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This article sparked a debate in me that I have had ever since the first philosophy class where this problem was brought up. Here’s the philosophical argument, which is much purer and contains a lot less mitigating circumstances than the people involved in the article above.

“There are a brother and sister, they are 18 (or consenting adults, whatever that may mean to you). They are walking down a beach and talking and decide to have sex. They find a cabin and they use protection and there is no chance she can get pregnant. After they have had sex they decide they don’t need to do it again, but there is no change in their relationship and there are no long term effects (physical, mental or emotional) from the two having slept together once.”

Is what they did wrong?

I answered no. Everyone else answered yes. When asked why no one gave a concrete reason other than “it’s wrong” or “it feels viscerally like that shouldn’t happen”. People tried to argue the genetic effects of having a child from siblings, but in this thought experiment this is not the case. So why is this “wrong”?

In full disclosure, I have a problem with the words “right” and “wrong” and “morality”. They are usually extremely loaded and hold such different meanings for different people. Aside for legal requirements, I follow a personal “gut” right and wrong code. That is, does it feel right to me? Why does it feel wrong/right? Usually this is because I wouldn’t want someone to treat me or my loved ones that way: murder, lying, stealing, all of which generally have certain situational caveats. I view things as a being much murkier than they are often made out to be. What is important for me is some sort of rationality. I don’t like the idea of lying to someone else because I wouldn’t want them to lie to me. In my case I also get a gut feeling (some call a conscience) that makes me feel guilty about lying.

But what’s the rationality about incest of this sort being wrong? This is something that is illegal in a significant proportion of the world. There must be a reason (religion aside) why people think it’s so bad. Genetically there are concerns, yes. But if the concern is about the chance of creating a child with a genetic defect then we should also stop people with traits for certain genetic diseases from being allowed to date. Cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, and sickle-cell disease are all examples of diseases that are recessive but pretty deadly and specific to certain communities. The genes for cystic fibrosis are apparently common in one in twenty-five caucasians of northern European descent, so should we not let people like this have children?

And what if the siblings decided to not have children? They both got sterilized so as to stop any risk of having children. They would still be judged. Not only that, but as the article I posted suggested, they could be prosecuted. But why? What are they doing wrong? Breaking societal norms?

Let me make it very clear I am talking about consensual sex between adult siblings here, as opposed to the completely separate discussion regarding parent-child relationships, since it has too many other concerns associated with it.

I am also not advocating incest in this form (although I am not saying it’s wrong). I am just asking why, religious beliefs aside, people believe so strongly that it is so wrong?