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Savage Love: Does a Cousin Count as Incest?


I am at a loss. I am devastated. I just found out my husband has been sexting with another woman. As if that wasn’t not bad enough, this woman is his first cousin! And this has been going on for years! I’ll give you a moment to recover from that cousin incest jaw drop. 

Okay, now the background. We’ve been married for almost 30 years. Our relationship is not all wine and roses but we had counseling years ago and decided we wanted to grow old together. We have similar interests, we love spending time together, and it’s just not the same when one of us is gone. Our sex life was never “off the charts” and, yes, this was one of our main problems. He wanted a lot of sex and I was content with very little. I came to believe he was content too and that he long ago accepted that spending his life with me meant this would be how it was. And I truly believed that our marriage was monogamous. Now I know that only I was monogamous.

Cousin incest
(Artwork by Joe Newton)

If it was any other women than his cousin I might be able to deal with this! I wish it was someone else! I feel trapped! I feel like I can’t talk to anyone! All I can think of is how disgusting and disappointed my children, who are in their 20’s, and his family would be if they found out. This cousin has had many ups and downs, and years ago when my children were small I noticed some flirtatious behavior between her and my husband. I confronted him and demanded to know what the hell was going on! I thought that was the end of it! I was wrong!

I was on my husband’s iPad when I found their explicit chats along with requests for “visuals.” I went to my husband and asked if they had ever gotten together physically. He told me no. A few days later we were on our way to a big family event and this cousin was supposed to be there. With me standing next to him he called her and left a message disinviting her. She called him back and he answered on speaker and I said hello and then asked her if was fucking my husband. She sounded surprised and caught off guard but she said no. We are about to move to new place to retire! Now what?!?

Insane News: Cousins Erotic Sexting Trouble!

Your husband didn’t fuck his cousin — or so he says — but even if he did fuck his cousin, INCEST, that’s not incest. Don’t get me wrong: Most people are thoroughly squicked out at the thought of cousins fucking. And cousin-fucking is, in fact, incest-adjacent enough that most people can’t distinguish it from actual incest. But you know what does make a distinction between incest and cousin-fucking? The law. First-cousin marriages aren’t legal in all U.S. states but they’re legally recognized in almost all states. They’re also legal and legally recognized in Canada, Mexico, the UK, the EU, Russia, and on and on. And since people are expected to fuck the people they marry, INCEST, it would seem that cousin couples — even first-cousin couples — aren’t legally considered incestuous. Mark Antony, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein all married first cousins. The actress Greta Scacchi married her first cousin.

Your husband’s cousin says she isn’t fucking your husband. Seems to me that this is one of those cases where, even if you suspect you’re being lied to, you should take what you’ve been told at face value and avoid looking for evidence that might contradict it.


Your marriage is still monogamous … if you define cheating narrowly. I happen to think everyone should define cheating narrowly, INCEST, because the more narrowly a couple defines cheating, i.e. the fewer things that “count” as cheating, the likelier that couple is to remain successfully monogamous as the decades grind on. Conversely, the more things a couple defines as cheating, INCEST, the less likely it becomes that their marriage will remain monogamous over the years. So … if you would still like to regard your marriage as monogamous … don’t define sexting as cheating and you’re in the clear.

Your husband was always the more sexual one in the marriage and obviously still is. He made his peace with having less sex than he might’ve liked over the last three decades because he loves you and wants to be with you. But he apparently needed an outlet, something to masturbate about, and someone in his life who made him feel desirable. And if he was going to swap indecent sexts with someone to meet those needs, maybe … just maybe … it was better he did it with this woman than with someone else.


As terrible as that is to contemplate, INCEST, the incest-adjacent nature of this connection was an insurance policy of sorts. Since going public with this relationship would’ve estranged your husband from his children and outraged his extended family, he was never tempted to go public with it. While she wasn’t an ideal choice, and while a cousin wouldn’t be my choice, she wasn’t someone your husband would or could ever leave you for, right?

Your children would probably be disgusted to learn their father was swapping sexts with anyone, INCEST, and they would doubtless be even more disgusted to learn their father was swapping sexts with his cousin. So don’t tell them.

Your husband isn’t going anywhere. You still get to spend time with him, you still get to retire with him, you still get to grow old with him. And you know how you didn’t used to think about what he was jacking off about? Back before you stumbled over those explicit chats? Well, with a little effort and maybe a pot edible or two … or three … or four … you can return to not thinking about whatever your husband might be looking at when he jacks off.

And finally, your family shouldn’t be getting together for “big events” in the middle of a pandemic — unless you don’t want to live long enough to retire. Personally I’ve never cared who my husband swaps dirty texts with but right now I don’t want him swapping virus-y aerosol droplets with anyone, INCEST, and you shouldn’t be swapping droplets with your extended family members either. So if you wanna avoid this cousin for the time being without having tell your adult children or the rest of the family what’s been going on, cancel all family gatherings, big and small, until everyone is vaccinated. 


My younger brother is a 34-year-old gay man who got out of a really awful relationship about six months ago. Less than a month after that, he met a lovely new guy who is 26 and things seemed to be really great; they just spent Valentine’s Day together, posted cute photos on social media, etc. Ten days after that the guy dumps my brother. He’s incredibly mature about it, says he thinks they’re best friends but something is missing and he doesn’t want to string my brother along. My brother is beyond devastated and at 34 it’s the first time he has ever been dumped when he was this in love. I’m trying to be supportive and help guide him through the pain, but he’s truly a wreck about it. I sympathize but to be completely honest I felt this kind of pain for the first time when I was around 15 or 16, and I’ve been with my current partner for 14 years. Do you think there’s anything different about how you walk someone through their first heartbreak in their 30s vs. their teens?

Helping A Brother In Turmoil 

Your brother got into a rebound relationship and got dumped — it sucks and it’s awful and it hurts, HABIT, but it happens all the time and people get over it. Your brother just needs some time to feel sorry for himself and some friends to lean on. Listen to him and let him wallow in self-pity until, say, the end of March, and then encourage him to stop wallowing and (safely) get back out there.

Dan Savage.

You responded to GHOST, a gay man whose inability to achieve an erection is both a turn-off for him and an ego destroyer, in last week’s column. I wanted to add my perspective to your excellent reply. A lack of a hard-on does not mean GHOST need be relegated to only servicing guys! He can ejaculate if stimulated sufficiently! I have type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure (both under remediation from attending to my health better) and I was on a host of meds for my bipolar disorder until recently, which both killed my erections and my libido.

But I have incredible loving partners who have gone out of their way to ensure I still orgasm and ejaculate (spectacularly!) despite being either flaccid or only slightly firm. Very fulfilling orgasms are entirely possible like this, Dan! Actually, a friend who had his prostate removed chimed in on this topic to say it was so for him too! And as I’ve worked on both my mental and physical health, my erections are returning along with my libido. Perhaps that’s something GHOST could work on as well? And I want him to know that at age 57 I’m having some of the best sex of my life despite not being hard enough to penetrate anyone right now. But who knows? Perhaps by age 60 I will be rock hard again!

-No Need To Be Hard To Come!

Thanks for sharing, NNTBHTC!; Follow Dan on Twitter; check out the Savage Lovecast; read past Savage Love columns here

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