“You Know You’re Adopted When Your Cousin Tries to Seduce You”

Dawn Davenport


How common is incest within adoptive families?

How common is incest within adoptive families?

An adult adoptee friend asked me to blog on the topic of extended family members “coming on” to their adopted relatives. She warns that it is more common than we think, but after Woody Allen, maybe none of us should be surprised.

My friend is in a closed adoptee group, and while she didn’t share the discussion with me, she did share that the topic started with “you know you’re adopted when your cousin tries to seduce you saying, ‘you’re not really a blood relative'”. Many adoptees in that group had some variation on that story. She wants adoptive parents to be aware of this possibility.

Let me be clear that we are talking about teens to adulthood of similar ages; therefore not childhood sexual abuse.

Is it incest?

Laws vary in the US and around the world as to whether sex between family members where one is adopted is legally considered incest. Regardless of the legality, in my book it is incest pure and simple, and it is wrong because it is harmful to the adoptee. Period.

How can an adopted person feel anything but “less than” a full member of the family when they know that their cousin and likely other relatives consider them to be outside the family and thus “safe” for dating and sex?

Bottom line: if it’s illegal with a blood relative it should be illegal with an adoptive relative. Heart bonds are as strong, if not stronger, than blood ties.

Is Incest More Common in Adoptive Families?

I was not able to find reliable statistics on whether incest is more common in adoptive families. However, a quick google search of Yahoo Answers found the following questions:

  • Is it incest if you slept with your adopted sister?
  • I’m in love with my adopted cousin. Is this wrong?
  • If you are in a family and your sister is adopted also, is it still incest if you sleep with her?

There are some very sick people in this world!

According Alan Davis, head of the National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence, “Incest is more likely to occur in a family where at least one parent is a stepparent, and it shows up far more often in homes where both parents are not the natural parents.

What’s an Adoptive Parent to Do?

As adoptive parents, we see our kids as ours – completely and totally. However, all members of our family and extended family may not see them the same way. They may somehow focus on the blood connection versus the heart/emotional connection. How do we prepare our kids for that possibility?

I’m not sure other than being aware of the possibility and keeping a watchful eye.

I believe the situation discussed in the group and brought up by my friend involved same-aged cousins beyond childhood, but this situation shares some similarities with childhood sexual abuse. Most sexual abuse of children is by someone known to the child and parents. Parents tend to focus on stranger danger, but the real danger is usually someone far closer.

Warning Signs of Incest

Incest, as with all forms of abuse, is hard to detect. This is especially the case when it involves teens and adults because the perpetrator or both participants are trying to hide their involvement.

According to Keith Fadelici, licensed clinical social worker and the assistant director of Victims Assistance Services.

“There are no definite signs and anything on the list as an indicator is always potentially explainable in another way,” he explained. “But some of the noteworthy signs are that a child will either avoid or be very attached to that parent, that the child may act more sexual, and that a child may have either extreme fearlessness or fearfulness.”

Often, he said, young victims will respond to incest with self-injurious behavior such as drug abuse, cutting themselves or acquiring an eating disorder. These are ways that kids try to adapt to what`s happening to them.

If you’re adopted, did something like this happen to you? If you’re an adoptive parent, has this possibility ever occurred to you? How do we prevent it?


Image credit: Justin

09/09/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 18 Comments

18 Responses to “You Know You’re Adopted When Your Cousin Tries to Seduce You”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Is it wrong when we’re 60? There is no blood relation between my adopted cousin and me, and we are single and attracted to each other.

  2. Avatar skyla says:

    I’m adopted and almost two years ago this guy I never knew we started talking then dating and we found out that we were cousins and now be been together two years and h aveing a baby his family loves me like I was there own is this wrong?

  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    In our family, it was the other way around: the adopted cousin coming on to the other cousins. That being said, I think he was just trying to get a rise out of us… He knew we found that repulsive because he was our cousin, genetics not withstanding.

  4. Avatar Lori says:

    I think a lot comes down to what kind of relationship they have growing up. If your families live close and you are like extended siblings I think that is wrong. Lots of families are spread out though and some cousins rarely see each other. So while there may still an “ick” factor it isn’t the same as siblings or close relatives dating. If the only reason they want to date you is that you are adopted so not “really” part of the family, that is wrong too.

  5. Avatar Shalisa says:

    Thought provoking discussion. I agree with dawn. And moreover, having someone come on to you who you are supposed to trust—and that is damaging in the long run.

  6. Avatar CB says:

    It’s definitely not OK to consider adopted siblings/cousins/etc. as less of a relative. It’s something to consider with family members…it’s my responsibility to make sure my children are safe. I trust everyone in my family but you do have that in the back of your mind. I’ve heard of stories of people saying dumb things to their adopted kids…that oh, they could marry because they’re not biological siblings. That’s messed up on so many levels!

    I can’t believe that Hollywood embraces Woody Allen with open arms after what he did. But, in his case, I don’t think it matters that his step daughter, now wife, was adopted. She wouldn’t be a genetic relative of his either way. It’s just wrong because marrying your step daughter is wrong and shouldn’t be legal!

  7. Avatar foster adopt mama says:

    My (adopted) dh and his cousin were college roommates. He and his sibs are close to their cousins and my girls are very tight with theirs….almost like extended siblings. I guess you can never say never but I would be shocked. I trust my family members and don’t want to assume anything….even acting like it is a potential that i have to be on the alert for is frankly disturbing to me but I do appreciate the message. I also can see how it would be a bit different if they met later in life and did not have a “family” relationship.

  8. Avatar cb says:

    “you know you’re adopted when your cousin tries to seduce you saying ‘you’re not really a blood relative’”.

    My point is that the same lechy cousin who tries to seduce their non-genetically related cousin is quite probably also fancies some of their genetic cousins but has been scared off purely by the genetic issues.

    There is a middle finger in each hand which is useful for situations like that. If that doesn’t work and the cousin is persistent, then that’s when the knee comes into play 🙂

    Btw all my adoptive cousins live overseas and are a lot older (by about 15 years). If I had had an adopted cousin who was really attractive, I wouldn’t have had an issue with going out with him and getting married – I know it would be safe to have babies and that’s what the whole taboo is all about.

    Btw I consider ALL my cousins, aunts and uncles to be equal- bio and adopted, they are all family.

  9. Avatar cb says:

    “I doubt the cousin would try to date or have sex with a genetically related cousin.”

    I did get your point. We are talking cousins not siblings – genetically related cousins often date, marry and have children. I don’t have an issue with cousins marrying. Genetically related cousins can and do get married and have relationships in many countries and states and have throughout history.


    My point was that the main reason that some US states have banned cousin marriages (or have restrictions) is purely due to genetic considerations that could arise ( issues that some may say is overblown). I was pointing out that when genetic cousins fall in love, the genetic is one thing they do have to consider, when non-genetic cousins fall in love, then that is one thing they don’t have to worry about. So a cousin might actually find both his genetically and non-genetically cousins attractive but, because of the genetic worries, might think it is safer, from a future children point of view, to go for the non-genetically related one.

    Quite a few famous people have married their first cousins:

    “Some famous individuals who married their first cousins include: Albert Einstein (with his second wife Elsa), H.G. Wells (with Isabel Mary Wells), Saddam Hussein (with Sajida Talfah), Christopher Robin Miln and his wife Leslie (the former being of Winnie the Pooh fame), and Edgar Allen Poe with Virginia Clemm, among many, many more.”


  10. Avatar cb says:

    Btw I am assuming that the ban on first cousin marriage by some states would be because if identical twin brothers married identical twin sisters, their resultant children would be as genetically close as siblings.

  11. Avatar cb says:

    Here are the laws for cousin marriage:


    “Bottom line: if it’s illegal with a blood relative it should be illegal with an adoptive relative. Heart bonds are as strong, if not stronger, than blood ties.”

    The main reason for banning marriage between cousins is for genetic reasons. Adopted cousins don’t have that genetic link.

    I’m certanly not advocating immediate family marriage (eg siblings/parents) but when it comes to cousins, it IS more acceptabl for adopted cousins to mrry because there is no genetic danger to their child. When cousin marriage is banned, it is banned because of genetic reasons.

    • cb, I think you missed my point. My concerns about a cousin “coming on” to an adopted cousin is not about the concern for genetic danger or even the “ick factor”, it is because the underlying message is that the adopted person is less a member of the family. I doubt the cousin would try to date or have sex with a genetically related cousin. By doing this with an adopted cousin means that the cousin does not view his/her adopted cousin as a member of the family. Bans on incest is not only the concern about genetic damage to resulting children, but also the damage to families when family members have sex. I think I would feel differently about this situation if they didn’t know each other and accidentally met and started dating.

      • Avatar E901 says:

        And what if we knew each other our whole lives and both held feelings? Consensual actions between adults shouldnt be a matter of law.

  12. Avatar cb says:

    This actress, Lindsay Price, is married to an Australian chef. Her mother was adopted by her father’s family. They married when they were old enough. I’m not sure how they could marry if they were legal brother and sister?


    “On December 6, 1976 Lindsay Price was born in a small city in California, the second child of her Korean mother and her German-Irish father; her older brother and only sibling is named Bryan. Interestingly enough, Price’s parents were actually raised as brother and sister; Lindsay’s mother was adopted from Korea by the Price family when she was young.”

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