THE ORIGIN AND MAINTENANCE of the incest taboo have been sources of interest and debate for decades in a number of different disciplines. The universality of the taboo, in one form or another, has served to fuel the discussions. Nested within differences in the theorists' orientations and conclusions is a consensus that, with very few exceptions, sexual intercourse is prohibited between members of the nuclear family who are not spouses -- father-child, mother-child, son-sibling, daughter-sibling. Most cultures extend the prohibition beyond the nuclear family to include grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces, and nephews, both consanguine and affinal (see Fox, 1967, and Schusky, 1972, for examples). Further from the nuclear family, parallel cousins are usually proscribed as sexual partners and cross-cousins often are similarly proscribed. Different cultures then extend the taboo to other kin, depending on the specifics of the culture and its current and historical circumstances. There is then the alignment of prohibitions against sexual intercourse (a mating strategy) with marriage prohibitions: If sexual intercourse is prohibited, so is marriage.
Review of Theories
Reasons for the origin and prevalence of the incest taboo in its many forms include the following: (a) It is a mechanism for avoiding inbreeding and thereby lowering the incidence of genetic abnormalities ( Fox, 1967, 1980; Shepher, 1983); (b) it is a product of human instinct ( Lowie, 1920); (c) it is a consequence of early, close, intimate contact during childhood, that is, imprinting ( Fox, 1980; Shepher, 1983; Westermarck, 1891; Wolf, 1966; cf. Erickson, 1993); (d) it is a product of psychodynamics ( Fox, 1980; Freud, 1913 / 1950); (e) it is a prevention of sexual rivalry within the family ( Kluckhom, 1949); (f) it lessens role confusion within the family ( Davis, 1949); (g) it fosters formation of extra-familial alliances, that is, rules of exogamy ( Levi-Strauss, 1963; Tyler, 1889); (h) it is a product of the synthesis of earlier theories plus the advantages of a classificatory kin system ( Murdock, 1949); and (i) its origin is as yet unknown ( Stephens, 1963).
This article is meant to be viewed neither as an alternative nor as a critique of any or all of the previous theories or theorists. We suggest that this article be viewed as a complement to, rather than a competitor of, other explanations of the origin and maintenance of the adult-child incest taboo. We attempt herein to demonstrate how cultural forces can operate to reinforce, expand, and build on earlier (bio)cultural dynamics and histories.
A Protection of the Mating Strategy Template
In discussing the prohibition of adult-child incestuous sexual intercourse, we need to address three questions: (a) Why does the incest taboo between adults and children exist? (b) Why do social rules prevent incestuous sexual intercourse between adults and their young? (c) If the incest taboo is violated, what sequelae...