Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Sociology of Incest

Professor Henslin of The Ohio State University (why don't they just call it Ohio State University instead of The Ohio State University) has posted a very interesting article about the sociology of sexuality. It's in a pdf file, though, so you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read it.

He makes the excellent and very simple point that there are some sexual activites that societies don't much bother trying to prohibit, while there are others that they invest a lot of effort into preventing. Rape is the most obviously prohibited thing. But incest isn't much farther down the list.

Naturally, what is prohibited varies a great deal from society to society and--even more interesting--within a society over time. Did you know that it wasn't till 1908 that England passed its first laws outlawing incest? And did you know that child pornography wasn't made illegal at the Federal level in the USA until the 1970's? Clearly, some prohibitions that we are used to (whether we like them or not) weren't always in place. Mores change, and our laws evolve with them.

Dr. Henslin's article gives a good quick overview of the thinking on why most societies have some form of incest taboo. Less ink is devoted to why it might differ over time within a society or between societies, however. But I think that generally reflects the poor state of academic research into incest. Thanks to the anthropologists, we know what different societies' mores are with regard to incest, but not much about how often they are broken or how they evolve. The article is a good overview, however.

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