No, this is not some bad joke about family members and incest in some (unnamed) southern state. This is about feelings of attraction that may be experienced by adults when they reconnect with birth family members from whom they’ve been separated by adoption… an attraction so strong and so intense as to be interpreted as sexual desire.

The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential defines genetic sexual attraction (GSA) as:

Experienced between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, and between more distant relatives, but most common between siblings of opposite sex who bear a close resemblance. It takes the form of an overpowering, almost electrical grip of emotion, associated with an inability to keep away from the other person and an almost primordial sense of having belonged together all their lives. The attraction gives rise to a sense of underlying shame and guilt, together with a feeling of rejection that may prevent effective communication because the emotions are too threatening to share with anyone. This may be compounded by any sexual relationship resulting from the attraction.

Particularly noted in the case of adopted children who are subsequently reunited with the biological parent or sibling of the opposite sex, seemingly because the normal bonding mechanism has been disrupted.Pastor Bill Bossert, Past President of the Oregon Adoptive Rights Association (OARA) writes that genetic attraction is a frequently noted response to reunion. Feelings include the need to touch, to spend time together, talk and share. Suggested reasons for the attraction include:

  • Similar Characteristics
    Similar genetic makeup can produce similarities in temperament, appearance, and other areas that are common in all birth families to a certain extent.
  • Self-Love
    While we may not want to admit it, we generally tend to feel more comfortable with those whose characteristics are similar to our own.
  • Aromatic Identification
    It has been suggested that a subconscious memory of the smell of one’s own family may be recognized and, if so, would cause an actual physical reaction.

When the desire to consummate the relationship enters the equation, genetic attraction becomes genetic sexual attraction.

Fear of Discovery, Fear of Separation

Acknowledging the existence of such feelings raises the spectre of incest, and when these feelings become so intense that they threaten to cross the line over into the realm of physical and deep emotional involvement, many break off the relationship completely, or limit its scope rather than try to talk about it, says Bossert. Others, according to Canadian adoption therapist Dianne Mathes, can be so overcome by fear of another separation that they too keep silent but, instead of pulling away, may view a sexual relationship as the only way to keep the connection alive.

Confront It

As with any issue, this needs to be met head-on despite its sensitive nature. It is a natural human desire to be with our own, and it’s not at all unusual to react with excessive emotion when experiencing reunion. If you find yourself “falling in love” or sexually attracted to a new-found birth family member, here’s what the experts advise:

  • Strong feelings of attraction are not abnormal.
  • There’s nothing wrong with you.
  • Recognize the initial excitement for what it is: the first rush and thrill of reunion, and the birth of love for family.
  • Remember that relationships take time to develop, and that goes for long-separated birth family members as well. Time will serve to settle the relationship in its proper context.
  • Talk to others who have experienced reunion.
  • Find a support group whose leader is comfortable talking about the subject.
  • Seek counseling from an experienced adoption therapist.


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