Sex within mami, chachi, bhabhi

Sex within the family – Points to consider

Sex with a family member - At Love Matters, we receive many questions on this topic on our Discussion Board. So let’s talk about it.

A family unit can mean different things to different people. But broadly family members are either related by blood and or through social institutions such as marriage. 

Incestuous relations 

Incestuous sexual relations are those between close family members – or people related by blood. Sex between a parent and a child, siblings, uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews, and even, first cousins is considered as incest in several religions/cultures. 

Non-incestuous relations 

However, a family isn’t just limited to blood relations. It also includes people bound together by social institutions like marriage. Sex between people who are not related by blood but are still part of the same family unit can be described as non-incestuous sexual relations. This includes being sexually intimate with one’s father-in-law, brother-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt or uncles’ spouses. 

What the law says 

While incest is considered not only immoral but also illegal in many countries such as Australia, Germany, Brazil, Denmark, Canada and the US, the laws for the same have not been defined in India

So, while a person cannot be booked or convicted for engaging in sex with a family member, provisions of sexual abuse, rape and sodomy can still be applied in relevant cases. For instance, an elder family member can be tried on charges of rape and sexual assault for engaging in sex with a child or minor. 

Since the Supreme Court in 2018 struck down section 497 of the IPC that criminalised adultery, non-incestuous sexual relationships between family members are no longer a punishable offence. However, it can still serve as grounds for divorce and mental cruelty.

Power factor 

The arguments against sex within the family are normally based on moral outrage. Societal constructs have conditioned us to draw and respect certain boundaries in our familial relationships. Crossing these boundaries is considered salacious. That’s why those who argue in favour of incest often challenge these social boundaries that prevent sexual relations between family members. 

However, another crucial factor – which is far more important than the morality argument – is often overlooked. This factor is the power dynamics in family relationships. In each family, some members hold more powers (or greater say in decisions) over other members of the family. 

For example, in almost all households adults have more say than children. Most husbands have more say than wives, fathers have more say than mothers, or in many families where brothers are having more say than daughters or sons have more say than sisters (or sisters-in-law). Some of this power is due to age, experience, earning capability and some due to societal norms. 

This say in matters or power over other family members is often used or abused to coerce or influence other family members into sexual relations; with many such encounters turning into abuse. 

When a grandfather, father, uncle, mother or aunty establishes sexual relationships with a grandchild, child, nephew or niece, the ‘consent’ of the younger person is either not taken into consideration or obtained as a result of the power they hold over the other person. Even if they're not minors, they may concede to such overtures due to fear, influence, threat, pressure or coercion. And may even silently endure this sexual assault for years out of fear, shame or for the sake of keeping the family from falling apart. 

Psychological impact 

Sexual relations between family members may have damaging effects on the psyche of the person if he or she is being coerced into such sexual activities. The feelings of guilt, coupled with the fact that the person has to live under the same roof as the perpetrator of the act, results in trust issues, stunted emotional growth, and poor attachment styles (style of connecting, relating or loving others). 

In extreme cases, it can also lead to anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts. 

Impact on family relations 

Such sexual relationships may threaten the family structure in some families, if and when they come to light. For instance, if a brother-in-law and sister-in-law have sexual relations, the marriage by which they are related to each other may be threatened. 

If one of the partners engaging in sex is a minor or an adult being forced by the other, the perpetrator will land behind bars under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. Often due to fear of landing a family member in jail, many minors continue to suffer sexual exploitation without speaking out within the family for years. 

Besides, other people in the family may refuse to believe their account, discredit it or blame the victim for the occurrence. The trauma of the experience is magnified manifold if the person doesn’t get their family’s support, or worse still is blamed for the act, when they bring it to light. 

If you harbour a desire for a close family member and are considering acting on it, just think about what is at stake. It can often lead to hurt, alienation, trauma and confusion within familial relationships.

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