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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 14 November, 2018
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Woman carries father's baby and claims: We're in love

Irish-born man and his daughter say they experienced GSA – Genetic Sexual Attraction – after they first met as adults. But does GSA exist?

Shadowlands: Is Genetic Sexual Attraction a real phenomenon
Shadowlands: Is Genetic Sexual Attraction a real phenomenon
Image: Josie Richards via Flickr

A 28-YEAR-OLD woman is pregnant with her Irish-born father’s baby.

The Irish Sun splashed this morning with the exclusive story of Garry Ryan, 46, and his long-lost daughter Penny Lawrence, 28, who met last year when Lawrence tracked Ryan down. He had been born in Palmerstown in Dublin but moved with his family to the US when he was two. He made Lawrence’s mother Angela pregnant when he was 18 but left her before their baby, Penny, was born.

Angela died when Penny was four and her maternal grandparents, who raised her, died when she was 18. Lawrence said she became “obsessed” with finding her only remaining close blood relative, her father. Last March she tracked him down to Houston, Texas and after several daily phonecalls, flew there from LA to surprise him.

Ryan said that the pair felt an instant physical attraction when they met, and soon began an incestuous sexual relationship. Lawrence is now pregnant with his child.

The father and daughter claim that their mutual attraction is the result of Genetic Sexual Attraction, a term used since the 1980s to describe feelings of attraction between blood relatives who first meet as adults. Several theories surround the possibly phenomenon of GSA, including the fact that humans are frequently attracted to faces which are similar to their own, and that not meeting until adulthood means the normal sexual taboo that exists between relatives has not had time to develop.

Lawrence told The Sun’s Dulcie Pearse:

We are not committing incest, but are victims of GSA. We’ve never experienced a father-daughter relationship, so we’re just like any other strangers who meet in adulthood.

She says that if the three-month scan of their baby shows no birth defects, they will proceed with the pregnancy and set up home together.

Ryan said that he realises that their relationship is illegal and they are afraid that they will be ordered apart by the courts. But he added:

It’s no different than if I met Penny in a bar. I’d have fallen for her as I have now. It doesn’t feel we are doing anything wrong.

Lawrence said that when she first made contact with her estranged father, he had told her he had always felt guilty for leaving her and her mother. He explained:

I was an 18-year-old kid and when Angela told me she was pregnant I wanted to do the right thing. We decided to get married but Angela’s parents disapproved of the relationship and didn’t want me around.

Genetic Sexual Attraction: Is it for real?

The term GSA was first coined in the 1980s by Barbara Gonyo, who runs the Genetic Sexual Attraction forum for adopted siblings or estranged blood relatives who meet in later life and experience desire for each other.

Gonyo believes that she herself experienced GSA when she was reunited with the son she gave up for adoption when he was a baby and she was just 16 years old. They met 26 years later, and she said her feelings of desire for him, while not matched by a requited sense of attraction from him, almost ruined her marriage.

In this piece posted on the GSA forum, Gonyo said that she believes her “craving for physical intimacy with her son was the delayed by-product of ‘missed bonding’, which would normally have taken place between a mother and her newborn infant”.

Eventually, Gonyo came to terms with her sexual attraction and has since tried to raise awareness of what she believes is a common phenomenon among blood relatives who meet for the first time as adults.

In 1995, the British Medical Journal noted that legislation which allowed adults who had been adopted as children to trace biological relatives had led to “incestuous sentiments and relationships” in some of these reunions. Psychiatrists theorised that GSA could be explained as a “romantic search for attachement followed by a recognition of oneself in the other”. That study also found that relatives were attracted to each other’s similar body odour.

Most significantly, it is thought that not meeting a blood relative until adulthood means the relationship does not undergo the traditional “Westermarck effect”. The 19th century anthropologist Edward Westermarck set out the theory that children who grew up together were socialised by familiarity to each other not to be sexually attracted. Essentially it was nature’s way of preventing the conception of children through incest, which were at a higher risk of congenital diseases and birth defects.

Der Spiegel, reporting on a brother and sister who were prosecuted in Germany’s courts three years ago because of their sexual relationship, estimated that 2 to 4 per cent of the German population had had “incestuous experiences”.

Penny Lawrence told The Sun that her therapist “warned” her about GSA. She said:

I did some research into it. I was stunned that some brothers and sisters, daughters and dads and mothers and sons were actually living happily as man and wife.

Some even had children because they had not been raised together.

However, there is a lack of a complete medical and psychological definition and acknowledgment of GSA, and as Garry Ryan says, “GSA isn’t recongnised in court”.

This Guardian feature from 2003 is a long read, but presents the stories of various people who believe they experienced Genetic Sexual Attraction when reunited with a long lost blood relative.

For more information read this story of Penny Lawrence and Garry Ryan in today’s print edition of the Irish Sun>

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