Am I Destined to be Attracted to My Daughter?

Q: My wife and I just had our first child six months ago, a girl. I was expecting a boy so I was pleasantly surprised. However, now I’m concerned, my wife is a very attractive woman and I’m expecting my daughter to also grow into an attractive young lady. Am I destined to be attracted to my daughter? How can I safeguard against this?- Jon, Palm Beach

A: Dear Jon,

healthy family relationshipsThere are different ways in which one can be attracted to one’s daughter. You might one day find yourself thinking, “my, what a lovely, intelligent young lady she is becoming, no wonder I so enjoy our time together.” We would hope that it turns out that way. But if something goes wrong you might find yourself thinking, “nice rack, kiddo, want some candy?”

Ick.

The reason I say that something might go wrong in the second case is that you may be pre-programmed not to be attracted to your daughter, in the icky way, if biology has anything to say about the matter.

Evolution doesn’t like incest because it tends to advance dangerous genes. Let’s say, for example, that you carry a recessive gene for hemophilia, a life-threatening disorder that slows the clotting of blood. Since it is recessive, you can carry the gene without the unpleasant effects. You can even pass the gene to your offspring and it will remain recessive as long as the other parent doesn’t also pass it on.

However, if both parents carry the recessive gene, chances are increased that the offspring will develop hemophilia, become European royalty, and die before he or she can reproduce.

Evolutionary psychologists believe when that particular offspring dies, along with others like him, so does the tendency toward the behavior of incest. What we are ultimately left with, many generations down the road, is a widespread genetic aversion to mating with relatives.

Why we don’t diddle the kinfolk

When a behavior like incest interferes with creating healthy offspring, says evolutionary theory, that behavior tends not to survive in subsequent generations. This is probably why diddling the kinfolk is a serious taboo in almost all cultures. Cultures with no rules against incest would be less likely to produce healthy offspring.

Another cultural commonality is that the aversion to incest tends to be strongest in relation to our closest relatives – such as our kids. The more closely those people are related to us, the more genetic information we share, and the less sense it makes to mate with them. At least, that’s the genetic point of view.

Incidentally, you might feel that incest is clearly, obviously disgusting and you don’t need no stinkin’ gene to tell you that it’s wrong. If so, thank your genes for telling you that. The revulsion that you feel about groovin’ with cousin Betty may be your genes’ way of preventing you from engaging in the behavior. Not that you would.

Why some people do it anyway

Now you’re asking: So if incest is against the genetic rules, Dr. Smarty Pants, why do some people do it? Well, Jon, some people are crazy. To be more precise, some people are deviant, meaning that their proclivities don’t match yours, mine, and the great majority. Some people, for example, are pedophiles, and here’s where your question comes into the picture.

Psychology, in its never-ending quest to prove the obvious, has discovered that pedophiles are aroused by pictures of children. As they were testing this scientific breakthrough, researchers noticed a useful and non-intuitive tidbit: men who molest their female daughters are different in some important ways from men who molest non-relatives (Rice & Harris, 2002; Seto, Lamuliere, & Kuban, 1999).

For one thing, some research suggests that men who molest their daughters typically don’t molest outside the family, and they are less likely to repeat the crime with new victims.

This stands in contrast to non-familial pedophiles who are notorious for recidivism and multiple victims. What’s more, familial pedophiles aren’t as aroused by children as your garden variety pedophile would be. So what makes them ignore the genetic rules against incest? How do they get past the stomach-turning reaction that most of us have? The research suggests a couple of explanations (Seto et al, 2002).

Be a good dad

First, it’s possible that fathers who have minimal involvement with their daughters may not be giving themselves the opportunity to develop a normal sexual aversion to their kiddos. Some evolutionary psychologists believe that ongoing, familial-type involvement with other people triggers a behavior that says “hey, I’m spending an awful lot of time with that one, so she must be related. Stay out of those genes.”

Another possibility is that fathers who molest their daughters have trouble getting their needs met in normal, healthy, adult relationships. Lacking normal intimate partnerships, dad begins to notice the one female who depends on him, understands him, and loves him: his daughter. Confusion and/or desperation leads him to take their relationship to the next level. Creepy, I know.

So, Jon, here’s what you can do to avoid being sexually drawn to your daughter when she matures into that attractive young lady. First, realize that paranoia is typical with new fathers. What you are experiencing now may be nothing more than your desire to protect your infant daughter from everything, including yourself.

Second, stay involved with her and become the best father you can be, every single day. Do you remember the “quality time” nonsense from the 80s? The idea was that busy parents would spend very little time with their children, but by God, they would make those precious few minutes count! Sadly, this is a steaming pile of rationalization that some parents use as an excuse to focus on things other than their kids.

Quantity time is the key, Jon. The quality will follow, and the chances of dysfunction in your family will be greatly reduced if you are there every day to change the diaper, walk her to school, help her with her homework, and even veg out in front of the TV (for those of you who somehow manage to question the significance of fatherhood, see Rohner & Veneziano, 2001). One day she will be looking for a man of her own (or a woman – let’s not confine her) and she will be looking for someone like you. Set a high bar, Jon.

Finally, make sure that your own relational house is in order. Maintain mature, adult relationships with people your own age. And when it’s time to get your ashes hauled, call on Mrs. Jon. Hopefully, having read this, she will be happy to oblige.

-IS

Update: Anonymous Writes:

“I love your site. About your answer on incest ‘Destined to be attracted to my daughter.’ You mentioned that genes are the cause of one being disgusted by incest, although I don’t have your education I beg to differ. Please let me differ.

Mommy Sue has two kids, Billy and Mandy. Sue dies while in labor and Billy and Mandy are split up and adopted, Billy in Ohio and Mandy in Maine. Years later they go to the same college and meet. The gene does not say, ‘hey you guys are brother and sister.’ They could be sexually attracted to one another yet be disgusted with having sex with their step brother or sister, which is not incest in the genetic sense.

This would imply that it is not genes but rather an emotional bond formed by the feeling of family.

Thanks for reading my two cents. If I am totally off base then I would like my two cents back.”

Shawn Responds:

Two cents? Is this some kind of money making scheme?

One of the theories of evolutionary psychology suggests that sexual aversion to relatives comes about after we spend large amounts of developmental time with them. That theory answers your question. If full-siblings Billy and Mandy were not reared together, then they might not develop a sexual aversion to one another (though the knowledge that they are brother and sister will probably be enough, Luke and Leia Skywalker, who were separated at birth and who can argue with Star Wars?). Unrelated step-siblings reared together, on the other hand, will most likely develop that aversion.

By the way, this article is, hands-down, one of the most widely-read in the archives. Make of that what you will.

-IS

References:
Rice, M. E., & Harris, G. T. (2002). Men who molest their sexually immature daughters: Is a special explanation required? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111(2), 329-339.

Rohner, R. P., & Veneziano, R. A. (2001). The importance of father love: history and contemporary evidence. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 382-405.

Seto, M. C., Lalumiere, M. L., & Kuban, M. (1999). The sexual preferences of incest offenders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108(2), 267-272.

16 comments

  • I am in the same boat as Jon is. I am the oldest of three boys with my mother being the only female on her side while my dads side is all boys as well. Out of both sides, I have one female cousin who is very pretty and has grown to be quite the young woman. Growing up, my friends would give me a hard time about her and to be quite honest, I saw where they were coming from. I never knew if that was normal or not but the attraction never got serious so I never thought twice.

    Now, being the first out of all of my brothers and cousins to get married, I recently found out that my wife is pregnant with a baby girl. I find myself worrying about those “What if” questions. My wife is absolutely gorgeous and sometimes I fear the possibility of an attraction to the young lady my daughter will grow up to be.

    I am a United States Marine and if the military has taught me anything, its that there are some truly sick and twisted people in our world. Especially with our technology today that literally gives people the fuel that feeds their addictions. As a teen and even still to this day, I have struggled with pornography. Anything that can come to mind is literally at our fingertips and the sources are endless. I have personally watched porn ranging from incest to transexual just out of curiosity, and the only reason I feel comfortable about admitting that is because I know that I’m not the only one and its probably more common than people think.

    I seriously don’t know the first thing about raising a girl and neither do my parents. I have no idea what to expect being a father and bringing up a girl in the world today. Being “somewhat” of a porn addict, I’m worried that my issues could lead to a sexual attraction to my own daughter who hasnt even been born yet.

    Am I just crazy?

    Is it normal to have had a small attraction to your only female cousin even though they were never strong enough to cause any problems?

    Is it normal for a “Soon-to-be-father” to have fears of being sexually attracted to his daughter?

    • Hi Anonymous,

      First, thanks for serving our country and protecting our freedom. You asked if it is normal to feel attracted to one’s cousin. Without resorting to tasteless jokes about the British royal family or the movie “Deliverance,” I’m certain the answer is yes. I haven’t checked the literature on this particular question, but off the top of my head I’m going to guess that cousins are unique in that 1) we share enough DNA to generally find the idea of sex with them aversive, but not enough to be completely repulsed by the idea (mind you, shared DNA is only one factor in sexual attraction, but let’s set aside other factors) and 2) we usually know them fairly well, and familiarity can breed attraction. So I think it’s not unusual to feel a mix of sexual attraction and repulsion toward cousins.

      As to your other question about porn leading to pedophilia… I know of no evidence suggesting that normal, adult-oriented images (as opposed to kiddie pr)n) can lead to pedophilia. I imagine that’s especially true if your porn habits are part of a healthy sexual relationship with another adult.

    • porn addiction can absolutely lead to being sexually attracted to your own daughter. this is enabled by the desensitisation and escalation that accompanies sustaining this addiction. similarly, there’s evidence for porn addicts escalating from ‘adult-oriented’ material to underage material quite quickly. there are growing studies on the subject of porn addiction. it will only cause problems.

    • I know exactly what you’re going through! I had the same exact worries! I have been addicted to porn for many years now. I had to stop when I found myself turned on by incest. My porn desensitized me and escalated from normal “vanilla” porn to stuff involving incest, animals, group sex, etc, etc, I knew I had a problem. My wife and I are also trying to have a baby right now and my biggest fears have been “what if we have a girl, will I be attracted to her? What if I harm her? I won’t be able to live with myself.” I developed POCD where I fear I’m a pedophile. It’s been hell. But I’ve been seeing a therapist and it’s been helping a ton! I also joined a sex addicts group through a church and as of today I’m 57 days sober from porn. Let me tell you what, it has helped a TON! When you don’t feed your brain with perverse thoughts and images, guess what, they slow down and stop coming up so much. I’m hoping eventually they’ll be gone completely. I can’t wait to have a baby and I know the moment I hold him or her, I’ll forget all my worries and unfounded concerns. If you have or are having a baby soon, please do yourself and the baby a favor and quit the porn. Life is so much better when you’re not enslaved by sexual thoughts and perverse desires.

  • “This stands in contrast to non-familial pedophiles who are notorious for recidivism and multiple victims. What’s more, familial pedophiles aren’t as aroused by pictures of naked children as your garden variety pedophile would be. So what makes them ignore the genetic rules against incest? How do they get past the stomach-turning reaction that most of us have? The research suggests a couple of explanations (Seto et al, 2002).”

    What explanations? You ask a question and leave it unanswered. Can you please continue?

    • Hi Adam, I think it’s a question of poor formatting on my part. I actually answer the question, I just put the answers under the next subhead. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Hi Adam,
    Well, being a woman myself, I find this whole topic bazzare. Being sexually attracted to your daughter is completely different than thinking she’s beautiful. My father always told me growing up how beautiful I am. I think this fear of becoming sexually attracted to your daughter is just you being paranoid. If you are truely in love with your wife, you’ll be proud of your beautiful accomplishment.This is like me giving birth to my son and being sexual with him when he gets older. It’s complete insest and so dangerous, not to mention gross. I personally believe that you have nothing to be worried about, because your wife hasnt had the baby yet, so the feeling of parenthood hasnt sunk in yet. But when it does, you’ll see your parinoia was absolutly pointless.

  • Hi, as someone who was molested by her Father I have to say that I am reassured by the questions asked on this page. I wish my Father could have been honest with himself.

    Its not an excuse, but I know that my Father was under a lot of physical stress and sexual dissatisfaction when I was a per-pubescent. I matured quickly. I received a lot of attention and compliments from my Father. Sometimes he would only talk to me at the dinner table, when my Mum was right there. He would ignore her and bask me with attention. He would divert all questions back to me. He would tell me how I looked like my Mum when she was younger, he would try and get me to wear my hair like hers. I was a child- I loved my Father, but there were times when even as a child I felt confused and angry that my Father was being so mean to my Mum.

    If you are worried, may I reiterate the advice from above? WORK ON THE RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR WIFE.

    Work on intimacy- the kind where you only ever FULLY open up emotionally with her and only her.

    If my Mother (And I think it is KEY to get women/ wives involved for this reason)had also made a commitment to love and be intimate emotionally and physically with my Father, solving any problems together, between them – or a therapist- my story would be very different.

    Fathers I applaud you for thinking about this, for being cautious. I don’t think you’re being paranoid. I think you’re been very responsible and INCREDIBLY honest.

    In addition to this I guess I would also add that my Father was and sadly still is a bit of a loner, a hermit really. I would encourage you to have good friendships, the kind where you can really talk- where you can kick down a few beers or whatever you do to relax and talk.

    I wish my Dad had had more friends to realize he was bathing me at too old an age. I wish my Dad had had more friends/ friends who would have been honest with him and elbowed him when he stared/ oggled me. Friends serve as sounding boards and help form ideas of fatherhood and parenting.

    I realize that this is still a taboo area so talking about this with a wife or friend might seem really frightening, but a lot of men have the same fear. My therapist told me she sees a LOT of men with similar fears and questions. Its OK. Asking and talking about it will mean that you’re prepared, should you (hopefully won’t) ever come under such a temptation.

    Sorry if I went on, I’m just so glad to see all these concerned men talking about it. Its gone some way to heal me and rebuild my trust in the opposite sex. Thank you.

  • Hi all,

    Well as a young woman, I know what it is like to have a father who is attracted to me not in a good way. I would love to have a ‘normal’ daughter-father relationship with him but sadly his behaviour (looking at my breasts, COMMENTING on my looks) makes this hard. I have no doubt that if I let him he would make love to me. Please leave your girls alone, let them be kids and please GROW UP!!!

  • Why are people comfortable to describe pedophilia as a deviation (negative) and not homosexuality? You asked us to allow this girl to pick a woman if she prefers.
    Your, and many others’ bias allows you to say being aroused by children or family is evidence of a deviant behavior or “gene” (as if genes could actually control something like this). And yet you don’t allow the application of the same conclusion for people who are aroused by the same sex.
    You, like many others have been guilted into or have enrolled yourself into this pretentious fad of a position that homosexuality is normal and healthy. There is a much stronger “evolutionary” platform for referring to homosexuality as “deviant” than there is for incest or pedophilia. Homosexuals by there very nature would never reproduce. I agree the incest and pedophilia are psychological, emotional and behavioral dysfunctions for which people need help, and the same goes for homosexuality.
    Just to be clear, I am not a hater. I believe in the worth and intrinsic equal value of every person and will care for and befriend them all. But part of my caring creates a desire to help them and I grieve their dysfunction and whatever caused it. I don’t make an effort to gain the praise of other pretentious people by showing how good I can be at pretending their is nothing wrong with someone.

  • @Sceptic Heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality are sexual orientations. They are all from the same group/category, all original, natural structures to human beings.
    Pedophilia is NOT a sexual orientation; it is a paraphilia. It’s from the category of perversions and is in fact a deviation.

    Homosexuality has the role to keep species at a specific number. A lot of homosexual couples in nature adopt babies without parents to take care of. And most even copulate with the other sex to have babies!
    No, homosexuality is never a dysfunction; but if you want to state this, please show us your scientific proofs.

    Let’s learn a bit more about psychology, it is really fun!

  • I am confused Shawn. Is your opinion that genes or development causes the aversion for Incest?

    Incest status is a cultural and social convention as in various points in history it has been a taboo, illegal or commonly accepted, much like pedophilia and homosexuality the latter begining to be more socially accepted today.
    Of course from a biological point of view none of these makes sense as they tend to be unfruitful. However that does nothing to keep people from having same sex relationships or be attracted to prepubertal girls.
    Our genes and “built in biological awareness” does not control our actions.

    Human life is more complex than biology today as sex is overruled by mental stimulation and development.
    Most people look at a dog and think: “That’s a dog. I shouldn’t have sex with a dog”. But other defy that not because they want to multiple but because there is something in their mental mapping that draws them toward it.
    People who won’t have sex with a dog has some physical aversions, some have moral aversions and have emotional aversions such as “A dog can have sex but can’t satisfy my other needs”

    Our psychologically upbringing and experiences creates our mental map and in that you will find the fundations for our interests, desires, short comings, odd obsessions, etc.
    So as mentioned in the answer above bringing up a child, or being close to anyone leaves you with aversions or desires towards that person. That’s how you decide how you want to relate to a person, animal, object or even information. You can take it as a lover, ignore it, keep it distant and so on.

    Any attraction to ones own offspring is considered taboo, wrong, unethical, illegal, against nature and so on… If it wasn’t a father attracted to his daughter would only be limited by his own ethical compass or how he genuinely perceives his daughter. No thought is wrong… actions on the other hand can be.

    Genes has nothing to do with sexual relationships today… we are beyond biology at this point.

    I personally think you need to treat a daughter you find attractive like any other woman close to you find attractive but can’t/won’t have sex with… keep the close, enjoy their company and try not to make it ackward for any of you.

    That is my thoughts reading this response.

    There is no solution you just make it up as you go and make sure you at least tried to do all the right things.

  • the man i just left…sexually molested his handicapped step daughter..while he paid off her mother for her silence..I attempted to get the adult child now to press charges..she almost did..and then she was told about the court process..and wont go through with it..if it takes the rest of my life..this man will pay for his crime..the girl who is now in her twenties..will no longer speak to me as she does not want to press charges..but this man shows attraction to young girls..i need advice..please…

  • I don’t understand why you are basing this entire claim off of one theory from one concentration of psychology? Even if it is prominent, theories are proved wrong every day. IT’S JUST A THEORY. YOU WERE NOT THERE AT THE DAWN OF CIVILIZATION. And it wasn’t long ago that science research was telling us that children who are molested by a parent are often times asking for it! Sure it fits into some neat little box but none of this makes sense in the real world. The male libido is out of control. Involuntarily men are attracted to countless amounts of people on a regular basis – even people they are not “genetically” built to like (i.e. noticing breasts on a redhead even though you find yourself typically turned-off by redheads). Based on pure observation and experience, the male libido trumps genetics easily. Men are attracted to their daughters way more than people like to think or even talk about. It’s everywhere. And that’s not to say it’s the norm but it is definitely not as simple as “people who are wired normal won’t feel those impulses.” There is NO REAL SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE BEHIND THAT STATEMENT. Just theory. Can you measure someone’s hardwired genetic predispositions? No. You can’t. You can only make an educated guess which allows for a theory to come into existence, which typically, given enough time, will be refined enough until the initial theory pales in comparison to what the truth actually is.

    • Hi “no.” No need to shout, I can hear you just fine. And how do you know I was not present at the dawn of civilization. I’m quite old and my memory fails sometimes, but I don’t recall seeing you there. ;) The real reason I’m responding is to inquire about your statement “Men are attracted to their daughters way more than people like to think or even talk about.” Wondering if you’ve come across some data that you can share regarding that.

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