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Definition of Incest

(noun) Sexual intercourse between certain members of a family.

Example of Incest

Incest Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: in·cest

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /In-sest/
  • British English – /In-sest/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˈɪnˌsɛst/
  • British English – /ˈɪnsɛst/

Usage Notes

  • Plural: incests
  • From the Latin word incestus, meaning impure or unchaste.
  • Unlike many sexual crimes, age is irrelevant as an indicator of incest.
  • Called the incest taboo, a prohibition against incest exists in all current societies but the particular relationships prohibited varies with place and time. The most commonly prohibited incestuous relationships are a child and a parent or two siblings.
  • Type: adelphogamy
  • Also called inbreeding.
  • Sexual relations between a mother and son are (adjective) incestuous.

Related Quotations

  • “The source of much of the heat in the incest debate is the friction incident on rubbing two very different views of human nature against the same problem. The conventionalist view is that human beings are born with a few ‘basic drives,’ all of which are asocial if not antisocial and some of which are so dangerous they must be constrained. The rest of what humans are, and the larger part by far, is learned and thus varies from society to society—a view that is commonly taken to mean that utopia or something like it is possible. Constitutionalists, in contrast, are committed to the view that while human beings are far from complete at birth, they typically develop along lines laid out by an innate plan. The variation touted by conventionalists is largely ephemeral if not the result of distortion occasioned by abnormal circumstances. Most constitutionalists argue that if we were really as pliable as conventionalists claim, we would all be slaves molded to serve one master or another. Where conventionalists, optimistic on principle, pit their hope for the future on a pliable human nature, constitutionalists, typically pessimistic, allay their fears for the future by holding fast to the view that human nature is stubborn” (Wolf 2014:4).
  • “Violation of taboos is punishable by the group or even, according to certain belief systems, by a supernatural force. The incest taboo which prohibits sexual or marital relations between certain categories of kin, is an example of a nearly universal taboo” (Kendall 2006:56).

Additional Information

Related Terms


Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Wolf, Arthur P. 2014. Incest Avoidance and the Incest Taboos: Two Aspects of Human Nature. Stanford, CA: Stanford Briefs.

Works Consulted

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Martin, Elizabeth, and Tanya A. McFerran, eds. 2014. A Dictionary of Nursing. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

McFarland, David. 2006. A Dictionary of Animal Behaviour. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary. Wikimedia Foundation. (http://en.wiktionary.org).

Cite the Definition of Incest

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “incest.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 23, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/incest/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

incest. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/incest/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “incest.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 23, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/incest/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“incest.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 23 Jun. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/incest/>.