Genetic sexual attraction

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Genetic sexual attraction (GSA) is a concept in which an overwhelming sexual attraction may develop between close blood relatives who first meet as adults.[1] 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.[2][3] There is no direct evidence for "genetic attraction" being an actual phenomenon and theories surrounding it has been criticised as pseudoscience.


People tend to select mates who are like themselves.[4] This holds for both physical appearance and mental traits. People commonly rank faces similar to their own as more attractive, trustworthy, etc. than average.[5] However, Bereczkei (2004) attributes this in part to childhood imprinting on the opposite-sex parent. The study also reported a correlation of 0.233 for extraversion and 0.235 for inconsistency (using Eysenck's Personality Inventory). A review of many previous studies found these numbers to be quite common.[4]

Because many traits are at least partially determined by genetics, genetic sexual attraction is presumed to occur as a consequence of genetic relatives meeting as adults, typically as a consequence of adoption. However, Although this is a rare consequence of adoptive reunions, the large number of adoptive reunions in recent years means that a larger number of people are affected.[6] If a sexual relationship is entered, it is known as incest.

Incest is 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.[7][8]


Evidence for GSA is scant. Although reported frequently as anecdote in the field of psychology,[9][10][11] 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.[12][13] However, in mice, this lack of attraction can be reversed by adoption.[14] Whilst it is well documented that powerful sexual attraction can occur between related individuals in some cases,[11] it is not clear that calling this attraction GSA is appropriate.[3]

Critics of the theory have called it pseudoscience.[3]


Kathryn Harrison memoir[edit]

Kathryn Harrison published a memoir in the 1990s regarding her four-year incestuous relationship with her biological father, whom she had not seen for almost 20 years prior to beginning the relationship, titled The Kiss.[15]

Garry Ryan and Penny Lawrence[edit]

At age 18, Garry Ryan left his pregnant girlfriend and moved to the United States. The daughter, Penny Lawrence, grew up and later set out to find her missing father. When they met, they "both felt an immediate sexual attraction". They then lived together as a couple and as of April 2012 were expecting their first child together.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Kirsta, Alix (17 May 2003). "Genetic sexual attraction". The Guardian.
  3. ^ a b c "Debunking genetic sexual attraction: Incest by any other name is still incest". Salon. 2016-08-16. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  4. ^ a b Watson, David; Klohnen, Eva C.; Casillas, Alex; Nus Simms, Ericka; Haig, Jeffrey; Berry, Diane S. (1 October 2004). "Match Makers and Deal Breakers: Analyses of Assortative Mating in Newlywed Couples". Journal of Personality. 72 (5): 1029–1068. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3506.2004.00289.x. PMID 15335336.
  5. ^ Penton-Voak, I.S.; et al. (Spring 1999). "Computer graphic studies of the role of facial similarity in judgements of attractiveness" (PDF). Current Psychology: Developmental, Learning, Personality, Social. 18 (1): 104–117. doi:10.1007/s12144-999-1020-4.
  6. ^ Bob McKeown; Aziza Sindhu (May 7, 2009). "Part 2: Genetic Sexual Attraction – Part One". The Current. CBC Radio.
  7. ^ Lieberman, Debra; Tooby, John; Cosmides, Leda. "The architecture of human kin detection". Nature. 445 (7129): 727–731. doi:10.1038/nature05510. PMC 3581061. PMID 17301784.
  8. ^ Fessler, Daniel M.T.; Navarrete, C.David. "Third-party attitudes toward sibling incest". Evolution and Human Behavior. 25 (5): 277–294. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2004.05.004.
  9. ^ Paul, Robert A. (2010-12-01). "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.
  10. ^ M., Childs, Robert (1998). Genetic sexual attraction : healing and danger in the reunions of adoptees and their birth families. OCLC 124077946.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Sample, Ian (2009-05-24). "Gene research finds opposites do attract". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  13. ^ "Human pheromones and sexual attraction". European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. 118 (2): 135–142. 2005-02-01. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2004.08.010. ISSN 0301-2115.
  14. ^ Penn, Dustin; Potts, Wayne (1998-07-22). "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. PMID 9718737.
  15. ^ Harrison, Kathryn (1997). The Kiss. Avon Books, Inc. ISBN 0-380-73147-9.
  16. ^ "Woman carries father's baby and claims: We're in love". The Journal. Dublin, Ireland. 23 March 2011.


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