Genetic Sexual Attraction, or GSA is a rare but increasing, complex phenomenon in which one or two mutual, adult blood related relatives experience a strong visceral sexual attraction to their sibling, mother, father, cousin, or second cousin after meeting for the first time. The term was coined in the 1980s to describe this type of attraction that has occurred between adoptees and their newly discovered relatives. Clearly this occurrence brings up serious concerns and a multitude of questions, since it is atypical and extremely taboo. So taboo, in fact, that few researchers are willing to broach the subject.

Critics of the phenomenon have called GSA “pseudoscience,” and dismissed it and even its initialism; “GSA,” as misleading, giving the notion that the concept is an actual, diagnosable condition. Although it is not, it is reported frequently in the field of psychology.

GSA can be extremely confusing and problematic for individuals who experience it. Many are quite surprised by it and report that it is not a reaction they were expecting or wanted to have, and suffer the paradox of the powerful sexual desire, yet the repulsion from having these feelings.

The phenomenon is increasing due to the ease of using the internet to find relatives and the widely available genetic testing kits on the market, creating more cases of long-lost-relatives reconnecting.

Although GSA is a documented occurrence, it is not classified as a mental health disorder. In actuality it is a physiological response—a fairly normal response to someone the person finds visually/physically appealing, but in atypical psychological and physiological circumstances which we will address. Since there has been little to no research on this anomaly, there is no real evidence as to why this may occur. What is known about the cause is merely theoretical at this point. One theory has to do with the fact that in the earliest development of infants, they undergo what is called the Westermark effect, which is a reverse sexual imprinting, or coding to the brain of sensory information such as the sound of the siblings voice, the scent of the mother’s skin, affection and close contact with family members, which form “implicit memories.” This coding is responsible for forming familial attachments and said to be a deterrent  to inbreeding because it desensitizes sexual feelings for people giving off those sensory cues and living in close domestic proximity to the infant in this phase of development. In cases where the adoptee and birth family have been separated from infancy, the opportunity for this effect isn’t present, so those familial attachments never happen with their birth family members. Another controversial idea involves “relinquishment trauma,” or trauma resulting from the mother-child bond being broken at birth. This type and any type of trauma in general can gravely affect the child’s sympathetic nervous system, causing a variety of atypical relational responses to develop and be triggered later in life. It has been suggested that this idea, combined with the missing Westermarck effect and implicit memories could be some key triggers involved in the genetic sexual attraction response.

Clearly GSA can be very problematic for reacquainted adoptees and their birth families and should never be acted upon. For this reason there are many suggestions that are, moving forward, extremely important for adult adoptees to be aware of, ideally before being reunited with their birth families, such as:

Having an awareness and understanding of the phenomenon of GSA and its possibility.

Getting well acquainted with relatives via phone or online prior to meeting in person.

When meeting, do so in a public place, and maintain a physical distance.

Use familial names; “my dad,” “my sister,” etc.

Have a counselor or trusted person they can talk to before, during, and after meeting their relatives.

A good deal more research is needed on this much debated phenomenon, as its number of cases grow. Meanwhile, the sharing of information and open dialogue about GSA are the best means to understanding this unusual, abstruse issue.


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