Every Thursday, Rich and Stoya answer a special question they could only tackle together, just for Slate Plus members. Join today to never miss a column.
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I’m a 29-year-old cis woman who enjoys an adventurous sex life. My mother says I’m just like my father, a charming but irresponsible man who had kids all over the country. Vowing not to be a bad parent like him, I’ve already gotten my tubes tied. I am determined to spend life as an ethical slut and find fulfillment outside of marriage and family life. So, what is the problem we ask? One of my hobbies is tracking down my half-siblings and I recently found one I’ll call Rick.
He is about five years younger than me and very attractive. Even better, when we met, I was definitely getting sparks from him. I think I could seduce him in a snap, but should I? Although we are technically half-siblings, there was no actual relationship before, obviously. There’s no risk of pregnancy. There is no risk of harming our father emotionally because he died years ago. It seems like there’s no downside to this other than the usual risks of casual sex. Am I just rationalizing this because I’m horny?
Rich: I like this dilemma, this ethical quagmire.
Stoya: It is a quagmire. My big issue with incest is the power differential, and it’s still here a little bit. He’s 24. She’s 29. I think the early 20s are sort of in this fuzzy space, where you have to be a little more delicate.
Rich: Right, but it’s not like he’s 18 or younger. 24 is well on his way to fully formed adulthood. Treading lightly is right, but yeah. It’s so kind of well constructed that everything about me immediately says, “No,” and then the more I think about it says, “Yes,” kind of thing that it feels… This is one that I would, it just raises the question, is this real? It’s just too perfect…
Stoya: I’m pretty sure that this question was written as a challenge, and not a request for help with an actual situation.
Rich: Right. Got you.
Stoya: Nonetheless, I reached out to sex and consent educator Sonja Vitow, who said that an “important factor in this situation is that genetic sexual attraction, a phenomenon first coined in the 1980s by adoption advocate Barbara Gonyo, author of I’m His Mother But He’s Not My Son, isn’t all that uncommon. While it hasn’t been extensively studied, there are myriad reports of intense physical attraction between blood relatives introduced as adults, some of who have even gotten married. As with many taboo sexual desires, this writer is far from alone in her fantasy.”
Rich: So that said, it’s theorized that incest repulsion tends to derive from the context in which someone is raised. The close family members that one is brought up alongside are, generally speaking, repellent or repulsive, in terms of being potential sexual partners. The fact that this person is a virtual stranger, but for the shared genetics, would speak to, I think, a lack of that kind of familiarity. I could understand how someone would find themselves attracted to this kind of relative and that isn’t necessarily an aberration. This is not your typical incest situation.
I think probably, it’s enough of a transgression that it’s exciting while not triggering that disgust response that a brother you were brought up alongside might. As such, it does seem relatively harmless, based on what the writer presents. I think the biggest issue here is other people’s potential reactions. Not everybody is going to approach the situation as open-mindedly as we would, and if your friend, another family member, or your mother finds out, it could cause a big rift within your family. Then you created all that just for the sake of catching some dick, some anonymous dick that you really could have gotten elsewhere.
Stoya: Yeah, there are so many attractive people in the world and our writer has this halfway there option. They can fantasize about this to their heart’s content, without risking the social upheaval that comes along with it.
Rich: It’s just a little too chaotic for me to be like, “Oh yeah, definitely fuck your brother.” If you’re in the market for a straight horny, 24-year-old, walk into a bar. You know what I mean? They’re everywhere. They’re like cockroaches. They’re multiplying. Throw some water on one and you’ve got six more. They’re like Gremlins.
Stoya: It’s really true, and you’re just like, “Hey, would you like to have sex?” And they’re like, “Aw, you’re pretty. Yeah.” More often, they say to you, “Would you like to have sex?” And then you just make your decision. You’re like, how much drama do I feel like dealing with today?
Rich: Exactly. I’m always going to try to direct people away from drama and chaos. I feel like that’s part of my job. I understand the allure of drama, but also, you got to keep in mind that like, once that sex is over, then you have to deal with it. Then you have to live with what you just did.
Stoya: On the one hand, it can be useful to imagine how we’ll feel disclosing taboo sexual activity to future partners, friends, or other people whose esteem we regard.
Stoya: Which goes back to what you said about not everyone being as open-minded about this. Many people in society would hear the word brother and be like, I’m done. Vitow had some thoughts on making decisions based on the judgment of others:
“She and her brother did not even know about one another until recently. For me, it then comes down to: Does she truly believe there’s no chance of a sibling relationship with this man? Do they have familial relationships with the other siblings they’ve found? If the answer to these questions is truly no, and this man is equally as interested in a sexual relationship as she is, then this is simply sex between two consenting adults and the ick-factor that others feel isn’t relevant.”
Rich: At a minimum, what you’re doing is you’re creating a situation in which you have to write it into us again and be like, “I met this guy that I like so much, and now he wants to know everything about my sex life, about my sexual history, and I don’t have any problem sharing, but how do I talk about that time I had sex with my half-brother?” If you want to create another issue to run by us, go for it, but I think the idea is for us to get you off of that path.
Stoya: I’m sorry. I’m having a whole fantasy adventure where the person who crafted this letter writes back in and, over the course of a few years, this whole story develops. It’s a serialized soap opera of sex.
Rich: Firstly, that is an amazing idea for a short story or even a novel. I know people get off on creating their own problems, only so they could fix them or half fix them and then have them perpetuate and manifest in different ways. Just, personally speaking, I try to steer as clear away from that as possible. Not always possible. I do create my own problems sometimes, but I want to not do that, and I want that for other people.
Stoya: I’m chaos neutral.
Rich: Good, good. Yes.
Stoya: I—airport worker handjob giving, “Are you sure I can’t join the Mile High Club today?” asking, former adult performer me—am saying, this looks like an excessive amount of drama.
Stoya: And I’m not afraid of drama.
Rich: Right. This is too much even for you.
Stoya: I would not do this.
Write a novel about a woman who has sex with her 24-year-old stepbrother and becomes reliant on an advice column. Please send it to me. I will read it. I will maybe blurb it. You can make it sexy. You can make it literary, whatever you want to do. I think that’s a much better outlet for this energy.
Rich: Much better use of time.
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