The profile for TampaRob could be that of any dad. "I have two sons that are 13 and 10, and a daughter that is 11. We stay pretty busy with soccer, gymnastics, and music lessons." But then there's the pitch: "We are active and open-minded and enjoy each other and enjoy meeting others the same."
Welcome to Family4love.com, the Facebook of incest. In the website's lingo, an "active family" is one that embraces having sex with one another. "Enjoy meeting others the same" means "come join us."
With 3,086 members, this is a relatively small community, but one that is part of a larger subculture that uses the internet to get extremely nasty with their relatives—both as role-playing and what appears to be the real thing. Click around and you'll find groups devoted to "Wisconsin families that love each other," a wealthy gentleman with far from paternalistic intentions looking for a surrogate to carry his children, and even a page devoted to filthy confessions like "I love the smell of my husband's cock on my toddler's face when I kiss her."
Family4Love isn't the only site of its kind. Incest forums are all over the web. There's even a subreddit devoted to it. One competitor, Social-Incest.com, calls itself "The place that connects your family in more ways then [sic] one." And you thought it was awkward when your mom added you on Facebook.
Family4Love flitted into the news last year, when Stephen Lewis, a marine at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, used the site to seek out sex with a father and his children. But the family's profile was a set-up by Homeland Security and Lewis was arrested. He reportedly admitted to having sex with minors and owning child pornography on his phone. (Calls to the Department of Homeland Security in San Diego to check up on this case were not returned.)
Still, the site goes on, skating a very thin legal line. Sure, it bans users under the age of 18 and prohibits even talk of kiddie pornography. But blatant insinuations of illegal sex are everywhere. In the user MO1's album, photos of young children sitting on the patio had the following caption: "Just before the girls got naked and started the party :p." The rest of the comments were equally stomach-flipping:
Like many Family4Love members, Ian, a 35-year-old who works in San Francisco's tech industry, is distrustful of laws regarding incest. A devoted regular on the website, he's also one of its most vocal members. After a few days of chatting over Family4Love's private messaging system, Ian opened up to me about where he thinks the line should be drawn between incest and child abuse. It's natural for kids to learn about sex through their families, he says, as long as the environment is safe and consensual. (Forget age of consent laws, which hold that children, by definition, can't consent).
Everyone's different. Every child's different," he says. "If a human being of any age (is) made aware of the potential consequences beforehand, they can have a positive, healthy experience." That said, he's quick to assert that he's not "active" with his son, and "can't imagine a world where I would be." He also says he is frustrated by the "assholes and imbeciles who try to talk about molesting children in public chat."
To Ian, Family4Love is more than a hookup site or a hangout for child abusers. It's a shelter for people who harbor a sexual fetish so taboo that to admit it to others is to risk almost certain social censure—and disgust.
"I would say the awesomest thing about being here is that, having a really intense, secret fetish I'm not out about in the world, this is the first time I've ever had friends who feel the same way," he says.
He claims that his first exposure to incest happened at age nine, when a seven-year-old neighbor, who was in an actively incestuous family, made him and his younger sister "do things with each other."
"It was actually kind of awful," he recalls.
"I don't know to what extent that effected [sic] me," he says. But now, "even thinking about sex between close relatives turns me on... For whatever reason, the Westermark effect totally didn't work on me."
Recent studies have backed up the Westermark effect, the theory first proposed by a Germany researcher in the 1890s. It states that siblings who grow up in close proximity develop a sexual aversion to each other. Basically, all those rough-housing sessions in the playpen help you steer clear from your brother's dick once you hit puberty.
"There seems to be something there, hardwired," says Jonathan H. Turner, a professor at the University of California Riverside and co-author of Incest: Origins of the Taboo. But other factors, like parental or drug abuse or deep trauma, Turner says, may cause the Westermarck effect to not, well, take effect. Another way it might not work is if siblings are raised apart. (Let's call that the Luke and Leia effect.)
Debra Lieberman, an assistant professor at the University of Miami, is a leading researcher on incest. She suspects that people on websites like Family4Loves might suffer from the kind of impairments—drug, alcohol, or mental—believed to erode ingrained aversions to incest. Others might be otherwise normal folks who don't have close family members of their own—and so, feel no visceral disgust towards the thought of siblings doing it.
These people congregate in websites like Family4Love and Social-Incest to "normalize" their fetish by sharing links, talking about it, and posting photos that turn them on. "Suddenly there's this whole group of people valuing each other for this kind of affiliation or predilection," she says.
Lieberman, however, draws a categorical distinction between fantasies about incest and the act itself. Those games and fantasies, she argues, emerge because the brain lowers its gross-out thresholds everytime you have sex. Day-to-day, people steer clear of each other's bodily fluids, she explains. But when it's time for sex, and the inevitable exchange of fluids, "disgust ratchets down." For some people, this disgust factor ramps down a little. For others, it might actually ramp down a lot—letting the floodgates open to golden showers and Cleveland steamers. "Certainly incest [fantasies] would be a part of that," she says. "It's biological, not just cultural."
By arguing that we have biological systems that prevent inbreeding and its associated birth defects, Lieberman's theory goes against the old Freudian party line that we all just secretly want to have sex with our parents. "You do see cases of incest... but they're the exception, not the rule," she says.
In other words, the users on Family4Love who are actually engaging in incest are giant exceptions to firm biological rules. The rest are using it as a playpen for fantasies that are actually more widespread than you would think.
Incest has a bum rep, but as a sexual fantasy, it also has a strong pull. In 2009, two real-life identical brothers known as the Peters twins became porn sensations after fucking and sucking each other on camera. Their first DVD, Taboo, sold over 15,000 copies worldwide, and Bel Ami, the Czech porn studio behind the release, saw its membership rates shoot up by 25 percent. The mainstream media even started calling what they did "twincest."
But Bel Ami soon faced a common problem that plagues porn studios trading in questionably legal content—credit card processing companies became wary of handling their financial transactions. According to a Bel Ami spokesperson, the company removed all the Peters Twins material from their website in 2012.
Regardless, incest themes in porn are more prevalent today than ever before—showing that America's appetite for this brand of sexual deviancy is only growing. While major porn companies are skittish of depicting sex between (real or imagined) blood relatives, you can still find them easily through smaller studios and forums.
"I would say that [incest] is currently the most widespread theme in adult movie-making," says Dan O'Connell, co-founder of the lesbian porn studio Girlfriend Films. One of their most popular series is called Mother/Daughter Exchange Club, where moms and daughters swap with other families for sex. Although it lacks actual incest, the series sells "like crazy," according to O'Connell. "Just the mention will make consumers belly up to the bar and plunk down good money for titles that seem to promise blood-relative incest."
On the same note, Kelly Madison, an adult film star and director, says she has heard of other companies looking for unknown girls who they can market as being the real daughter of an older actress. But Madison herself prefers to only film scenes between step-relatives, like in her latest series, Dream Young—where a child-like pageant princess played by Halle Von gets reamed by her step-father (played by Kelly's husband, Ryan Madison). "I would never do anything with real bloodlines because I don't think that, as a society, we should glamorize anything that encourages abuse," she says.
Ryan Madison and Halle Young in Dream Young
When asked why she thinks incest-themed porn is experiencing such a surge in popularity, Madison says it boils down to desensitization. "We've done everything. This is really the last taboo. People are chasing a high. You have to top it with something crazier each time."
It certainly helps that incestuous content is really profitable, too. Accordng to Jesse Garza, a Senior Marketing Manager with Gamma Entertainment, one of their most successful niche sites is called Out of the Family, which features exclusively step-family and in-law scenes. "Right now, this kind of content outperforms our other sites by almost double," he says. "Mother/daughter fantasies are by far the most popular—enough for us to build an entire site around it, called Mommy's Girl."
Jesse says porn companies are doing their best to court the market while staying within the restrictions put upon them by credit card processors and distribution channels. If legality wasn't an issue, he is sure that many other companies would jump on the opportunity to monetize on the trend. Should a court ever successfully litigate a porn producer for depicting blood-relative sex, he warns, all of this content will suffer an instant death. But for now, incest porn continues to operate in the shady grey zones of legality.
Judging from the rising numbers of people who are pleasuring themselves to incest-themed porn—or going one step further by using sites like Family4Love to indulge in their fantasies, it seems like a little hanky panky with mommy and daddy is a bigger turn-on than we'd like to admit. Maybe the real taboo might be concluding that incest might not actually be that big of a taboo after all.
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Topics: Family4Love, Stephen Lewis, the Westermark effect, Jonathan H. Turner, Incest: Origins of the Taboo, Debra Lieberman, incest, incest fantasies, Bel Ami, twincest, Taboo, the Peters twins, Dan O’Connell, Girlfriend Films, Mother/Daughter Exchange Club, Kelly Madison, Dream Young, Ryan Madison, Out of the Family, Mommy’s Girl, Freudian, Motherfucker