FamilyTom and Stephanie sat on the grass in the Minneapolis sunshine, gazing lovingly into each others eyes. They were always glad of the short time they could spend together away from their spouses and kids. Tom regarded his family life as being “in a life I don’t want to be in” and dreamed of being with Stephanie who thought of him as “everything my husband isn’t.” As they gazed at each other they hoped they could be together as a couple one day. They were great together and the sex was amazing. Their love was as strong as a brother and a sister, but then again – they were in fact brother and sister.

The relationship between Tom and Stephanie was one of two cases examined in a Channel 4 documentary last night called “Sleeping With My Sister,” which examined brotherly-sisterly love that spilled over into regular knocking sessions.

Tom and Stephanie

Tom and Stephanie are in fact half-siblings with different fathers and the same mother. Both have been married for years and each has three young kids. They never knew each other as children but when they met as adults they were immediately attracted to each other and a secret love affair started soon after. Tom eventually left his wife and kids and Stephanie would soon follow. While they can never be married (without a change in law and a massive shift in public opinion) they nevertheless wanted to live together as a married couple.

While their case was interesting it was primarily so because of their cheating on their respective families rather than because of their brother-sister relationship. The other story was much more engaging, involving a Scottish couple.

Nick and Danielle

Like Tom and Stephanie, Nick and Danielle are half-siblings who grew up separately. They were reunited when Nick was 26 and Danielle (who had a husband and child) 21. They describe their feelings as love at first sight and within a few weeks their feelings lead to secret sex sessions which, according to Nick, were “confusing” but “felt right and natural.” What amazes me is that at no time did he freak out and think, “holy shit I’m fucking my little sister!”

Their secret sex sessions couldn’t remain hushed up for long, and the secrecy was smashed the day Mummy walked in to find the fruit of her loins with their legs wrapped around each other on the sofa. I can only imagine the horror. Their mother phoned the police. “The police?” I hear you ask. Had they attacked her? Vandalised an expensive sofa? Nope: they had “committed the crime of incest.”

For months they lived under the threat of legal action while the authorities decided whether or not to prosecute. During this time they were ostracised by family and friends and then faced with the reality: they were indeed to be prosecuted. As a result they had to hand themselves in to a police station and appear in court to apply for bail. As a condition of bail they were ordered to have no contact – physical, verbal or written – until the case was over, which could have been a year later.

It was the maximum sentence for the “crime of incest” that really kicked me in the balls. I was thinking, “surely there’s no custodial sentence possible?” Wrong. The maximum penalty for incest is: life imprisonment. In other words, it’s the same as that for murder, child abuse, rape and terrorism; despite the obvious difference that the latter crimes all involve causing harm to victims while incest causes no harm and has no victims whatsoever.

Under the threat of life imprisonment and with the case dragging on, Nick and Danielle thought they might try a different tactic: plead guilty on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and inform the court that they have mitigating circumstances: GSA.

Genetic Sexual Attraction sounds to me like another term invented by psychiatrists to keep the work coming in by giving them yet another alleged “disorder” to treat. GSA is alleged to affect siblings who don’t grow up together but who later meet as adults. On meeting each other the parties can experience powerful feelings which are often charged with sexual overtones and which if left unchecked can wind up expressed in physical ways: ie, with brothers and sisters banging each other on the sofa in full view of mummy.

Whatever the merits of GSA I was repulsed a little by both Tom and Nick who frequently spoke as if they were under the power of some monster over which they had no control. While it might not be possible to control your feelings you can control whether or not you shag someone. We’re not wild animals. Some people have sexual feelings towards kids but they are always able not to sexually abuse to children, and when they do have sex with a 4 year old they are fully morally culpable. Even if GSA is a valid theory it shouldn’t amount to “diminished responsibility.” Having sex with your sibling isn’t a disorder – it’s a choice and something for which you are responsible. To put it more bluntly: you are always able to prevent your penis going inside your sister.

But I digress.

They made their guilty plea to speed the process up, perhaps unaware that by doing so all reporting restrictions were lifted and of course the tabloid press had a field day with a story like this. To the tabloids GSA was a non-issue. For them it was just a shocking story of perversion between a brother and sister who enjoyed a “string of romps.” They were none too sympathetic, causing this outburst from Nick: “why don’t they piss off and get the fuck out of my life.” Way to suck up to the tabloids, eh?

Tabloid nastiness aside, their guilty plea did at least speed the case up and, after 244 days apart, they were called back to court. I was hoping the judge would have said that this is a ridiculous case to have landed in court with police and court time having been gloriously wasted on prosecuting two sane and rational adults for what was harmless, victimless, consensual behaviour. But, no. Whilst they did escape a custodial sentence they were given 12 months probation and were free to go, and free to continue their relationship as long as they never had sex. What a pile of nonsense. They aren’t bloody twelve year olds! It’s like the old priestly line, “go and sin no more.” They can live together, kiss, touch, lie naked with each other but the minute an erect penis enters a wet vagina then the full weight of the law applies? Who is this law protecting? What on earth is it for? And how did the court envisage it being policed? Perhaps local policemen would come round with ladders and binoculars once in a while to make sure Nick and Danielle weren’t getting giggy with it?

It’s no surprise that many scientists who have researched into GSA have argued that incest should be decriminalised with respect to siblings separated as children and only reunited as adults. Since they haven’t been brought up together they don’t have a normal brother-sister relationship despite being genetically related. I agree with this, but only as a starting point as there seems no good reason why sexual relationships between consenting adults should ever be infringed upon or legislated against by governments. They have no victims, cause no harm and do not infringe the rights of other people. No one is going to force us to watch while a couple of siblings go at it like porn stars in the remake of Debbie Does Dallas. It’s behind closed doors and none of our business.

The only possible way to make a case for harm caused by incest is by appeal to the increased chances of foetal abnormality. However, the problems here are no worse than for thousands of other people who carry a gene or condition which makes it increasingly likely that a child will be born with a defect of some description. So, unless the government is going to legislate for all these cases it can’t justifiably single out incest, and trying to legislate in this way brings enormous practical and moral problems with it. Ultimately foetal abnormality is a matter of probability – not inevitability – and affects thousands of non-incestuous relationships to the same or a greater degree. Moreover, surely it’s out of the government’s remit to make legislation for the good of potential human beings rather than actual ones. In any event, in the cases above Tom and Stephanie have no intention of having kids because, “it’s not the responsible thing to do,” and Danielle is infertile so can’t have children even if she wanted to, thus rendering the issue of children and potential abnormality moot.

I think the problem with incestuous relationships is much more easily explained than by appeals to morality and social problems. At school we used to play a joke on the teacher when he or she was calling the attendance roll. When someone was absent we would say, “he’s sick,” and when the teacher replied, “he’s sick?” someone almost always cheekily replied, “yeah, he’s fucking his sister.” And that’s the bottom line: it’s not a moral objection that motivates people, but rather the “yuck factor.” People just don’t like the thought of incestuous relationships. And that’s fine. I don’t like it either, and regard it as pretty sick. But just because something has the “yuck factor” is not sufficient grounds for outlawing it, and the issue of incest is one topic which perfectly illustrates the libertarian principle of live and let live, even when we don’t particularly like how someone is living. To modify a famous quote attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire: “I may not like what you do but I’ll fight to defend your right to do it.” Amen.

During the course of the documentary Nick asks, “what right have they to separate us for something that’s consensual and not harming anybody?”

Good question, and I’ve yet to see a good answer.