How to Do It

I Worry My Brother and Sister Think I Want to Have Sex With Them

Uh, what now?

Siblings close to each other, surrounded by neon question marks.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by ghoststone/iStock/Getty Images Plus and fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com.

Every Thursday night, the crew will answer one bonus question in chat form. This week, a family matter.

Dear How to Do It,

Recently, I was visiting my brother and sister in our home state, and we were joking about something sex-related. We were talking about taboos, and that led to talk of incest, and I said I thought it was sort of an overstated taboo—that most people seem to declare their disgust at it in a way that seems over the top. In a lot of the world, cousins get married, and the most common legal argument against incest about genetic risks isn’t even that big of a deal beyond very close familial relations, etc. Plus, incest porn is very popular, so the universal stigma it carries seems exaggerated because people feel shame. We were having wine, and it was mostly a devil’s advocate kind of debate, but I could tell they were both a little uncomfortable. (They’re both straight and married, and I’m a bisexual man and single, for context, so I’ve always been the button-pushing one.)

This brings us to my problem. Since it was on my mind and I was a little buzzed, I decided to please myself to a little faux-incest porn in the guest room later that night. To be clear, I am not interested in having sex with my brother and sister. I barely even watch that kind of porn, honestly, but I was a little horny and my mind was where it was. Well, my brother used my laptop the next day to pull up some tickets, and I had only minimized the window from my adventure the previous evening, not closed it. You can guess what happened. I watched in slow motion as he inadvertently opened the window, looked at it in shock for a moment, and then quickly closed it. It was brutal. I can’t be sure, but I think he told my sister about it, because the rest of the weekend was awkward, like there was an elephant in the room. I am afraid they think I have a real incest fetish and/or want to sleep with them! Should I raise this with my brother and explain? If so, what do I say?

—All in the Family

Stoya: I have an immediate, all-caps reaction. WHAT ABOUT THE POWER IMBALANCES? Incest situations are often predatory for reasons that have nothing to do with genetics. It’s not what he asked, but I think our writer would do well to consider that factor before he goes around making devil’s advocate arguments for incest.

Rich: How do the power imbalances factor into the notion of sibling incest?

Stoya: As an only child, I don’t have a single clue what sibling relationships are typically like, but certainly some siblings have power over each other because of age gaps and other factors. Do you have siblings?

Rich: Yes, four younger sisters. I’ve never once considered having sex with any of them, for the record!

Stoya: Did you ever have authority over your sisters?

Rich: In my mind, none that amounted to much. “I’m older!” doesn’t do much to dispel the rage of a 7-year-old. Not the best trump card. I was always bigger and stronger, so it’s conceivable that they perceived some sort of authority, but I’d say my oldest sister is the real authority.

Stoya: If your oldest sister were banging your youngest, would you feel squicky?

Rich: Without a doubt! But it’s hard for me to objectively tie it to a single mechanism. It’s just knee-jerk squicky because it doesn’t conform to my understanding of how things work. It’s like, the incest thing for me never really was interesting. You’re sort of given these signals throughout life that it’s wrong, and that’s not what we do, and I just took them as gospel and never even really went there. I thought of no incest as a law, like gravity.

Stoya: When I was developing my sexuality, I wanted to know why everything “wrong” was wrong. And incest does come up in older erotic literature (the stuff I was reading during puberty). So I have thought about this, and thought about it again when faux-incest scenes were offered to me as a performer.

Rich: And you concluded that this sort of material fetishizes a serious, potentially traumatizing power imbalance?

Stoya: I see two issues: the ethical one of power imbalance (which porn plays with extensively in all contexts—bosses, babysitters, etc.), and the social one of “Man, you are gonna freak out your family and might tear it apart.” The loss of a family relationship can be gutting.

Rich: Do you think of porn at all as a liminal space where you can play with concepts that are potentially corrosive in the practical world, or does it perpetuate our interest in those concepts?

Stoya: Let’s deal with perpetuating ideas first. Porn and porn-watching society are in a feedback loop. Incest movies from golden-era porn, like Taboo starring Kay Parker, came from somewhere. Interest in films like that—revenue from films like that—let the producers know what to shoot. Then, whatever is lying around when a person first discovers porn, or when sexuality has an effect on them. So there’s a big 50-plus-year feedback cycle. And that’s only taking video into account.

Rich: Right, and then there’s like Oedipus and Freud’s application of it. This stuff goes way back—it’s something people are repulsed by, interested in, so repulsed by as to be effectively interested in, etc.

Stoya: Exactly. And as long as we have immense cultural shame around sex, shame will be an erotic motivator for some. The link between sex and shame eroticizes shame.

Rich: Being “bad” is exciting.

Stoya: But I think that’s only because we tell people being excited is bad.

Rich: Touché!

Stoya: OK, to get back to the letter: I want to address this browser-window thing. If he wants to avoid a repeat of this in the future, he could simply close his browser window when he’s finished. He could even use incognito mode for extra privacy. Then his siblings don’t have to see any of his porn-viewing habits. This isn’t hard.

Rich: Yeah, it almost sounds like he wanted to get caught. Especially after that conversation?

Stoya: YES.

Rich: And after the siblings already expressed discomfort? I don’t know—that to me would signal the need for an extra level of discretion.

Stoya: He does describe himself as a button pusher.

Rich: His family’s own little Madonna.

Stoya: Oh, the shade.

Rich: The answer to his actual question seems pretty straightforward: Clarification is in order. He’s already discussed incest with his brother and sister; he’s already broken that ice, however clumsily. Circling back and saying something like, “I’m sorry I took that conversation too far. To be clear, I in no way want to have sex with you, and I was playing devil’s advocate” would probably serve everyone well. They seem affected enough for this not to just fade away. It could be disturbing to the point of them returning to it repeatedly unless he clarifies.

Stoya: I think he should also apologize to his brother for the browser-window incident. A nice, clean apology with no advocating of devils or defense of himself.

Rich: It certainly wouldn’t hurt and could go a long way to promote healing.

A lot has been written about incest porn’s growing popularity; much of it comes down to the same chicken-egg argument we’ve had here. Is there an influx of incest porn because people want it, or does the influx of incest porn make people want more, either because that’s what’s available or in the (theoretical) way that porn consumption seems to make some crave increasingly extreme porn? I don’t want to entirely shame this guy for his taste, or his taste that night, anyway, because it seems really easy to get swept up with the tide here. It’s conceivably a critique-the-game-not-the-player type of scenario.

Stoya: For sure.

Rich: I think in some of these cases, people don’t interrogate the power issues, especially when they are men and used to the privilege that comes with that. So I’m sure it feels innocent when they aren’t aware of what you pointed out at the beginning of this chat.

Stoya: Well said. I think our letter writer would do well to discard his arguments and stick to a simple “I’m sorry my words and actions caused you discomfort.”

Rich: Yeah, and to learn how to read the room!

More How to Do It

My husband and I haven’t had intercourse in more than two years. We are not yet 30. When I first noticed our “slump,” he told me he was too busy and tired from work to have sex. After the first sexless year rolled by, he said he needed to lose weight to feel confident enough for sex. We moved to a new city last year, and he has indeed lost weight and gotten a job that requires much less take-home work. Now at least he’ll use a vibrator on me every few months, but it’s not enough. When we discuss our sex life, he’s adamant that he wants to have sex with me and promises to make it happen—this weekend, or after a particular work project is done—but those deadlines pass by without comment. Other than sex, my husband and I are on the same page about every aspect of our lives, and we truly enjoy each other’s company. Leaving him would break my heart, but I can’t stand to be celibate before I even turn 30. I hate ultimatums, but is it time for that?