According to NYMag, an American teenager and her dad have gotten engaged, following 12 years of separation.
In a fascinating, and frankly alarming, interview with the magazine, the unidentified woman speaks freely about her feelings of romantic love and attraction for her father and their plans for the future.
While incest is a taboo in most cultures across the world, it is still pretty common. As a rule, it goes hand in hand with sexual abuse and predatory behaviour from a parent, grandparent or older sibling, and leaves deep scars and causes lifelong trauma.
In this case, the young woman was of age when she lost her virginity to her father – she claims without coercion – and is 18 now, technically, making her a consenting adult. Since she was estranged from her father since a very young age, the article also mentions the phenomenon of Genetic Sexual Attraction or GSA.
This is a term that refers to the strong physical attraction that can allegedly develop when estranged family members meet.
The problem with GSA is that there is very little scientific evidence to back it up. While studies like these exist, many critics believe that the focus often given to GSA in incestuous relationships normalises what is inherently an abusive situation.
So, while some believe consensual incest to be a valid life choice, others simply see it as an apologetic term for rape, since they believe power dynamics, grooming and a host of other psychological factors muddy the water for actual consent to be given.
According to Cape Town psychologist, Abraham le Roux, family dynamics play an important part:
"It doesn't seem as if she had a chance to forge an attachment to her mother as she grew up with her grandparents for the first two years of her life, and later was exposed to numerous men growing up. This could point to an attachment disorder where the person shies away from intimate relationships on the one hand, while paradoxically bonding with inappropriate persons.
Her father was absent during the years (3 to 5) when a little girl develops a fantasy relationship with her father. He becomes the big, strong man in her life whom she wants to marry someday. In a healthy emotional environment, this fantasy disappears and a normal father daughter relationship develops."
I would assume the conversation changes when it comes to sexual relationships between siblings of a certain age who meet as adults. One would suppose that could be a valid, victimless life choice?
But this specific interview would make even the most open-minded of people uncomfortable.
For example, when asked what she would do if she and her father ever broke up, she said: "I wouldn't be happy or confident, and I wouldn't know how to express myself the way I do when I'm with him."
In this case, the unconscious fantasy of a little girl in love with her dad stayed alive. Le Roux explains: "As a sexually frustrated teenager with low self-esteem she feels safe with her father. One can only hope that there won’t be any more children involved when that bubble bursts."
There are simply too many warning bells that go off when you read the young woman’s answers to the very candid questions the interviewer posed. Here are some of the obvious issues that stood out for me:
She has a family and personal history of psychological problems – she grew up with a bipolar mother in a chaotic household and suffered from chronic depression and low self-esteem throughout her teens.
Her father left after he made her mother pregnant on prom night, and made very little effort to establish a relationship with her when she was growing up. Her mother also had a host of boyfriends and husbands who came and went, and she admits to suffering from serious abandonment issues.
When he did see her he used to "spoil her rotten" and she still treasures the tea set he gave her when she was little.
A mere four days after meeting his daughter again, while they were both staying with his then-girlfriend, he ended up having sex with his child and became her first-ever male lover.
Even though she says she feels like a 37-year-old trapped in a teen’s body, a lot of her answers and views are heartbreakingly naïve and child-like.
For instance, when asked if they have things in common she answers that they both like chicken and videogames.
Yet she remains adamant that she knows her mind and can make her own decisions as an adult.
While this young woman has shone an uncomfortably bright light on the relationship and her thoughts and feelings, one has to wonder what is hiding in the dark recesses of her father’s mind.