Birthmother In Jail: Genetic Sexual Attraction to Blame

Adoption Relinquishment Can Cause Sexual Feelings and Confusion

The New York Daily News has a story about a mother sent to prison after having sex with teen son she gave up for adoption. The comments, which currently rest at 135 are particularly cruel calling her many various names such as: disgusting sociopath, sick disgusting pig, inbreeds and demanding that she be sent to Iran to be stoned to death. In reality, she can face up to 30 years in prison. Chances are she will not face a judge who has any understanding of Genetic Sexual Attraction and she will be treated as harshly as the commentary. She will leave behind not only her adopted son, but 5 other children and her husband.

Adoption claims another 8 victims.

Never Condoning Sex with Adopted Children

Before I go any further with this post I want to clearly state that YES, I find her actions WRONG. I am not condoning in any which way of form to enter into a sexual relationship with ANY children, adopted, relinquished or otherwise, however; I do feel compelled to speak about this subject. I have been aware of the issue of Genetic Sexual Attraction ( GSA) for many years and have always hesitated to write about it since it really, really grosses people out ( and gets the trolls all worked up). But when I read this quote from her lawyer: “Aimee’s searching for a reason why this happened. She can’t understand it,” I knew it was time to bring the subject up. If nothing else people, especially when going into an adoption reunion, need to be aware of this emotion and understand it for their own sake and for their children.

So let’s stop thinking about the actual act of this woman engaging in sex so we can look into the issue clearly.

What is Genetic Sexual Attraction?

The term Genetic Sexual Attraction was a term first coined in the 1980s by Barbara Gonyo, who founded a Chicago-based support group for adoptees and their newfound relatives. It defines the emotions between family members that crosses the lines into sexual behavior. While Toronto-based therapist, Dianne Mathes explains that quantifying GSA relationships are hard to define exactly: if it is sexual feelings in a reunion relationship or whether one has to act on the sexual feelings for it to be GSA. In my own opinion, I think it is the feelings that define GSA, not acting on the feelings. Again, IMO, when one acts on the feelings then it usually crosses over into something else that is more akin to incest and must be considered unhealthy.

However, since GSA is often a part in adoption reunions, I would actually say that it is NORMAL to the adoption experience and again, another reason WHY we must talk about it and acknowledge that it is here. I have seen it stated in some places that GSA feelings can occur in 50% of adoption reunion situations. That makes it common to the adoption experience.

To Understand GSA, one must first understand the normal bonding process involved in the act of giving birth and mothering. When a mother gives birth her natural hormones kick and in form a bond with her newborn. Essentially, she falls in love with her baby and reacts physiologically to the baby in ways that a very much like the way humans do when they fall in love.
Scientists have identified three chemicals at play when one falls in love as : phenethylamine, dopamine, and oxytocin. These are the same hormones that course though a mother’s body after birth.

The “normal” activities between a mother and child are considered acceptable to society:

• The mother never wants to leave the baby’s side.
• She kisses the baby all over
• She holds the baby close and snuggles.
• She takes comfort in the smell of the baby’s skin.
• She obsesses about her baby.
• She stares into the baby’s eyes.

Which we also all do when we are in that “madly” in love stage. Now some experts have likened the state of being in love with that of being mentally ill. The highs and lows of these encounters have emotional and biological similarities to the mind states that define mania, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression.

The point is both states are based on biologically changes that were brought on by evolution and had the goal to either; attach with a member of the opposite sex long enough to procreate and wean a child OR care for that child, ensure that survival and continue the species.

Adoption Retards the Natural Bonding Process

Now, enter relinquishment and adoption. Often the mother and child are not able to exist in that dreamy bonding state, since the child is removed and the birthmother must now focus on getting “over it” and “moving on with her life” or dealing with her grief. She might have logically made the “choice” to relinquish, but her hormones do not heed any amount of legal paper work that she can sign. She cannot give into her natural needs to smell, kiss or hold her baby because it cannot happen and now evn thinking of it, causes her much more pain. The normal bonding mechanism has been disrupted, yet both parties must go forth and survive without finishing what nature intended.

Let’s go back and look at love and sexual attraction for a second. There have been many studies about the physical characteristics that attract each other and of course, the old adage “opposites attract” but studies have shown us that we are attracted to people who are like us in some way. That’s one of the reasons why couples end up looking like one another with old age. We mimic the one we love. We pick up their mannerisms. We are attracted to people who share similar interests, who are agreeable, who think like we do.
Again, this is human nature and normal.

Adoption Reunions Start it All Up Again

Now, the separated family members find their way back to each other again and begin an adoption reunion.
It is thought that the natural mother child bonding process can begin exactly where it left off. I know of mothers, years after any childbirth who have begun to lactate again when meeting their now grown relinquished children. I have heard of women bleeding again as if their wombs were still recovering from a birth that happened 20 years before. I can admit myself, that one of the strongest urges I had when meeting Max for the first time was the need to smell him. I also, was obsessed, could think of nothing else but my newly found son, fantasized about meeting him, and could have spent many more hours than the first initial nine being in his presence.

Again, all good and normal behaviors. All reported from various members of adoption, both birth parents and adoptees, when they enter reunion. All describe the insane feelings, the “emotional rollercoaster”, the insanity of reunion, and, while intense, expected.

But now, instead of an innocent baby that we have the freedom to hold and smell and kiss, we are presented with a grown person. Often that grown person is of the opposite sex. Often that grown person, not only might physically resemble the other birth parent who we can assume one had sexual feelings for in the past, but fits into our own chemically induced “love” attraction zone. Our adult and now found adopted children can look like us, can share the same mannerisms, agree with us and think like us. And now, all we want to do is hug them and kiss them and hold them close.

Plus, now, the separation caused from the adoption prohibited the natural development of the Westermarck theory. The theory, developed by anthropologist Edward Westermarck states that living in close domestic proximity to one another desensitized people to sexual attraction later in life.

If Unaware, A Recipe for Disaster!

If a person enters into an adoption reunion and is unprepared for the intense feelings that naturally occur, it is conceivable that they could mistake the resurgence of the natural bonding process as sexual feelings. If they have no preparation and no support, then they could find themselves overwhelmed and, like Amiee Sword, find themselves in a very bad position.

Again, no matter how much we must understand GSA and accept it’s existence, I don’t think one should EVER act on it. If nothing else, reunion is hard enough without throwing sex into the midst, however; I will not condemn anyone who has experienced it, rather, I feel very badly for them all since it usually does not work out at all.

I would go so far as to say that perhaps it is the feelings and confusion caused unknowingly by genetic sexual attraction that has caused many a “good” reunion” to go haywire. Imagine, if you did have a wonderful reunion with a parent or child and then, eww, you started noticing that you felt some kind of sexual tug? Most people are significantly grossed out by the very thought of sex between family members as our society has almost never ever accepted it. The very horror of those confusing feelings I believe, are a good reason for an abrupt and harsh pull back or an out and out rejection. The extreme fear of those feelings might cause the parties to never get in contact ever again, meanwhile the other half probably is completely caught off guard because it’s not something that people want to admit much less explain.

“Sorry, Mom, I think I need some space because I really have this urge to bone you”
Yes, I feel icky just writing that!

But again, I can understand it and, in adoption, we must be aware enough to recognize it! On the day that I was about to meet him for the first time, as I prepared to leave the 2007 American Adoption Congress Conference in Boston, someone who knew what I was about to do said, “Hey! You’re young and your son is really handsome.. has anyone warned you of genetic sexual attraction?” and I was so thankful that she had the foresight to try to warn me. As I said, I was aware of GSA before ever finding Max so the conversation was short. I assured her that I knew about it and was wary and I have to be honest, I am glad. Because IF I had not known and IF I was not prepared at all for reunion and IF I had no support and IF I was not all the things that I am.. then I will admit that there is a chance that I could have been confused. I never was and for that I am very glad. Whew!

Not Just Adoptees and Birth Parents Can Face GSA

I strongly believe that as the children of donor sperm and eggs grow older we shall see more cases of GSA between siblings.

I know of two stories where half siblings who were not raised together met later in life and formed a sexual relationship. They had no idea that they were siblings, but we naturally attracted to each other based on their genetic similarities. When they did find out the true nature of their relationship they were horrified which not only destroyed the romantic relationship that they formed, but destroyed any chance of a regular sibling relationship as well.

Again, people are attracted naturally to people who are like them. Now image the college sperm donor who for four years gives much of his product to a local infertility specialist. The Doctor helps create say a dozen babies in his area, who don’t know about their half siblings, but all live within a 100 mile radius with each other. maybe some go to the same school? Maybe some are best pals and can’t image why they are so close and so alike. But now, they get older and say, the donor dad was a great musician. Now say half the kids inherited his love and talent for music and a handful of them all go to the nearest state school which has a great music program and are all meeting each other for the first time. The chances of them being attracted, sexually, to each other when they meet is stronger than two random strangers meeting. I foresee NY having to reinstate the blood test needed before marriage to ensure that we don’t marry our half siblings!

Think I’m making this up? A friend of a friend went to California for a visit and met a guy in bar who she thought was hot and started to talk to him. He was into her and she was into him and they were chatting away. Thankfully, they talked long and hard before hitting the sack, because in their conversation they determined that HE was her half brother that her mother had relinquished before her birth! Thankfully, she knew her mother’s story and enough about the relinquishment that they were able to put two and two together and found themselves as reunited siblings rather than in an incestuous relationship.

Bottom line: we need to talk MORE about Genetic Sexual Attraction and help others prepare for it. We cannot fight something is we are blindsided. I can’t help but to think that if Aimee Sword had looked for help and found her way here, then she would find nothing talking about having sexual feelings for her son and would think she is some monster. So it ends here. I’ll write about GSA and damn the trolls.

Genetic Sexual Attraction is NORMAL in Adoption Reunions

But with knowledge and understanding, we can work through it rather than succumb and live to see healthy relationships with our relinquished children.

More about GSA can be found here:

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About the Author

Claudia Corrigan DArcy
Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine,, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.

21 Comments on "Birthmother In Jail: Genetic Sexual Attraction to Blame"

  1. Thank you for this sensible and reasoned post which hopefully will put those who don’t understand in the picture.Ignorance can be so damaging.Posting a link to, hope that’s ok..

  2. I can use GSA as a justification with intercourse or attraction between consenting adults (although still wrong). But this child was a CHILD. No matter what – he was a child, she was an adult. This is child abuse, plain and simple. There is no “reason”, no “explanation”, no justification that is acceptable — he was a child, HER child, and the child of other parents. He wasnt a reuniting adult – he was just a kid. There were far more than 8 victims here – what about his siblings in the family he was raised in? His adoptive parents, all their extended families? Her parents and siblings etc, etc, etc.

    I understand GSA – in fact have two extended family reunited relatives who choose to live as spouses instead of siblings, but I simply refuse to accept it as a “reason” in the rape of a child.

  3. Anonymous | July 16, 2010 at 5:18 pm |

    Staunch my bleeding heart. Adoption is not an excuse. She has no excuse.
    It could be an argument for open records though. Mainly on the side of the adoptee.


  4. Anonymous | July 16, 2010 at 6:12 pm |

    No, there is no excuse for this kind of perverted behavior. Strange thoughts, fleeting impulses of an inappropriate sexual nature can happen to anyone, and do. Including reunited relatives. But healthy people can put these thoughts out of their mind, never act on them and never speak about them to the other person involved. Responsible adults know how to get out of situations that might get out of hand, especially where a child is involved, doubly so where it is their own child. It is not too hard to figure out that you cannot play out your fantasy about the lost baby with another adult. No relationship can function that way, and a rational person is aware of that.

    This woman is a criminal child abuser. No excuses, as two other posters have said. I think the jury is out about GSA being “normal” in reunion, especially between mother and child.
    There has been a lot of hype about this, but like so much in adoption, it is hard to tell what is solid research and what is someone’s pet theory that has been accepted as gospel without rigorous examination.

    While it is good to be aware this happens in a few cases, putting too much emphasis on something so upsetting may discourage people from searching and reuniting, if such feelings are portrayed as “normal” and common in reunited mother and child.

    Adoption did not cause this woman to commit incest with a minor, or others to harbor incestuous thoughts and impulses. There is a lot more going on, a lot more wrong in those cases. Yes, adoption separation is part of it, but getting out of hand like this did implies much deeper pathology.

  5. Anonymous | July 16, 2010 at 8:20 pm |

    I see this like Jen…and while I have read it over and over I cannot see a strong adoption link. If we knew more of the story it would be better for me…annual contact…with him or just the parents?…How long were they in reunion? He had to know she was his biological relative… what did his parents miss when raising him?

    Mostly this is an adult ‘finding’ a child on the internet and convincing him to meet her and then she took it from there. She should be punished. She did something wrong and against our laws.

    There is no denying that adoption may have done her wrong at some time…but that can not be an excuse….IMHO


  6. I do not see where people who question the commonality of GSA in reunion, or who do not want to excuse what this mother did to her son are necessarily “Trolls”.

    On the one hand you keep saying there is no excuse for what she did, but give her the excuse of ignorance of GSA, “if only someone had warned her.” I think there is much more to this story as Debi said. This was not a random meeting of people who did not know they were relatives, but a mother who stalked her minor child, and in this case, yes, the word “stalked” fits.

    She deserves jail time, not sympathy. This case is an ugly anomaly, not a natural outcome of reunion.

  7. Like all things, education is key. Thanks so much for writing about a topic that is so hard for people to hear and understand. 🙂

  8. Claud,
    Thank you for taking a ‘disturbing’ event to put out a post on one of those unspoken & taboo unspoken subjects?

    I’ve heard GSA referenced – but I think only once and I’ve been part of the online adoption community since 2002.

    Even in that one short reference there was nothing that really explained the why’s or reasoning behind the attraction. Just the ‘ewww… how could they!?!’ and the hint that it’s not unheard of.

    This is fantastically written. Thank you for taking the risk to take the lid off an unpleasant subject.

  9. I believe the point here is that GSA feelings are normal (even if not common). It happens! And I believe Claud is right about the birth hormones, as the similar chemicals that take over when falling in love.

    However, to act on them is not — ESPECIALLY in the case of a mother and a minor child.

    Claud, I applaud your courage in bringing up the topic. Not as a way to excuse this mother. But for people to be aware.

  10. Although I too admire the poster’s courage in discussing this subject, it’s a disservice to normalize these feelings in an attempt to protect her from comments that are in disagreement.

    There is nothing similar between having sex with a 14 year old one gave birth to and the feelings of love for a newborn child.

  11. Maybe I wasn’t really clear enough here? I’m not trying to defend or excuse actions which I clearly say are worng..
    And I don’t think any of the comments here are what I would call “trolls”..A real troll would be vicious and nasty and that’s not what is going on.. this is a discussion..
    Look.. I have thought about writing about GSA since I first started this blog and held back for so long because I do understand that people are horrified by it.. and not saying that they shouldn’t be.. and I’m NOT defending this woman, but yes it did make me feel compelled to write about I said:
    So let’s stop thinking about the actual act of this woman engaging in sex so we can look into the issue clearly.

  12. Even if we take the discussion off the act of having sex with one’s own child, there is still the problem of what appear to be obsessive and continuous thoughts and fantasies that are part of the description of GSA. Even if never acted upon, it all seems seriously disturbed, not a normal part of reunion.

    One of the websites about this issue quoted the “founder” or “discoverer” of GSA, Barbara Gonyo, as saying she had thoughts about going to bed with her son for years, and described all this in pretty graphic detail. She also mentioned acting flirtatious and seductive to her son, then in his 20s, I’m sorry, I do not think this is either common or normal.

    Nor do I see the spurious connection between the feelings one has for a newborn baby, and the desire to have sex with an teen or adult. I agree with Campbell on that.

    It may be somewhat common for reunited mothers and sons to have some random uncomfortable sexual thoughts, but these should be something that can be controlled and dismissed. News flash….you can love someone very much without a sexual component to the relationship at all, and that should start with your kids, raised or not.

    Mothers and adoptees have to realize that the infant-mommy relationship is gone. You missed that, it cannot in any form that is healthy be relived. The task of reunion is to form a respectful adult relationship with a “familiar stranger” who is also your grown child, He isn’t your baby, he isn’t your lover, he isn’t the birthfather come back,or your lost youth restored, and as a responsible mother you had better have your head on straight enough to realize that.

    There is nothing wrong with discussing this subject, but there is something very wrong with normalizing it and assuming that most reunited people will go through this to the point where it becomes a real problem. All the writing about it seems to stem from Ms. Gonyo’s problems and analysis of them, which I hardly think are universal.

  13. so this would probably be in the lower news section if the son were older and had agreed to having sex with said mother….adoption and sexual attraction and GSA…I think what makes this wrong and on the top of the list is that before adoption is spoken, the act was against the law and there fore is not really something one wishes to connect to adoption.

    Now, put a 22 year old man (no longer a child) in reunion with his birth-mother (or heck having an open relationship since birth as we do…)and their relationship becomes sexual and GSA is still an issue then I think it is a better place to bring in adoption and how it has effected the people in the families. That might stir some interesting discussion…

    But again, first and foremost this is a child and adoption or not…against the law…I too applaud you Claud for putting you and this out there for discussion.

    that is JMHO of course


  14. In case anyone thinks I am exaggerating what Barbara Gonyo wrote, her it is from her own book as quoted here:

    “Gonyo estimates that it took her a dozen years to overcome the desire to sleep with Mitch. “Believe me, the state of arousal, which grew as I got to know him, was as erotic as anything I felt for my husband. I wanted to get naked with Mitch, feel his flesh against mine. The first time I hugged him, it beat any feeling I’ve experienced in my life. If he had felt the same way, I don’t know if I could have stopped myself. But Mitch was very afraid of my feelings, and wouldn’t ever talk about any of this, or how he felt.”
    Ashamed and dirty

    At that time, Mitch, an art teacher, had various girlfriends. “Despite this, my behaviour around him was atrocious. I was flirtatious, coquettish and playful. When getting ready to see him, I primped and primed, becoming like a 16-year-old in mind and body. I was trying to win him over, like someone I wanted to date or marry.” Gonyo recalls feeling ashamed and dirty. “At the beginning, the urge was less erotic, more like bonding with a newborn child. As with all my subsequent children, I wanted to smell him, stroke and run my fingers through his hair. I saw so much of myself in him, and he also reminded me strongly of his father, my first teenage love.”

    Ugh. This is not normal. And it is a very good argument against allowing reunions at any age, if our enemies get ahold of this and use it against us. If I were an adoptive parent of a young person, even if not a minor, I would be terrified of my son meeting a mother like this.

  15. I don’t see how your post is in anyway condoning this act, I see it as using it as a springboard to explain something that most people are not aware of.Thank you.

  16. Anonymous | July 22, 2010 at 2:31 am |

    Do you ever get tired of playing the victim?

  17. Sophocles’s play Oedius the King, Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, and the John Sayles movie Lone Star are just a few of the gripping dramas that deal with genetic sexual attraction. Art imitates life. Thanks for all of the research you’ve done on the subject. The current example you’ve sited is horrifying and all around sad. Everybody loses. While I in no way condone the birthmother’s actions, I do feel that she’s a victim of the secrecy and deprivation that are part of the world of adoption. Secrecy and deception are a big part of all stories I mentioned above. Open records and honesty would be a start in the right direction.

  18. This frequently happens, and it really irrates me. There’s nothing different between GSA and homo’s… they’re just different but something inside of you is wired you to be attracted to someone.

    If you know they are you relative, you probably should engage in some sexual behaviors without knowing the risks. People find it gross because they related to themselves. Of course if you imagine having sex with your own brother or sister is gross, you grew up with them, I would too… but in other people cases, they never saw them before and in their view, it’s not “brother or sister”… it’s just another man or woman, who looks a lot like yourself.

    I think people who judge right off the bat is degrading and ignorant.

  19. Nancy Verrier is my therapist, and we have talked about this on several occasions. She refers to GSA as Genetic SENSUAL attraction, because it really is about a sensation that gets translated into sex.
    The only other point I want to make is that one’s sexuality and gender may not have anything to do with it. As in, a straight person could have GSA for someone of the same sex and vice versa.
    I know several adoptees who have experienced it, and it’s good to see it discussed here. Unless you have had this intense rush of adrenaline yourself, I don’t know how you can judge someone.
    It may not be normal or common, but then again, how normal is it to be raised by strangers?

  20. This is really bad having sex with your adopted son. But I am thankful with your information for me not being ignorant with the topic.

  21. I agree, given the age of the boy in the example, this is a crime. GSA between 2 consenting adults however, is not. At least not in my country, thank God. I also thank God for my understanding parents and children, who all like my half-brother with whom I have have been happy now for 5 years and there will be many more, if we have any say in that. Everyone here is pleased with how happy we are and everyone knows that he is actually my half-brother. And no, we are no HillBillies. We are educated people with great jobs and normal lifes etc. We’re just not American or English or German or whatever country punishes people like us. We’re down to earth Dutch.

    He is emotionally NOT my brother. I have brothers, by adoption. I get sick to my stomach thinking of having a sexual relationship with either one of them.

    Admit it – it’s all about the Westermarck effect. We didn’t have a chance to develop an aversion towards each other, sexually. I did have that chance with my other brothers, which is why I don’t have such a relationship with them. Quite simple.

    We fell in love for all the same reasons other non-related people do. There is nothing incestuous about that, in our country incest means one person FORCING him or herself on someone who is either minor in age or in power. You don’t even have to be a bloodrelative overhere to commit incest. Teacher-pupil relationship is also incest. No one in their right mind would call what we have, incestuous. Not here.

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