Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I had sex with my brother but I don't feel guilty

I had sex with my brother but I don't feel guilty
By Joan McFadden
The Times - July 15, 2008
A woman slept with her sibling for years and has good memories. Not many people understand their relationship, she says

Strangely enough, Daniel's wedding day didn't upset me at all. It was his 30th birthday six months later which really got to me, as he stood there with his wife Alison while they greeted the guests. I can honestly say that that was the only time when I felt real envy and wished desperately that it was me standing beside him, arms round each other as we showed the world how much we loved each other.

It's not as if I'm not allowed to love Daniel, but the way we feel about each other isn't something that we can share easily with anyone else. Daniel is my brother, but since I was 14 we've had a sexual relationship - and that's not something that many people would feel comfortable with.

I've only ever spoken about this once before, and even then it was very much in the abstract. While I was still at university a friend had a major misunderstanding with a relatively new boyfriend when one of his friends had reported back to him that he'd seen her hugging and kissing another man in the union bar. She was firstly annoyed at being questioned and became even more exasperated when she explained that the man in question was her brother, as her boyfriend refused to believe her. Their loud discussion took place in the union with an interested audience, until he finally stamped out in fury, still refusing to believe her. As she flounced back to join us she made a remark about preferring her brother to any other man, whereupon one of the crowd said “Yuck, how pervy!” As she sat down beside me she muttered something like “It's not that strange,” and three or four drinks later I quietly asked her what she'd meant.

Fuelled by drink or maybe just rage, she started talking in a very intense but hushed way about how close siblings could be, going on to say that she was sure that many people experimented sexually with them as they grew up and then simply grew out of it. She said it was like practising your social skills on your family and so long as it was mutual, she couldn't see the harm. I didn't say much - partly because I couldn't believe that I'd met someone who seemed to be like me - and she very quickly clammed up and moved over to talk to someone else and never brought up the subject again.

I think the only reason that I'm talking about it now is to emphasise that I truly believe that she was right - it doesn't happen to everyone but it happens to some, and I don't want to be made to feel guilty about it. Incest is so often spoken about in the same breath as abuse, but if you're close in age and equal in relationship terms then it's entirely different. Of course abuse happens, but it can happen in any sexual relationship and there's an expectation that a family member would never hurt you in the way that someone else could. There's no comparison between siblings close in age having sexual feelings and contact and an adult forcing a younger member of the family to do something they neither understand nor want to be involved in. I think incest is traditionally seen as bad, but in some cultures that isn't the case. When I was small I asked a Sunday school teacher if Adam and Eve's children married each other since they were the first people on earth. She just laughed and didn't reply. Having children with Daniel was never an issue and we were always careful about contraception.

All my memories of my relationship with Daniel are good. He's only a year older than me and we've always been close, especially since we always seemed to be full of nonsense compared with our older sister Jane. She's four years older than Daniel and very studious and focused, while he's bursting with fun and light-hearted enthusiasm. I've adored him for as long as I can remember and my parents were always delighted by our closeness when we were small. We shared friends and moved happily in the same social circles, so I could never understand girls who didn't get on with their brothers.

Things changed when I was 14. I had spent hours getting ready for my first Christmas dance when I knocked on Daniel's bedroom door. It's a dodgy age as you're trying to come to terms with your developing body and worry endlessly about how you look, so his wolf whistle was very welcome as he swept me into his arms and we pirouetted, laughing, around the room, before going downstairs to show off our finery to our parents and Jane.

Daniel's appreciation really helped my confidence and I was aware of him smiling approvingly as boy after boy asked me up to dance, though my greatest pleasure was when he claimed me for the last dance. We giggled home to gossip and hot chocolate with our parents and by the next day all the finery was discarded and life was back to normal.

On New Year's Eve Daniel went to a party and by the time he got home I was already asleep. I was extremely sleepy when he crept into my room and curled up on my bed, which was something we'd both done for years, especially if we wanted to share some snippet of gossip. When he started stroking my hair and face it was a surprise, but I could feel myself drifting pleasurably back to sleep as he caressed me gently. Then I became aware of his hand drifting lower and suddenly I was wide awake as he stroked my neck and started sliding his hand down my vest top. I wasn't scared but I was surprised as he started stroking me, though my overriding sensation was one of sheer pleasure. I instinctively lifted my mouth to his as he kissed me and then he hugged me very tightly and left.

I lay in complete confusion with my mind racing and my body totally turned on. All the sex education I'd had said that this was wrong, that it was abuse and incest. But it hadn't felt wrong and I certainly hadn't felt forced. Rather, I felt that Daniel had stopped long before I'd wanted him to. It was hours before I finally fell asleep but I was sure of two things - that I'd really enjoyed it and I still adored my brother.

The next morning it was clear that Daniel had a hangover but as he grinned up at me from his prone position on the couch there was no awkwardness or regret between us. We didn't discuss what had happened, but went for a long walk that afternoon with Jane and the dog and everything felt the same, down to Jane chiding us about being irresponsible about leaving our parents to do all the tidying up after new year's dinner.

Over the next few years we had sexual encounters every six months or so, each time going farther and farther until I was 17, when we had full sex for the first time. We both went out with other people and there was never any jealousy, although I found it hard to be physically intimate with anyone else. Part of that was because sex with Daniel was so amazing that I had no patience for all the fumbling that seemed to happen with other boys. The sex was never pre-planned, but just always seemed to happen when there was no chance of being discovered.

Every so often I would wonder what people would think if they found out, especially our parents, but it always felt so right and was so exciting that these concerns were never enough to stop me. Sometimes he initiated sex and sometimes I did, but in between times our relationship was as easy, relaxed and affectionate as ever, with the incredible passion of each encounter quietly banked away until the next time.

I missed Daniel when he went to university, but went to stay with him every three months or so. Sometimes we would have sex and at other times neither of us seemed interested. By the time he met Alison he was working and I was a student, and I knew that this relationship was different, but it still came as a shock when he told me he wanted to marry her. However, I was more shocked when he said: “You only have to say and I won't marry her, but then I want us to stay together and not see anyone else. We could be the old boring brother and sister who never got married, but ended up sharing a house because no one else would have them! I know this is meant to be wrong but I've never felt anything so right.” This echoed everything that I've thought about our incestuous relationship over the years. After hours of discussion we agreed that it was time to stop the sexual side of our relationship and also decided that telling anyone else was a bad idea, parting in tears afterwards.

I know Daniel loves Alison, but she's very wary of me. I'm pretty sure that she doesn't see me as a sexual threat, but she thinks of me as an emotional rival and I suppose she's right. It's not unusual - there are countless people dealing with all the emotions that result from partners becoming officially family.

I have wondered if there will ever come a time when I'll look back on my relationship with Daniel in disgust, but I don't think so. Everyone has relationships where the sexual element has ended but a great friendship remains, and that's as good a way as any of summing up what's happened with us. Daniel has a unique place in my affections, as I do with him, and that will never change.

As an academic I have a tendency to draw logical conclusions. I like to see a pattern and resolution, so it does pain me that what appears so lovely and natural to me would be regarded as abhorrent by most people. It's not my subject, but I would be really interested to see a study on incest done on these terms, moving it away entirely from the concept of abuse. However, I simply cannot imagine that many people are happy to talk about it and I certainly wouldn't put my family through hell by being the first to go public.

Three months ago I met Derek and I think this is going to be a lasting relationship. The sex is certainly amazing and he's a warm and lovely man, so I have high hopes for this. The trouble with having someone like Daniel in your life is that it leaves you with very high expectations, but it's hard knowing that the one person you love above everything is out of bounds. Perhaps worst of all is the fact that you can't tell anyone, as his or her disgust would ruin everything.

Names have been changed. As told to Joan McFadden

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