Genetic sexual attraction

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Genetic sexual attraction is a theory that attraction may be a product of genetic similarities.[1]: 200  There is "little scientific evidence" for the position,[1]: 200  and at least some commentators regard the hypothesis as pseudoscience.[2] The term is also used for a supposed phenomenon in which biologically related persons separated at a young age develop intense feelings—including sexual attraction—upon the restoration of contact.[3][4][5][6]


The term was popularized in the United States in the late 1980s by Barbara Gonyo, the founder of Truth Seekers in Adoption, a Chicago-based support group for adoptees and their new-found relatives.[6] Gonyo first heard the term used during an American Adoption Congress conference in the early 1980s.[7] She developed sexual feelings for her son when she met him after he was adopted away, but he did not want to be part of any such contact.[8]

Some psychologists theorize that the supposed phenomenon of attraction to biological relatives separated at a young age occurs because the separation forecloses the Westermarck effect,[9] which normally desensitizes biologically related persons to later sexual attraction.[9][10][11] Another suggested explanation for the phenomenon is possible narcissistic feelings.[12][13]

Although reported frequently as anecdote in the field of psychology,[14][15][16] there are no studies showing that people are sexually attracted to those genetically similar to them. Studies of MHC genes show that unrelated people are less attracted to those genetically similar to them.[17][18] However, in mice, this lack of attraction can be reversed by adoption.[19]

Catherine MacAskill, an adoption and child sexual abuse expert, has suggested that "genetic sexual attraction" cases seem to be associated with sudden unplanned meetings which lack the proper safeguards of a thoroughly prepared reunion.[20]


Critics of the hypothesis have called it pseudoscience.[8] In a Salon piece, Amanda Marcotte called the concept "half-baked pseudoscientific nonsense that people dreamed up to justify continuing unhealthy, abusive relationships".[8] The use of "GSA" as an initialism has also been criticized, since it gives the notion that the phenomenon is an actual diagnosable "condition".[21]

Many have noted the lack of research on the subject. While acknowledging the "phenomenon of genetic sexual attraction", Eric Anderson, a sociologist and sexologist, noted in a 2012 book that "[t]here is only one academic research article" on the subject, and he critiqued the paper for using "Freudian psycho-babble".[22]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Smith, Merril D. (2018). Encyclopedia of Rape and Sexual Violence. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781440844904.
  2. ^ Bull, Sofia (2019). Television and the Genetic Imaginary. Palgrave Studies in Science and Popular Culture. Springer. p. 121. ISBN 9781137548474.
  3. ^ Harvey-Jenner, Catriona (13 June 2016). "A woman suffering from Genetic Sexual Attraction explains how it feels to fall in love with your dad". Cosmopolitan.
  4. ^ Lewis, Rick (1 July 2022). "When blood relatives hook up: Is 'Genetic Sexual Attraction' really a thing?". Genetic Literacy Project.
  5. ^ "Genetic sexual attraction" (PDF). Cumbria County Counsel.
  6. ^ a b Kirsta, Alix (16 May 2023). "Genetic sexual attraction". The Guardian. You're 40, happily married - and then you meet your long-lost brother and fall passionately in love. ... Alix Kirsta talks to those who have suffered the torment of 'genetic sexual attraction'
  7. ^ Tsoulis-Reay, Alexa (29 January 2022). "Her Dad Convinced Her It Was OK to Date Him". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 31 January 2022.
  8. ^ a b c "Debunking genetic sexual attraction: Incest by any other name is still incest". Salon. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  9. ^ a b James, Susan Donaldson (17 May 2012). "Adoptees Who Reunite With Lost Parent Risk Genetic Sexual Attraction". ABC News.
  10. ^ Lieberman, Debra; Tooby, John; Cosmides, Leda (2007). "The architecture of human kin detection". Nature. 445 (7129): 727–731. Bibcode:2007Natur.445..727L. doi:10.1038/nature05510. PMC 3581061. PMID 17301784.
  11. ^ Fessler, Daniel M.T.; Navarrete, C. David (2004). "Third-party attitudes toward sibling incest". Evolution and Human Behavior. 25 (5): 277–294. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2004.05.004.
  12. ^ Rosenberg, Elinor B. (2010). Adoption Life Cycle: The Children and Their Families Through the Years. Simon and Schuster. p. 42. ISBN 9781451602487.
  13. ^ Gediman, Judith S. (1989). Birthbond: Reunions Between Birthparents and Adoptees--What Happens After. Pennsylvania State University: New Horizon Press. pp. 62, 96. ISBN 9780882820521.
  14. ^ Paul, Robert A. (1 December 2010). "Incest Avoidance: Oedipal and Preoedipal, Natural and Cultural". Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 58 (6): 1087–1112. doi:10.1177/0003065110395759. ISSN 0003-0651. PMID 21364180. S2CID 207608127.
  15. ^ M., Childs, Robert (1998). Genetic sexual attraction: Healing and danger in the reunions of adoptees and their birth families. OCLC 124077946.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Greenberg, Maurice; Littlewood, Roland (March 1995). "Post-adoption incest and phenotypic matching: Experience, personal meanings and biosocial implications". British Journal of Medical Psychology. 68 (1): 29–44. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8341.1995.tb01811.x. ISSN 0007-1129. PMID 7779767.
  17. ^ Sample, Ian (24 May 2009). "Gene research finds opposites do attract". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  18. ^ Grammer, Karl; Fink, Bernhard; Neave, Nick (1 February 2005). "Human pheromones and sexual attraction". European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. 118 (2): 135–142. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2004.08.010. ISSN 0301-2115. PMID 15653193.
  19. ^ Penn, Dustin; Potts, Wayne (22 July 1998). "MHC–disassortative mating preferences reversed by cross–fostering". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences. 265 (1403): 1299–1306. doi:10.1098/rspb.1998.0433. ISSN 0962-8452. PMC 1689202. PMID 9718737.
  20. ^ Macaskill, Catherine (2002). Safe Contact?: Children in Permanent Placement and Contact with Their Birth Relatives. Pennsylvania State University: Russell House. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-903855-09-6.
  21. ^ Edwards, Jeanette (December 2004). "Incorporating Incest: Gamete, Body and Relation in Assisted Conception". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 10 (4): 773. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9655.2004.00210.x. JSTOR 3803853.
  22. ^ Eric Anderson (7 February 2012). The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating. Oxford University Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-19-977792-1.


Further reading[edit]

  • Hughes, Elizabeth (2017). Adopted Women and Biological Fathers: Reimagining stories of origin and trauma. Women and Psychology. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781315536361.
  • Vaknin, Sam (2014). A to Z of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder Encyclopedia: The Narcissism Bible. Narcissus Publishing.