Forbidden love: How adults who reunite with lost parents risk genetic sexual attraction
22:34 GMT, 21 May 2012
A woman who had an 'inappropriate' relationship with her estranged biological father has launched a counseling website dedicated to the relatively unknown phenomenon called genetic sexual attraction (GSA).
Julie DeNeen, a mother-of-two, reconnected with her father after they spent nearly 30 years apart, but what evolved was far from a healthy father-daughter relationship.
Amidst her emotions of loss and separation, feelings of intense intimacy between two relatives grew, and the sexual sparks between father and daughter nearly destroyed her 10-year marriage.
Genetic sexual attraction: Carly Sullens (left) and Julie DeNeen (right) launched a website dedicated to educating others on the emotional trap of GSA
The 31-year-old, who has a background in psychology, was able to save both her marriage and the now platonic relationship with her father.
In an effort to help others like her, she launched a website called Genetic Sexual Attraction two weeks ago, dedicated to educating and intervening when newly reunited family relationships fall into the same dangerous emotional trap of GSA.
Genetic sexual attraction is a seldom-talked about phenomenon that frequently occurs between adoptees and their long-lost parents.
It describes feelings of intense intimacy between two relatives who have been separated during the critical years of development and bonding, and then meet for the first time as adults.
Essentially strangers, when an adult-child and their biological parent finally meet, the brain struggles to associate each other as family.
Instead, they become captivated with one another, sharing similar physical features, likes and dislikes, which is coupled with complex feelings of intimacy. This can lead both parties to express their emotions sexually.
Forbidden love: Genetic sexual attraction is a seldom-talked about phenomenon that frequently occurs between adoptees and their long-lost parents
The phenomenon was first identified by Barbara Gonyo in the Eighties, after she a wrote book called I'm His Mother, But He's Not My Son, which recounted her personal story of reuniting with the son she placed for adoption at 16.
A sexual relationship with her son ensued, and Ms Gonyo says she fell in love – a byproduct of delayed bonding that normally takes place in infancy between new parents and their child, according to psychologists.
Researchers believe that when family members grow up in close proximity, a inherent taboo is created through reverse sexual imprinting, which desensitises them to later sexual attraction.
Called the Westermarck effect, researchers hypothesize it evolved so biological relatives would not inbreed.
Ms DeNeen explained her feelings and the resulting crossed physical boundaries as 'embarrassing, confusing, amazing and overwhelming.'
She said felt like she was falling in love and looking to her dad as a hero.
She told ABC News: 'I felt a lot of need for intimacy. The lines were so blurry.'
Confused, she turned to internet forums for help, where she found many other adoptees grappling with GSA, including Carly Sullens, another adoptee who gave Ms DeNeen the courage to seek help.
Together, the two women created an interactive online forum for others on their website, hoping to give them the tools to intervene before it is too late.
According to ABC News, the website has had more than 50,000 views since it launched two weeks ago, and 40 members struggling with GSA have subscribed to the forum.
It is difficult to quantify GSA since many of those who pursue a sexual relationship with a blood relative do not reveal it to adoption counsellors or psychiatrists.
As a consequence, mental health experts are not experienced in helping patients and often mistakenly confuse GSA with incest or sexual abuse, which can shame adoptees.
Susan Brancho Alvarado, an adoption therapist from Falls Church, Virgina, said: 'They just don't have the training and the topic is completely foreign.'
However those with GSA can be healed, according to Ms Alvarado.
She believes, along with Ms DeNeen and Ms Sullens, the relationship can continue with nonjudgmental therapy and 'normalization' of the child and parents feelings – just in a different form.