Mackenzie Phillips Incest Puts "Genetic Sexual Attraction" In The Spotlight

Not everybody is disturbed by Mackenzie Phillips's revelation that she had "consensual" sex with her father. Some claim that they experience a phenomenon called "genetic sexual attraction" — and that their incestuous relationships are totally okay.

According to Joseph Huff-Hannon in The Daily Beast, "there is a small and vocal community, mostly found in online chatrooms and forums, that says incest is far too broad a term to describe a wide variety of relationships that involve consenting adults from the same family." Some prefer the term "genetic sexual attraction," which Huff-Hannon defines as "an intense emotional and physical attraction between two family members who've been separated for many years, often from a young age, and upon reunion, all of the emotion of loss and separation is sometimes channeled into a sexual or romantic relationship." Genetic sexual attraction (GSA) has been invoked in other high-profile incest cases, and psychotherapist Joe Soll told ABC that, "genetic attraction is an attraction between two people who've been separated ... seeing someone they've missed all their life, all the emotion of that loss, sometimes turns into a sexual relationship." Aziza Sindhu of CBC Radiosays the phenomenon is common enough that birth parents who register to allow their biological children to contact them are sometimes given information about it. She also quotes one adoption expert who says that "deep attraction," though not necessarily sex, happens in almost half of reunions of family members long separated by adoption.

Online defenders of GSA claim their relationships aren't unhealthy. Huff-Hannon quotes GeneticSexualAttraction.com user BlueSky:

After being reunited with my dad after so many years, not seeing him since I was a baby, I never thought that our relationship would take the twists and turns that it has. I didn't mean to fall in love with him, and we didn't meant [sic] to fall in love with each other, but it happened and we are happy and comfortable with the relationship that we have. The physical aspects just makes are [sic] love even more deeper.

And user LiLoLita says,

For some reason Mackenzie's story bothers me a lot, perhaps because I have a wonderful relationship with my daddy and don't wish to be associated with someone who claims to be raped.

But not all GSA adherents think their feelings are perfectly healthy. Huff-Hannon quotes GeneticSexualAttraction.com user Lost Sister, who says,

The Web site was a blessed relief for all of us going through this. Yes, sex is occurring between genetically / biologically related people, but GSA is something much deeper that that. The sudden flood of love is overwhelming, and not having learned what to do with that love in it [sic] proper context, the tendency to sexualize it arises.

Of course, Mackenzie Phillips wasn't adopted, and so her experience isn't the same as the ones BlueSky and Lost Sister describe. But if anything, the experience of misplaced love that Lost Sister recounts makes John Phillips's actions sound more, not less, heinous. One could argue that Mackenzie Phillips, whose dad taught her use drugs at an early age and think of herself as different from everyone outside her family, didn't learn a "proper context" for familial love. His awful parenting may have made her more likely to consider their sexual relationship "consensual" and to avoid speaking out about it, at least for a time. Huff-Hannon writes that GSA followers notwithstanding, "most agree that incest can be psychologically harmful, especially in the context of a child-parent power dynamic." And the fact that some people feel attracted to their long-lost siblings doesn't justify the abuse of a daughter, or make Phillips's experience anything but rape.

Incest's Defenders [Daily Beast]