Vice writer Jennifer Tillmann interviewed a man going by the name of Tom, who has been in a relationship with his sister Lena for over 20 years. Tom was introduced to Tillmann through a psychotherapist named Rotraut Perner, who has made incest his specialty. Most people are rightfully disgusted by incest, but Tom's story paints a very sympathetic case for his situation, especially considering that to reveal their relationship in his native Austria would mean jail for them both and the loss of their child. Yes, they have a child.
Perner talks a bit about how being attracted to your siblings isn't that out of the ordinary or even "wrong," but how people deal with those feelings has a lot to do with their environment:
From my professional experience, it's not true that people don't find their siblings attractive...Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. More importantly, relationships between siblings are defined by envy, rivalry, and admiration, along with the need to cuddle or have secrets from the rest of the world. All those things are linked to certain fantasies—some of them induced by pop culture and the media, others by their upbringing and family situation. Whether or not you make those fantasies a reality, depends on how good you are at evaluating that reality. People in incestuous relationships often lack that skill.
He also says that most brother-sister relationships come about in families where people are fairly isolated and cut off from society, but that doesn't seem to be quite the case for Tom and Lena. They were just mutually hot for each other:
At some point Tom realized that he wasn't perfect. Lena felt the same way. "I started getting real feelings for her when we both entered puberty," said Tom. "She was blossoming. Sometimes I would watch her getting dressed in her room and always felt ashamed of myself afterwards."
Tom reassured himself that curiosity about the female body is normal. He wasn't attracted to his sister but to women in general. But his feelings kept growing stronger. Then, at 17, Lena got her first real boyfriend. "That was hell for me," Tom confesses. "I hated each one of her boyfriend's guts. Lena used to cry because I wouldn't get on with them. Today, I know that it was pure jealousy."
One night, Lena found out her boyfriend had cheated on her. She snuck into her brother's room crying, he got them some wine and 3 glasses later, she kissed him. He yelled at her and pushed her away:
The following days were torture for Tom. Of course they could have just blamed it on the alcohol, but was it really a one-off? His thoughts just wouldn't leave him alone. He begun to remember specific situations. "It became clear to me that Lena and I were always flirting," he said. "I always used to take it as a joke but it couldn't have been. All these strange situations suddenly became crystal clear."
...Lena's told Tom that she would leave her door open on purpose so that he could observe her. She was trying to seduce him—yet that only became clear to her after their kiss. "I was relieved to find out she felt the same about me," said Tom. "We could be happy together. But of course that was a kind of utopia. In reality, our love was a curse—it still is."
The road has been rocky since they admitted their love for one another. Obviously, they kept it hidden for years and it took a toll on their mental health. Tom even attempted suicide. After that, they decided they needed to move and went to Germany. There, they started living openly as a couple, though they don't tell people they're related. Lena listed "father unknown" on their child's birth certificate.
In 2008, a man named Patrick Stübing, who'd had four children with his sister, challenged Germany's incest laws. After much deliberation, the courts decided they had to continue criminalizing incest for the following reasons:
Maintaining a diverse gene pool is in the best interest of public health
Laws against incest can protect vulnerable people from trauma that could arise even from consensual sexual acts.
Decriminalizing incest law could send the "wrong message" to the public
Tom basically thinks the biggest reason incest is illegal is that it's a social taboo and people are grossed out. He argues that plenty of people do gross sex stuff and don't get thrown in jail for it. Tom understands the concern about children born of incest, but thinks that is blown out of proportion as well:
The majority of people think that Paragraph 211[a part of the Austrian criminal code]... serves children who are yet to be born. They are just so wrong. They assume that 100 percent of children who arise from incestuous relationships are handicapped.
I would understand it if you told me, "You are going to prison because you are endangering your child." But my child is healthy and my wife and I love each other voluntarily. Therefore all good reasons for punishment do not apply.
According to a UK-based group called the Genetic Alliance, there is definitely an increased chance of a child having genetic disorders if the parents are related to each other, but in reality, most children from those relationships are perfectly healthy.
Ultimately, whether you like it or not, they're doing it and they'll lie if they have to. As Tom says, "There's no way I'll let them put me in prison and take me away from my family."