Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Adventures on the Dark Side

By Michael Cook

Cases of sexual attraction are bound to grow as “genetic orphans” seek out their missing parents.

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The British press is a fathomless mine of lurid but thought-provoking explorations of the dark side of the human condition. Recently it featured a passionate romance between a 51-year-old British woman and her 32-year-old American son.

Kim West was studying in California when she had a child out of wedlock. She gave him up for adoption and returned to England. Nearly 30 years later they were reunited and immediately felt an overwhelming sexual attraction. Ben ended up abandoning his missus and moving in with his mum. They are considering having children.

Most people find this real-life scenario confronting, but it raises interesting questions about bioethical reasoning.

Post-adoption romance is a poorly-understood but well-documented phenomenon. In the 1980s an American adoption counsellor, Barbara Gonyo, coined the term “genetic sexual attraction” for these powerful feelings. Two British psychologists interviewed several people in the grip of genetic sexual attraction who all described “a romantic ‘falling in love’, intense and explosive, sudden and almost irresistible”.

The psychologists estimated that such feelings are present about 50% of the time when siblings and parents are reunited. Their article was published 20 years ago in the British Journal of Medical Psychology (later renamed Psychology and Psychotherapy), so it’s possible that...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.