationships involving minors are illegal; these survivors of incest are protected by child abuse laws2. In all states, incestuous marriages are illegal3. In most states, committing incest is a class C felony3. However, certain states do not have laws explicitly prohibiting incestuous relationships, as long as the people in the relationship do not attempt to marry. The exact laws regarding incestuous relationships vary drastically by state. The following are just a few examples of the more lenient incest laws:
Arkansas: (a) A person commits incest if the person, being sixteen (16) years of age or older, purports to marry, has sexual intercourse with, or engages in deviant sexual activity with another person sixteen (16) years of age or older whom the actor knows to be:
(1) An ancestor or a descendant;
(2) A stepchild or adopted child;
(3) A brother or sister of the whole or half blood;
(4) An uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece; or
(5) A step grandchild or adopted grandchild3.
According to this Arkansas legislature, incestuous marriages and sexual relationships are illegal with a relative over age 16. Therefore, two related individuals under the age of sixteen who choose to have sexual relations are not technically committing incest. However, they may be committing other crimes depending on state-by-state age of consent laws.
New Jersey: a. A man shall not marry or enter into a civil union with any of his ancestors or descendants, or his sister or brother, or the daughter or son of his brother or sister, or the sister or brother of his father or mother, whether such collateral kindred be of the whole or half blood.
b. A woman shall not marry or enter into a civil union with any of her ancestors or descendants, or her sister or brother, or the daughter or son of her brother or sister, or the sister or brother of her father or mother, whether such collateral kindred be of the whole or half blood.
c. A marriage or civil union in violation of any of the foregoing provisions shall be absolutely void3.
In New Jersey, only incestuous marriages are illegal. Incestuous relationships are not illegal. This means that while a brother and sister may not marry and receive the legal benefits of a married status, they may privately engage in an incestuous relationship and will not be prosecuted for this. However, just because the relationship itself is not technically illegal, the potential offspring of such a relationship are very likely to be born with birth defects.
Ohio: (A) No person shall engage in sexual conduct with another, not the spouse of the offender, when any of the following apply:
The offender is the other person's natural or adoptive parent, or a stepparent, or guardian, custodian, or person in loco parentis of the other person3.
Ohio only punishes offenders of incest if they are the parents of the victim(s).
Rhode Island: (A) No man shall marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, son's daughter, daughter's daughter, stepmother, grandfather's wife, son's wife, son's son's wife, daughter's son's wife, wife's mother, wife's grandmother, wife's daughter, wife's son's daughter, wife's daughter's daughter, sister, brother's daughter, sister's daughter, father's sister, or mother's sister.
(B) No woman shall marry her father, grandfather, son, son's son, daughter's son, stepfather, grandmother's husband, daughter's husband, son's daughter's husband, daughter's daughter's husband, husband's father, husband's grandfather, husband's son, husband's son's son, husband's daughter's son, brother, brother's son, sister's son, father's brother, or mother's brother3.
Rhode Island only targets incestuous marriages. Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Ohio have the most lenient incest laws, mostly prohibiting only incestuous marriages. It is important to recognize that these states do not condone incestuous relationships with relatives under 18; the already-in-place laws against sexual relationships with minors protects against those relationships.
While the states listed above may seem to “approve” of some types of incestuous relationships by not having specific laws preventing certain types of sexual relationships, this is not the case. Even though these states may seem relaxed about incestuous relationships, incest can still be extremely harmful and is discouraged across the United States.
Biological Costs of Incest
Most people have a very strong “yuck” factor towards sexual thoughts of their first-degree relatives. While many people might believe this is a learned social convention, it is more likely a biological mechanism our bodies use to avoid the dangers that come with bearing children of incestuous relationships4. In fact, humans are not the only species that has evolved to avoid incestuous relationships or inbreeding. Plants and animals have adapted special mechanisms to avoid mating with first-degree relatives4. The reason this incest avoidance occurs is quite straightforward: offspring of first degree relatives have a very high chance of being born with a birth defect.
Research shows that children of brother-sister or father-daughter relationships have nearly a fifty percent chance of facing severe birth defects, mental deficiency, or early death. The offspring are likely to be born with autosomal recessive disorders, congenital physical defects, or severe mental deficits. Moreover, these birth defects will remain with the child for the rest of his or her life4.
Psychological Costs of Parent-Child Incest
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse from a parent or relative may encounter many short- and long-term effects of the abuse. Survivors may feel guilt and shame about the abuse. They may feel disgusted, or blame themselves for not being able to stop the abuse. It is imperative to understand that it is not the survivor’s fault that the abuse happened. The only person who should be held accountable is the relative who inflicted the abuse.
An adult survivor of childhood incest may experience difficulty in intimacy and relationships2. It is likely that the survivor’s first sexual experience was an instance of sexual abuse. After entering adulthood, the survivor might have problems trusting partners, desiring intimacy, or feeling comfortable in sexual relationships2. Low self-esteem may occur as a result of the abuse, which can affect the relationships, career, and health of the survivor. This low self-esteem could be a result of having personal safety violated by a person in a position of trust or power. Abusers may also send negative messages to their victims in order to maintain their secrecy, which could contribute to psychological issues.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, including incest, it is important to remember that the abuse was not your fault. The only person that is responsible for sexual assault is the perpetrator of the crime. As a survivor of sexual assault, you may feel uncomfortable in intimate and romantic relationships. Remember that even though you experienced a sexual violation, you are still allowed to be a sexual being. If you feel uncomfortable in sexual relationships but desire intimacy, consider seeing a counselor or psychologist. If you are a survivor of incest, remember that you could not do anything to stop the assault and it is no way your fault. It may be possible that your self-esteem has been affected. You may feel ashamed or guilty; but there is nothing to be ashamed of! Remember, you are completely normal and the abuse was not your fault. If the assault continues to affect your daily life and self-esteem, help is out there! Help for survivors of incest is available. Support groups, hotlines, and counseling may offer help from psychological trauma of abuse. If you or someone you know needs help with sexual abuse/assault, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
1. "Incest." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
2. "Factsheets: Incest." Sexual Violence Free New York. New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
3. "Statutory Compilation Regarding Incest Statutes." National Center For Prosecution Of Child Abuse National District Attorneys Associat (2013): n. pag. National District Attorny Association, 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
4. "The Problem With Incest." PsychToday. Psychology Today, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
Last Updated: March 10, 2016
An androgen that plays an important role in the development of the male external genitalia.
A sex-education program that teaches abstinence and does not mention safer-sex practices, homosexuality, etc.
Rape by a person known to the victim. Also known as date rape.
A disease of the immune system characterized by increased susceptibility to opportunistic infections; caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
A fetishistic attraction to amputees or amputation stumps.
A drug used in the treatment of genital herpes.
The period of psychosexual and social maturation following the onset of puberty during which a young person develops from a child into an adult.
An adult that experiences sexual satisfaction from acting like a baby or toddler.
Another term to describe a store that sells pornography.
Another term for placenta, which is delivered in the final stage of childbirth.
Sexual behavior performed after sexual intercourse or orgasm, or at the end of a sexual encounter.
Absence of menstruation. See primary amenorrhea and secondary amenorrhea.
The sampling of amniotic fluid for purposes of prenatal diagnosis.
The posterior (back) portion of the urethral fold, which gives rise to the anus.
Penetration of the anus by the penis, or any sexual behavior involving the anus.
Any of a class of steroids—the most important being testosterone—that promote male sexual development and that have a variety of other functions in both sexes.
In men, the gradual decline of fertility with age; a hypothetical male equivalent of menopause.
Sexually attracted to men.
Sexual contact between the mouth or tongue of one person and the anus of another.
Slang term: “rimjob”
Difficulty experiencing or inability to experience orgasm. In women, also called female orgasmic disorder.
The opening from which feces are released.
A substance believed to improve sexual performance, enhance sexual pleasure, or stimulate desire or love.
A fetishistic interest in having an amputation.
The circular patch of darker skin that surrounds the nipple.
An assisted reproduction technique that involves the placement of semen in the vagina or uterus with the aid of a syringe or small tube.
Artificial insemination using sperm from a man who is not the woman’s partner.
Describes a person who never experiences sexual attraction.
In vitro fertilization and related technologies.
Someone that has contracted an infectious disease but is not experiencing symptoms.
The idea that relationship styles are influenced by the quality of the early parent–child bond.
Providing sexual stimulation to oneself, or being aroused sexually by oneself.
Self-strangulation for purposes of sexual arousal.
A form of male-to- female transexuality characterized by a man’s sexual arousal at the thought of being or becoming a woman.
A form of behavior therapy that attempts to eliminate unwanted desires or behaviors by associating them with some unpleasant experience, such as a noxious smell.
A condition in which the normal microorganisms of the vagina are replaced by other species, causing discomfort and a foul-smelling discharge.
Inflammation of the glans of the penis.
Any contraceptive technique in which a physical barrier, such as a condom or diaphragm, prevents sperm from reaching the ovum.
A facility, usually in the form of a private club, used for casual sex between men.
A version of post-traumatic stress disorder affecting women who are victims of intimate partner violence.
An all-inclusive term for forms of sexual expression that involve inflicting and receiving physical pain, restraint, or humiliation. Often understood as a compressed acronym for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism.
In gay slang, a burly gay man with plenty of body hair; more generally, a member of a gay male subculture that rejects many of the prevailing standards of gay male attractiveness and behavior.
Treatment of paraphilias or other disorders based on conditioning or other theories of behavioral psychology. Also called behavior modification.
Therapy focused on improving styles of communication between partners in relationships.
Noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland.
Obsolete term for sexual contact between a person and an animal.
Colloquial term for bisexual.
In law, the crime of marrying someone while already married to another spouse.
Prejudice against bisexuals.
The canal formed by the uterus, cervix, and vagina, through which the fetus passes during the birth process.
A facility specializing in childbirth care.
Sexual attraction to persons of both sexes.
An American slang term describing the temporary swelling of the testicles due to fluid congestion accompanied by testicular pain; occurs when a male is sexually aroused for an extended amount of time without climax
An American slang term describing the temporary swelling of the vulva due to fluid congestion accompanied by discomfort; occurs when a female is sexually aroused for an extended amount of time without climax.
The use of physical restraint for purposes of sexual arousal. Rope, cuffs, bondage tape, and other restraints are often used for this purpose.
A method of childbirth instruction that stresses the partner’s role as birth coach and that teaches a natural childbirth method.
Irregular uterine contractions that occur during the third trimester of pregnancy. Also called false labor.
The first stage of breast development at puberty.
In Cameroon, a traumatic procedure to delay breast development in girls.
In women, the two soft, protruding organs on the upper front of the torso; contains the mammary gland, which can secrete milk after pregnancy.
Slang terms: “boobs,” “tits,” “rack”
A house of prostitution.
Two small glands near the root of the penis that may secrete “pre-cum” at the urethral opening during sexual arousal before ejaculation. Also known as Cowper’s glands.
Masculine-acting, often used to describe certain lesbians.
A fertility awareness method of contraception that takes account of variability in the length of a woman’s menstrual cycles.
An escort-service prostitute, especially one who is relatively upscale in terms of clientele and price.
A fungal infection of the vagina. Also called thrush or a yeast infection.
Removal of the gonads. (In males, may include removal of the penis.) Also known as gonadectomy.
Sexual encounters that do not take place within a lasting sexual relationship.
Living under a vow not to marry or (by implication) to engage in sexual relations.
A small rubber or plastic cap that adheres by suction to the cervix, used as a contraceptive.
The lowermost, narrow portion of the uterus that connects with the vagina.
A surgical procedure in which a baby is delivered through an incision in the mother’s abdominal wall and uterus.
A primary sore on the skin or a mucous membrane in a person infected with syphilis. (Pronounced SHANK-er.)
An adult who has had sexual contact with a prepubescent child.
A sexually transmitted disease caused by infection with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.
The sampling of tissue from the placenta for purposes of prenatal diagnosis.
An alternative, more-inclusive term for chronic prostatitis. See prostatitis.
Microscopic, hairlike extensions of cells, often capable of coordinated beating motions.
A community support program for released sex offenders.
The surgical removal of the foreskin.
Detention of a person having a mental disorder that creates a threat to himself or others.
A form of behavioral learning in which a novel stimulus is tied to a preexisting reflex.
The transition to infertility at the end of a woman’s reproductive life, lasting for several years and culminating in menopause.
The assessment or treatment of mental or behavioral problems, as practiced by a psychologist.
A loose fold of skin that covers the clitoris.
Removal of the entire external portion of the clitoris (glans, shaft, and hood).
The erectile organ in females, whose external portion is located at the junction of the labia minora, just in front of the vestibule; it is the most sensitive erogenous zone and often the primary anatomical source of sexual pleasure in women.
The common exit of the gastrointestinal and urogenital systems; in humans it is present only in embryonic life.
Related to the aspects of the mind that process knowledge or information.
The study of the information-processing systems of the mind.
Therapy based on changing a person’s beliefs and thought processes.
A live-in sexual relationship between two persons who are not married to each other.
The apparent negative outcomes of cohabitation before marriage, such as less satisfying marriages and divorce.
A variation of the man-above position for coitus that increases clitoral stimulation.
Penetration of the vagina by the penis.
The milk produced during the first few days after birth; it is relatively low in fat but rich in immunoglobulins.
The examination of the cervix with the aid of an operating microscope.
Reveal a previously concealed identity, such as being gay.
The cognitive component of love: the decision to maintain a relationship.
A form of marriage in which the husband and wife are expected to be emotionally intimate and to engage in social activities together.
Sexual behavior perceived subjectively as involuntary and diagnosed as a symptom of a compulsive disorder. Also called obsessive–compulsive sexual disorder.
The modification of behavior by learning through association and/or reinforcement.
A congenital defect of hormonal metabolism in the adrenal gland, causing the gland to secrete excessive levels of androgens.
An oral contraceptive regimen in which all pills (except any dummy pills) contain the same drug dosage.
A device inserted in the body that slowly releases a hormonal contraceptive.
In childbirth, a periodic tightening of the uterine muscles, felt as a cramp.
A group of subjects included in a study for comparison purposes.
The revival of sexual arousal caused by the presence of a novel partner.
The rim of the glans of the penis.
Either of two elongated erectile structures within the clitoris or penis that also extend backward into the pelvic floor.
A secretory structure in the ovary derived from an ovarian follicle after ovulation.
A single midline erectile structure. In both sexes it fills the glans; in males it extends backward along the underside of the penis, surrounding the urethra.
A paraphilia or certain set of paraphilias seen as a disorder of normal courtship behavior.
Pregnancy-like symptoms in the male partner of a pregnant women. Also called sympathetic pregnancy.
A form of marriage that requires a stronger vow of commitment than a regular marriage and that makes divorce harder to obtain.
A sheetlike muscle that wraps around the spermatic cord and the testicle.
Wearing the clothing of the other sex, for any of a variety of reasons. One who cross-dresses is sometimes referred to as being “in drag.”
The appearance of the fetal scalp at the vaginal opening.
Internal extensions of the corpora cavernosa of the clitoris or penis.
A colloquial term for infatuation.
Failure of one or both testicles to descend into the scrotum by 3 months of postnatal age.
The study of cultural variations across the human race.
The study of the interactions between culture and mental processes or behaviors.
Sexual contact between the tongue or mouth of one person and the vulva of another.
Slang terms: “eating-out,” “third base,” “oral,” “head”
Stalking via the Internet.
The cycle in which some abused children grow up to repeat similar forms of abuse on others. Also called victim–perpetrator cycle.
Rape between dating or socially acquainted couples; it is particularly common of college campuses. Also called acquaintance rape.
A nonmarital sexual relationship between two persons who do not live together but who see each other on a more-or-less regular basis.
Removal of laws that criminalize activities such as prostitution.
Kissing, with entry of the tongue into the partner’s mouth.
Slang term: “French kissing,” “making out”
Difficulty achieving or inability to achieve orgasm and/or ejaculation. Also called male orgasmic disorder.
Labor that occurs more than 3 weeks after a woman’s due date.
Puberty that begins later than normal.
Persistent false belief that one’s partner is involved with another person.
Stalking motivated by the delusional belief that the victim is in love with, or could be persuaded to fall in love with, the stalker.
An injectable form of medroxyprogesterone acetate, used as a contraceptive in women or to decrease the sex drive in male sex offenders.
A form of Depo-Provera designed for subcutaneous (under the skin) injection.
Synthetic steroids designed to be undetectable in drug testing.
An Indian temple prostitute.
An Indian temple prostitute.
A barrier placed over the cervix as a contraceptive.
In childbirth, the expansion of the cervical canal.
Also called dilatation.
A procedure involving the opening of the cervix and the scraping out of the contents of the uterus with a curette (spoonlike instrument). D&E may be done as an abortion procedure or for other purposes.
A sex toy, often shaped like a penis, used to penetrate the vagina or anus.
Using graphic word imagery and/or explicit language to increase pleasure during sexual activity. It is a common part of foreplay, and can include vivid erotic descriptions or sexual commands.
The situation in which one partner in a relationship has much more interest in sex than the other.
Medical conditions producing abnormal sexual differentiation or intersexuality.
The distancing of oneself from the emotions evoked by some traumatic experience or memory.
The use of humiliation or subservience for purposes of sexual arousal.
A woman who acts the role of the dominating partner in a BDSM setting.
To rinse the vagina out with a fluid.
A collection of birth defects caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21.
The wearing of exaggeratedly feminine clothing by a man, often for entertainment purposes.
The pain that sometimes accompanies menstruation.
See primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea.
Pain during coitus.
A complication of pregnancy in which an embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, such as one of the fallopian tubes.
Also known as tubal pregnancy.
Thinning of the cervix in preparation for childbirth.
Release of semen from the penis, usually as a result of orgasm.
Slang terms: “cumming,” “busting,” “finishing”
Either of the two bilateral ducts formed by the junction of the vas deferens and the duct of the seminal vesicle. The ejaculatory ducts empty into the urethra within the prostate.
An abortion performed in circumstances when the woman’s health is not at risk.
A form of emergency contraception that is effective for 5 days after sex.
Use of high-dose contraceptives to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex.
The loading of the components of semen into the posterior (back) urethra immediately before ejaculation.
Fear that one’s partner is becoming emotionally committed to another person.
The ability to share or understand other people’s feelings.
Cancer of the endometrium of the uterus.
The growth of endometrial tissue at abnormal locations such as the oviducts.
The internal lining of the uterus.
The sinking of a fetus’s head into a lower position in the pelvis in preparation for birth.
Also called lightening.
A structure, attached to each testicle, where sperm mature and are stored before entering the vas deferens.
Inflammation of the epididymis.
Anesthesia administered just outside the membrane that surrounds the spinal cord.
A cut extending the opening of the vagina backward into the perineum, performed by an obstetrician to facilitate childbirth or reduce the risk of a perineal tear.
A persistent inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient to accomplish a desired sexual behavior such as coitus to orgasm.
Physiological phenomenon in which the penis becomes firmer, larger, and filled with blood, typically in response to sexual excitement.
Slang terms: “boner,” “pitching a tent,” getting hard”
Sexually themed works, such as books or sculpture, deemed to have literary or artistic merit.
The delusional belief that a sexually desired but unattainable person is actually in love with oneself.
Euphemism for a prostitute who advertises by print, word of mouth, or the Internet.
A service that provides prostitutes, generally contacted by telephone.
A method of tubal sterilization that uses metal coils to block the oviducts.
The principal estrogen, secreted by ovarian follicles.
Any of a class of steroids—the most important being estradiol—that promote the development of female secondary sexual characteristics at puberty and that have many other functions in both sexes.
The study of a cultural group, often by means of extended individual fieldwork.
A man who has been castrated.
The study of the influence of evolution on mental processes or behavior.
The beginning phase of the sexual response cycle.
A paraphilia involving exposure of the genitalia to strangers, sometimes with masturbation.
Also called “flashing.”
A form of psychotherapy for victims of rape or abuse in which they are encouraged to recall the traumatic event in a safe environment.
A regimen of contraceptive pills that allows for fewer or no menstrual periods.
The sexual structures on the outside of the body. The penis, urethra, and scrotum comprise the male external genitalia. Female external genitalia consist of the labia minora, labia majora, and clitoris.
A sexual relationship in which at least one of the partners is already married or partnered with someone else.
A person who has had sexual contact with children outside his immediate family.
An imagined experience, sexual or otherwise.
Sexual contact between the mouth of one person and the penis of another.
Slang terms: “head,” “sucked-off,” “oral”
Any of several forms of ritual cutting or removal of parts of the female genitalia.
A plastic pouch inserted into the vagina as a contraceptive and/or to prevent disease transmission.
Insufficient physiological arousal in women, resulting in unpleasurable or painful sex.
A type of cervical cap that has a raised brim.
The movement to secure equality for women; the study of social and psychological issues from women’s perspectives.
Prejudice against femininity in males.
Feminine-acting, often used to describe certain lesbians or bisexual women.
Contraceptive techniques that rely on avoiding coitus during the woman’s fertile window. Also called rhythm methods or periodic abstinence methods.
A collection of physical and behavioral symptoms in a child who was exposed to high levels of alcohol as a fetus.
Sexual arousal by inanimate objects, materials, or parts of the body.
A noncancerous tumor arising from muscle cells of the uterus.
The fringe at the end of the oviduct, composed of finger-like extensions.
State in which the penis is limp or soft.
A fluid-filled sac that contains an egg (ovum), with its supporting cells, within the ovary.
One of the two major gonadotropins secreted by the pituitary gland; it promotes maturation of ova (or sperm in males).
An alternative term for preovulatory phase.
Any kind of sexual touching of the partner’s body.