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Posted: July 4th, 2020

Causes, Effects And Implications Of Sibling Incest

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This literature review focuses on research that is related to sibling incest and discusses the causes, effects and implications that sibling incest has on the victim, perpetrator and the family. It focuses on the types of research that is conducted and the weaknesses and strengths of these studies. It also discusses further implications and suggestions for future research in regards to sibling incest. It is meant as a review of the types of research and how this affects our views on sibling incest and ways that we can improve future research to help those that are victims, perpetrators and impacted by sibling incest.

Sibling Incest is a huge taboo in the US and an issue that is largely dismissed as something that is not experienced by the general population and occurs only in a very small amount of cases. After reading each of these articles, it has become clear that there is a significant lack of research regarding this particular form of family abuse. Much of what has been researched seems to contradict each other and are questions regarding this hidden taboo continue to go unanswered. When most people in the US think of incest, specifically sibling incest, they seem perplexed as to what causes this desire in people and how this plays out in a family. Sibling incest seems to be considered one of the highest forms of abuse within a family and needs to be researched so that we may begin to understand the full impacts this has on individuals and families. By researching and understanding this abuse more thoroughly we might be able to prevent future incest cases and help victims and perpetrators recover from such a violent form of abuse. We might also be able to come to understand the full impacts of sibling incest and if our views as a country and our taboo against it holds true. Does sibling incest violate such basic psychological views and trusting relationships that might damage the victim more than any other type of family abuse?

Thompson discussed why incest between siblings needs to be studied more than any other area (2009). The author described the sibling relationship in regards to incest and the effects the incest has on the victim and the family as a whole. Thompson sheds light on the families of sibling incest relationships and different theories that can begin to explain the family system and family response upon disclosure of the abuse. The author examines how blaming plays a part in the reactions to incest disclosure by the family, and how this affects the health and wellbeing of the victim. Thompson describes different coping mechanisms and the effectiveness of group therapy in the lives of incest victims. The author briefly discusses different theoretical frameworks that might aid in work dealing with female victims of incest. Thompson focuses on family systems theory and the relationships within the family. A group model is mentioned as a successful way to work through incest trauma and develop healthy coping strategies. Short-term and long-term group models are discussed in their benefits and disadvantages that each provide (Thompson, 2009).

Kissing Your Sister

The article Kissing Your Sister summarizes a study performed by three evolutionary psychologists, Debra Lieberman, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides. The study sheds light as to what makes people avoid incest relations. The study was performed on 600 people and investigated their family histories and relationships. The study suggested that there are two main things that trigger us to avoid sexual relationships with our siblings. These triggers are the amount of time that the person spends with the child’s mother at a young age and the amount of time the two spend living in the same house. According to the authors, these trigger two evolutionary processes that are beneficial to the survival of humans. Altruism and aversion to incest help individuals to survive by getting along and avoiding possible malfunctions in reproduction.

Sibling Incest: Reports from 41 Survivors

In the article, the authors discussed a study that was performed with 41 adults who experienced sibling incest. The research was done due to a significant lack of previous research in this specific area. Included in the study were men and women, perpetrators and victims. The sample consisted mostly of Caucasian working-class women with a mean age of 39 years old. They asked open-ended and closed-ended questions regarding the abuse, who started it, the duration, and disclosure. The report results reported several findings. It suggested that the average age difference was around 4 years with victims being, on average, around age 7 at onset and age 13 at the end of the abuse. The questions investigated several issues included who initiated the abuse and the threat of violence that is placed on the individual. The authors also investigated other sexual abuse experienced by the participants and the environment of the family, including any physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse experienced with other family members and non-family members.

Sibling Incest within Violent Families: Children under 12 Seeking Nurture

In the article, the author investigates possible causes that might lead to sibling incest including violent homes, neglect, and a need for love and nurture. The author suggests that violence in the home may influence a child’s sexual identity and possibly influence the desire for incest. The author defines violent families, the concept of nurture, and sibling incest in order to create a picture of how they might interact and influence each other. The author uses anecdotal evidence to support her views that family violence may lead to a different sexual identity in the child and sibling incest desires. The author explores the process children exposed to violent families might go through. She recognizes the need for connection, comfort and nurture that the child has and suggests that they begin to look for this emotional connection in their siblings. She investigates the sexual progress and exploration that a child goes through from birth to adolescence and how this might be affected by family violence. The author discusses the possible effects of shame and how this might make a child more vulnerable to sibling incest.

Findings of each study

Sibling Incest: A model for group practice with adult female victims of brother-sister incest.

Thompson argues that a long-term group model is best used when working with incest victims. Thompson ends the article pushing for a broader approach when investigating the lives and trauma of incest victims, looking at the way family dynamics and interactions play a part in leading to incest. Thompson recommends group therapy as a way to help victims feel understood and work through their coping skills as a group.

Kissing Your Sister

The authors interpret their results from their study on sibling incest to suggest that the amount of time the potential incest partner spent with you in the same roof and being raised by the same mother, predict the likelihood of incest behavior. The more time the stepsibling or sibling does spend in these conditions increase the likelihood that you will avoid incest acts. They also suggest that women are more likely to avoid sibling incest possibly due to the desire to reproduce healthy offspring. The authors suggest “that aversion to sibling incest is strongest among siblings of the opposite sex. (Lieberman, Tooby, Cosmides, pg. 1)

Sibling Incest: Reports from 41 Survivors

The authors in this study were led to believe that the average age difference between perpetrators and victims was 4 years with the most cases of sibling incest experiences including fondling and having the sibling’s genitals rubbed on the subject’s body. The study suggests that a majority (68.3%) of participants were coerced, threatened or bribed in order to force cooperation. (pg. 9) It suggested that more male participants believed the sexual experience was consensual. It also suggested that more abuse ended when the perpetrator left home, versus the victim. The majority of participants “perceived themselves to be emotionally abused by being ridiculed, degraded or put down, emotionally neglected, or threatened with abuse. (pg. 10)” The researchers discovered that disclosure of sexual abuse occurred almost rarely. The majority of participants also reported having sexual experiences with other family members. The study concluded that “sibling incest can be long-lasting and frequently entails intercourse. In most cases the sexual behavior was coerced in some way. Parents were seldom aware of the abuse while it was occurring, and factors other than disclosure most often led to the incest ending. (pg. 13).”

Sibling Incest within Violent Families: Children under 12 Seeking Nurture

According to the author, the effects of sibling incest can be traumatizing as the individual enters adulthood. The author believes as a result of her anecdotal evidence and researching thoughts on sexual exploration throughout childhood development, that the child’s interpretation of sexual exploration might be altered due to the abuse and the child’s search for another form of nurture in their environment. As the child develops their views on this will alter, in which case they might view their incest acts as disgusting and no longer normal, thus the adult undergoes significant psychological distress. The author suggests that according to the determinants model, a lack of social support and parental availability will leave the child at high risk for sibling incest, both as a perpetrator and victim.

Strengths/Weaknesses of each study

In the article Sibling Incest: Reports from 41 Survivors, there are so many elements that skew the findings of the researchers. First, the researchers interviewed both perpetrators and victims, making the title of the article very misleading. By interviewing perpetrators as well as victims, they are skewing the data to represent either higher or lower percentages in certain areas. The age difference between perpetrators and victims was skewed because they used all participants’ data as representing of the victim, and their counterpart as representing of the perpetrator, even though there were several individuals in the study that reported initiating the abuse. Several other misinterpretations of this data might have led to skewed findings and misunderstandings of sibling incest.

Sibling Incest within Violent Families: Children under 12 Seeking Nurture

presents some good suggestions and possible ideas on what might cause some forms of sibling incest. It presents good anecdotal evidence that might lead to very good research studies that will investigate this correlation in more depth. However, the anecdotal evidence and the mere opinions of the author are not enough to come to any conclusions about the correlation between family violence and sibling incest. It isn’t enough to change therapy, prevention, and intervention in regards to sibling incest. These types of articles are great gateways that lead to further investigations of relationships and causes of many types of family violence and continue to be the start of research that hasn’t been investigated yet.


It is clear that there needs to be much more researched in regards to sibling incest in order to understand the full dynamics and implications of this violation upon an individual. The articles that are mentioned above begin to address these issues, some of which actually addressed possible implications that sibling incest has on individuals. However, most of the research was targeted at causes of sibling incest. They all came to similar conclusions such as the perpetrator is generally about four years older than the victim. The only article that seemed to address the implications of abuse on individuals was Sibling Incest: Reports from 41 Survivors, and this even was very brief and concise. They suggested that victims might feel a sense of distrust towards the opposite sex as adults and feel uncomfortable in sexual relationships. Most studies performed open-ended and close-ended questions on adults that had experienced sibling incest as children. Thompson describes different ways to help victims cope with the abuse as adults by using group therapy and teaching coping mechanisms. The implications that these studies hold on further research of sibling incest are significant. Further research should be used to perform different types of studies and experiments including long-term studies. This becomes a challenge when usually sibling incest is not disclosed until the victim is an adult and much time has passed since the abuse. We should also focus our studies to discover exactly how sibling incest might impact the victims and the families throughout the lifetime and in the next generation. Although some of the research examined was thorough, it is important that we continue research on this subject matter in order to become confident of the causes and understand the family situations that might lead to abuse. Since some of the evidence is contradictory, it would be helpful to gain more insight with better designed studies and larger sample sizes. I hope that some of these articles encourage more research to be done on such a difficult topic to understand as sibling incest.

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