Ask anyone what incest is, and the answer will be almost immediate. Most people would consider incest any sexual act between biologically related family members. The definition is so ingrained in our culture, in which many people don’t even think twice about such definitions. While relationships between step-siblings or step-parent and their adult child, may not be culturally acceptable, most people would not consider it incest. There’s a standard, a line, which if crossed by biologically related individuals, constitutes incest. Whether the relation by blood was known prior to the act or not, it is still considered taboo. What’s actually surprising however is this cultural definition of incest isn’t always correct. We have to take a step back from what we’ve accepted, to truly understand what incest is.
The technical definition of incest is any sexual intercourse committed by people who otherwise would be too closely related to be married. While this definition at first seems obvious, in practice, it causes some issues to arise. First of all, it’s worth noting that any relationship between step parents, step siblings, or any such relation is completely permissible and legal as the two people can marry. Such a standard isn’t a problem, especially given the cultural acceptance of such relationships; the problem is actually in the definition. Marriage laws are determined by the individualized states, leaving different legal precedents, as well as exceptions. What happens is actually different definitions of incest variant by the state in which one lives. This can create quite the problem in actual practice.
For example, in over twenty states, marriage between first cousins is legal. That means that in those twenty some states, first cousin relationships are not classified as incestuous. The standard then for these relationships gets extremely difficult to navigate. Consider the difficulty of changing laws, let alone the varying difference between states. There’s not a single steady standard. It’s also worth noting that in almost every case, coming to the wrong conclusion of the law, can get one arrested. Incest is still a crime in many states, with severe consequences. Many of these legal standards are setup in order to prosecute violations of the law. In some cases, exceptions can be made, mainly due to religious reasons, making prosecuting these crimes even more difficult.
Problems don’t end though with the criminal difficulties. When it comes to the practical definitions for incest, they’re cut and dry. People within society don’t care if the behavior is legal, particularly if it goes against their moral standards. Because of this, societies have acceptable legal relationships that are persecuted because of ethics. In most cases, this prejudice can be harmful, with no real reason for the stigma. When it comes to incestuous relationships, there isn’t really a true reason to see it as taboo or unethical. Consented adult relationships hurt no one, and so the choice should be between those two individuals. Society however, often weighs in on these choices.
Defining incest, at first, seems easy enough. Making a true effort to look at how incest is defined however, leads often to confusion and dismay. The standards for incestuous behavior vary state to state, and may or may not be prosecuted. In society, incest is a topic that retains its taboo nature. Consented adult incestuous relationships that are legal in some states are looked up with stigma and prejudice. In some cases though, the taboo nature that has so captured incestuous behavior is lessening. People are starting to truly challenge the unconventional definitions of incest. With a new definition, often comes a better understanding.