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Sex among siblings: A survey on prevalence, variety, and effects

Abstract

In a survey of 796 undergraduates at six New England colleges and universities, 15% of the females and 10% of the males reported some type of sexual experience involving a sibling. Fondling and touching of the genitals were the most common activities in all age categories. One-fourth of the experiences could be described as exploitative either because force was used or because there was a large age disparity between the partners. Reactions to the experiences were equally divided among those who considered them positive and those who considered them negative. Females were more likely than males to have been exploited and feel badly about it. Few participants of either sex ever told anyone. The research finds evidence that such experience may have long-term effects on sexual development. Females who report sibling sexual experiences, both positive and negative, have substantially higher levels of current sexual activity. Their level of sexual self-esteem may also have been affected, but more selectively. Those with positive sibling experiences after age 9 have more sexual self-esteem. However, experiences with much older siblings taking place before age 9 are associated with generally lower levels of self-esteem and no increase in current sexual activity.

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Finkelhor, D. Sex among siblings: A survey on prevalence, variety, and effects. Arch Sex Behav 9, 171–194 (1980). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01542244

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Key words

  • sibling
  • incest
  • sexual abuse
  • sexual development
  • childhood sexuality
  • sexual socialization