Can sex between brothers and sisters ever be normal?

In an interview published Monday, Hollywood director Nick Cassavetes, whose new movie Yellow tells the story of a fictional love affair between an adult sister and brother, claimed that incest is just the latest frontier in people throwing off the shackles of rigid, cultural convention and following their hearts.

According to Cassavetes’ interview with The Wrap, “I have no experience with incest  .  .  .  .  We had heard a few stories where brothers and sisters were completely, absolutely in love with one another.  You know what?  This whole movie is about judgment, and lack of it, and doing what you want.  Who gives a shit if people judge you?  I’m not saying this is an absolute but in a way, if you’re not having kids — who gives a damn?  Love who you want.  Isn’t that what we say?  Gay marriage — love who you want?  If it’s your brother or sister it’s super-weird, but if you look at it, you’re not hurting anybody except every single person who freaks out because you’re in love with one another.”

With this declaration, Cassavetes misses an inherent reality about human beings and joins the ranks of those whose ignorance of psychological truth (that’s right, truth, not flabby, toxic relativism and malignant narcissism) imperils our children under the guise of freeing them.

Here’s the truth:  When sisters and brothers have sex with one another they are not expressing genuine romantic love; they are expressing long-forged, pathologically fractured boundaries that existed in their family of origin.  They are manifesting roots deep in soil that was fouled at some point.  They are enacting a drama that is really about having grown up in a household or in households that unleashed inappropriate, toxic sexual impulses—always, in my experience, because one or both of the siblings was exposed to child sexual abuse or was suffering with a severe mental illness.

Sorry, Nick, that’s just how it is:  Normal, healthy brothers and sisters don’t have sex as kids, adolescents or when they grow up.  Sick ones do.  And when you make the statement that it is just fine for consenting sisters and brothers to have sex, you presumably also believe (based on the comments quoted above) that fathers can have sex with their “consenting” adult daughters.


And, you believe it is fine that mothers bed their consenting adult sons.


Why would anyone suggest, otherwise?  Aren’t human beings free to do as they choose?  Why should we call anyone disordered?  Isn’t that just vicious name-calling?  And how about this one, Nick?  Why can’t a killer do in a consenting victim?  Why can’t someone who believes the CIA is following him and who ends up homeless just be called a “life artist?”  Why does that person have to be labeled psychotic?  Who’s to pass judgment?  Certainly not you.

No, you won’t, because you have no guiding principles, other than this one:  There are no guiding principles.  But, I will.  Because I don’t mind taking a stand on the side of inherent, human truth when twisting it confines people to psychological pathology and leaves them forever in pain.  So, here you go:  Sisters and brothers who have sexual affairs are not well.  They need help sorting out and overcoming psychological suffering and terrifying traumas that visited them long ago.

In our increasingly psychologically ill society, the mainstreaming of psychiatric pathology—what one of my mentors termed, “collaborating with madness”—passes for tolerance and enlightenment.  And the ambassadors of this epidemic of pathological-behavior-as-freedom too often come from an industry that I happen to have more than a little experience with:  television and film.

So here’s the truth, from this one psychiatrist, so that not every psychiatrist is presumed to be a pushover for psychiatric disorders masquerading as one’s “rights” or as expressions of “freedom:” A sexual 'affair' between an adult brother and sister means both of those individuals are severely psychologically disordered.  Period.

I’m here to help them, in part by telling them that, even if they are in denial about the underlying suffering fueling their symptoms (incest), they will have to confront it, eventually.  And, Nick—even with my respect for some of your other work and full disclosure, here, with my personal and positive history with your family, your notion that disordered psychology and behavior is freedom, means that, in time, you will have to confront some long-denied demons, too.

Because in my office, and eventually, in yours, too, the truth always wins.