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Why is Incest a Global Taboo?

A few years ago I came across a piece of news which disclosed the unconventional relationship between a Zimbabwean widow and her son. Apparently, after her husband’s death, the lady had been pregnant with her son’s child and the couple was planning to get married in the due course of time.

Furthermore, what also did not escape my notice is the indignation on social media about the entire saga.  Social taboos have always made me question its validity. Incest happens to be one of the society’s most sacred and close-guarded taboos, violating which is even considered criminal in certain states, even if it happens to be consensual. This bone of contention got me to contemplating about the rectitude of such liaisons. Now, before I elucidate my unwonted views, let’s try and comprehend why sex was considered a taboo in the first place.

Needless to say, in the centuries gone by, humans dealt with aspects related to mortality by engaging themselves in cultural symbolism like inclining themselves to a set of beliefs or values or, they took to notions of immortality by conjecturing in the concept of heaven.

Cultural anthropologists are of the opinion that in the centuries gone by, the act of sex was considered an unvirtuous practice as it gave humans an abstraction about their animalistic nature. Now, the same idiosyncrasies posed a threat to the religious (or spiritual) convictions of humans and their trepidation that they might not achieve immortality.

And sex, as it goes without saying, challenges the entire concept as such an act is meant for giving birth and thus it eclipses the idea that humans are entirely spiritual beings. Many such social interdictions remained ubiquitous until the twentieth century and some of these continue to grow from strength to strength even in today’s day and age. And the societal perspective about incest continues to be one of the most sacrosanct in every measure.

Now, on conducting an ephemeral research on Google I found a few things, which I’m afraid isn’t quite surprising. A plethora of blogs, articles, essays and stories are shaming incestuous relationships. Most of these pieces are illustrating ill deeds committed by various individuals.

Not only in India, news websites or even independent-blogging platforms based elsewhere are shaming the idea of incest by narrating stories of abuse – child abuse to be more specific – rape, molestation and other sexual savageries – where a number of consanguineous relationships are involved.

Now here is where the fallacy about modern incestuous relationships begins to grow. Any form of sexual misconduct is unjust, regardless of the relationship between the people involved – and there are no two ways about it. But what about a consensual sexual relationship between two people of legal ages? What if two people who share same ancestors are found to have set their heart on each other not only sexually but also romantically?

Even if we leave aside the romance part, why can’t two people copulate guilt-free?

‘Immoral’ is the word that pops up in the minds of most –  But it isn’t. Two individuals who have no control over their pedigree are absolutely entitled to participate in both romantic and sexual relationships without vindicating their affinity, even though it deviates from the societal paradigm of an ideal relationship.

It is scientifically proven that the existence of Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA) is quite common and if an individual does have such symptoms, it is anything but unnatural. Historically and in the modern day, there are a plethora of states and communities which permit the marriage and thereby sex between cousins – both parallel and cross.

An issue which needs to be addressed here is the problem of inbreeding. For those, who are unaware of what it means, here is it –  Inbreeding is nothing but the genetic disorders and other consequences that may arise from incestuous sexual relationships and consanguinity. The closer two individuals are in lineage, the higher are the chances of inbreeding.

Now, here’s what one needs to fathom – India or even for the matter of fact, most republics in the world promote pronatalism and the situation has been the same since time immemorial. However, the situation is changing. There are a plenty of couples nowadays who opt to stay childless for pursuing their life independently or to succeed in their respective careers.

So, being childless isn’t quite the same issue for the urban population as it was all those years ago. When two individuals have the required mindset of participating in such an unconventional relationship, which is considered to be a taboo both sexually and romantically and they are fully aware of the consequences; it is not the society’s or the government’s affair to interfere and conduct a session of moral policing and maybe pass a bill regarding the concern. Besides, if an incestuous couple does feel obligated in the need of having a child, the feasible option of adoption is always there.

The ethos of primitive beliefs continued to exist very strongly until the twentieth century and the fervent flag-bearers of such ideas did all they could to sustain such a societal model. Though philosophers and psychologists – Sigmund Freud, most noticeably – proposed that an individual’s sexual drive cannot be curbed by law, education influenced by propaganda or standards of decorum, it were the numerous movements and the Sex revolution in the United States of America at the backdrop of cultural globalisation that served as a catalyst in changing things for better.

Consequently, sex outside conventional heterosexual relationships, normalisation of contraception and the pill, monogamous relationships (primarily marriage), homosexuality, any other alternative form of sexual relationships and abortion became accepted more and more.

A third-world country like India –  which still continues to suffer from the hangover of Victorian prudishness – has failed miserably in earning its LGBTQIA citizens their deserved right; however, the number of pre-marital sex and live-in relationships, especially in urban India is on the rise. And believe me, there are cousins and siblings in the nooks and corners of your city, who are willing to participate in a relationship frowned upon, out of their aspirations to fulfil each other’s romantic or sexual needs.


It is high time that people start regarding the importance of individual freedom above their otherwise flawed, spiritual or religious apprehensions. A person from the mid-nineteenth century will certainly possess more regressive views about incest as compared to someone from the present day. It goes to show that any hypotheses about incest or any other sexual taboo are inconsistent and deceiving. In order to progress intellectually and thrive – be that individually or as a whole – one needs to evolve or get extinct.

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