Genetic sexual attraction

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Genetic sexual attraction is a concept in which a strong sexual attraction may develop between close blood relatives who first meet as adults. There is no evidence for genetic sexual attraction being an actual phenomenon,[1] and the hypothesis is regarded as pseudoscience.[2]


The term was coined in the US in the late 1980s by Barbara Gonyo, the founder of Truth Seekers in Adoption, a Chicago-based support group for adoptees and their new-found relatives.[3] She developed sexual feelings for her son when she met him after he was adopted away, but he did not want to be part of any such contact.[4]

Because many traits are at least partially determined by genetics, genetic sexual attraction is presumed (according to those who believe in the concept) to occur as a result of genetic relatives meeting as adults, typically as a consequence of adoption. However, this is a very rare outcome of adoptive reunions.[5][6]

Another suggested explanation for the phenomenon is possible narcissistic feelings.[7][8]

Incest is extremely rare between people raised together in early childhood due to a reverse sexual imprinting known as the Westermarck effect, which desensitizes them to later close sexual attraction. It is hypothesized that this effect evolved to prevent inbreeding.[9][10]

Direct studies[edit]

Although reported frequently as anecdote in the field of psychology,[11][12][13] there are no studies showing that people are sexually attracted to those genetically similar to them. Studies of MHC genes show that unrelated people are less attracted to those genetically similar to them.[14][15] However, in mice, this lack of attraction can be reversed by adoption.[16] While it has been documented that sexual attraction can occur between related individuals in some cases,[13] it is not clear that calling this attraction GSA is appropriate.[4]


Critics of the hypothesis have called it pseudoscience.[4] Amanda Marcotte of Salon has stated that the term is nothing but an attempt at sounding scientific while trying to minimize the taboo of incest. She also expressed that many news outlets have handled reports of the subject poorly by repeating what the defenders of the hypothesis have said as opposed to actually looking into the research on the supposed phenomenon. She states that most of the publications which have chosen to run stories of couples speaking about "genetic sexual attraction" are not legitimate news sources and that one of the blogs which were written by a woman in an incestuous relationship simply reads like a story of a young girl who has been groomed by her father.[4] The use of "GSA" as an initialism has also been criticized, since it gives the notion that the phenomenon is an actual diagnosable "condition".[17] Eric Anderson, sociologist and sexologist, states that the one single academic research paper on the subject uses "Freudian psycho-babble".[18]

Catherine MacAskill, an adoption and child sexual abuse expert, stated that "although [...] concerns are understandable [for adoptees and biological parents]" before attempting a reunion, one who researches the subject will realize that so called "genetic sexual attraction" cases seem to be associated with sudden unplanned meetings which lack the proper safeguards of a thoroughly prepared reunion.[19]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Smith, Merril D. (2018). Encyclopedia of Rape and Sexual Violence. ABC-CLIO. p. 200. ISBN 9781440844904.
  2. ^ Bull, Sofia (2019). Television and the Genetic Imaginary. Palgrave Studies in Science and Popular Culture. Springer. p. 221. ISBN 9781137548474.
  3. ^ Kirsta, Alix (17 May 2003). "Genetic sexual attraction". The Guardian. London.
  4. ^ a b c d "Debunking genetic sexual attraction: Incest by any other name is still incest". Salon. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  5. ^ McKeown, Bob; Sindhu, Aziza (7 May 2009). "Part 2: Genetic Sexual Attraction – Part One". The Current. CBC Radio.
  6. ^ Trinder, Elizabeth; Feast, Julia; Howe, David (2004). The Adoption Reunion Handbook. John Wiley & Sons. p. 117. ISBN 9780470094235.
  7. ^ Rosenberg, Elinor B. (2010). Adoption Life Cycle: The Children and Their Families Through the Years. Simon and Schuster. p. 42. ISBN 9781451602487.
  8. ^ Gediman, Judith S. (1989). Birthbond: Reunions Between Birthparents and Adoptees--What Happens After. Pennsylvania State University: New Horizon Press. pp. 62, 96. ISBN 9780882820521.
  9. ^ Lieberman, Debra; Tooby, John; Cosmides, Leda (2007). "The architecture of human kin detection". Nature. 445 (7129): 727–731. Bibcode:2007Natur.445..727L. doi:10.1038/nature05510. PMC 3581061. PMID 17301784.
  10. ^ Fessler, Daniel M.T.; Navarrete, C. David (2004). "Third-party attitudes toward sibling incest". Evolution and Human Behavior. 25 (5): 277–294. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2004.05.004.
  11. ^ Paul, Robert A. (1 December 2010). "Incest Avoidance: Oedipal and Preoedipal, Natural and Cultural". Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 58 (6): 1087–1112. doi:10.1177/0003065110395759. ISSN 0003-0651. PMID 21364180. S2CID 207608127.
  12. ^ M., Childs, Robert (1998). Genetic sexual attraction: Healing and danger in the reunions of adoptees and their birth families. OCLC 124077946.
  13. ^ a b Greenberg, Maurice; Littlewood, Roland (March 1995). "Post-adoption incest and phenotypic matching: Experience, personal meanings and biosocial implications". British Journal of Medical Psychology. 68 (1): 29–44. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8341.1995.tb01811.x. ISSN 0007-1129. PMID 7779767.
  14. ^ Sample, Ian (24 May 2009). "Gene research finds opposites do attract". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  15. ^ Grammer, Karl; Fink, Bernhard; Neave, Nick (1 February 2005). "Human pheromones and sexual attraction". European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. 118 (2): 135–142. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2004.08.010. ISSN 0301-2115. PMID 15653193.
  16. ^ Penn, Dustin; Potts, Wayne (22 July 1998). "MHC–disassortative mating preferences reversed by cross–fostering". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences. 265 (1403): 1299–1306. doi:10.1098/rspb.1998.0433. ISSN 0962-8452. PMC 1689202. PMID 9718737.
  17. ^ Edwards, Jeanette (December 2004). "Incorporating Incest: Gamete, Body and Relation in Assisted Conception". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 10 (4): 773. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9655.2004.00210.x. JSTOR 3803853.
  18. ^ Eric Anderson (7 February 2012). The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating. Oxford University Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-19-977792-1.
  19. ^ Macaskill, Catherine (2002). Safe Contact?: Children in Permanent Placement and Contact with Their Birth Relatives. Pennsylvania State University: Russell House. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-903855-09-6.


Further reading[edit]

  • Hughes, Elizabeth (2017). Adopted Women and Biological Fathers: Reimagining stories of origin and trauma. Women and Psychology. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781315536361.
  • Vaknin, Sam (2014). A to Z of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder Encyclopedia: The Narcissism Bible. Narcissus Publishing.