Dear Margo: Back to the Twins

Margo Howard’s advice

Back to the Twins

Dear Margo: I can only imagine what it is to give advice and then have the entire nation weigh in on it. I agree with you 99 percent of the time, but I think you gave only a partial answer concerning the possibly incestuous twins. You wrote, “And really, it is their business. Should your worst fears be the reality, it is no reflection on your family.” That was the recent assertion of a Hollywood director making a movie about incest: It’s just an alternative lifestyle! No judging!

Yesterday I read an article by a psychiatrist (I’ve been looking like crazy so I could include the link, but I failed to find it) saying that incest is not just an alternative lifestyle. Normal people do not fall in love with their siblings and express that love sexually. When incest occurs, it is because of deep childhood harms that occurred, and it’s always a sign that someone needs help. Fast.

I agree with you that just because they live together does not mean it’s incest. Twins are very, very close, and I think the bonds are stronger than between singleton siblings, so she shouldn’t jump to conclusions. But if it is incest, it isn’t just a MYOB situation. Her siblings need help, and not to save the family’s image, but to save them. Incest is taboo for a reason. — Concerned

Dear Con: I agree with most of what you say, but there is one key misunderstanding. Either I didn’t make the point clearly enough or you extrapolated, but unlike the director, I in no way think incest is “an alternative lifestyle choice.” (Misinformed crackpots say the same of homosexuality.) I just said there is no proof, and to assume aberrational behavior does a disservice to the twins when their living arrangement may have nothing to do with sex. Should incest be verifiable, then you and I would see eye to eye that mental health help is indicated. We also agree that severe family dysfunction is at the root of such deviation, making it true that, like charity, incest begins at home. — Margo, illuminatively

Explaining Sex to Youngsters

Dear Margo: I have little kids, two girls and a boy, ages 3, 4 and 6. The older two are starting to ask questions about the difference in their “wee-wees,” where babies come from, etc. I believe in being truthful and straightforward with children, but I feel I need guidance as to what to say and how to say it. My own mother couldn’t quite manage “the talk,” so I learned from other kids, and I must say, later on, I wished the information had been transmitted differently. Do you have any ideas about this? — Jennifer in Chicago

Dear Jen: There’s a wide selection of books geared to different age levels. Go to your library or browse online. I am for being direct — i.e., no nonsense about storks or angels bringing babies. There is, however, a limit to what young children can take in when it comes to details.

There’s an old joke that states the problem perfectly. A youngster asks his mother: “Where did I come from?” She starts explaining fallopian tubes, eggs, sperm, and the kid cuts her off and says, “No, I mean, where did I come from? Timmy came from Cleveland.” So good luck discussing the birds and the bees. (As to why those two species became the euphemism for sex, I have no idea, since one lays eggs and the other makes honey.) — Margo, thoughtfully

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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43 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#2: My best friend loves to tell me the story that she ‘learned everything she needed to know herself’ because she found some books on the subject in the house and read them. Years later when she told her mom that story, she replied: Oh, I see! And these books just happened to be laying around you say? Wow, what a lucky happenstance 😉

  2. avatar Robert S says:

    LW2:  Margo’s story illustrates what I consider to be the prime rule in these situations – just enough truthful information to satisfy their curiosity at that time.  Where they are satisfied is like an automatic gauge to what they are ready to hear.  That will progress as they do.

  3. avatar persey78 says:

    So I have a 13 year old and obviously that conversation is ongoing. Talking about sex to a little one is easy. I mean the “When a man and a woman love each other…” works for a reason. To a 6 year old, you don’t need to talk about unwed teenage mothers…yet. I find that also using medical terms are best. It is a penis just like our brain is our brain. Do we call it the thinky thing? Boys and girls have different body parts because they have different jobs.
    I was also one of those kids that said I will never say I told you so…well I found my self saying that a lot when I wasn’t ready to talk about something. So when my daughter was about 4 I sat her down and told her that sometime mommies don’t have the right words yet to tell her something, so when I am at that point, I will always say something. When you are talking about sex with children it is appropriate to tell you kid that you are not quite ready to talk about it yet, that you will think about the right way to answer their question, but tell them that. Don’t hide or avoid that chat.

    • avatar Cindy Marek says:

      “I find that also using medical terms are best. It is a penis just like our brain is our brain. Do we call it the thinky thing?”

      Lol! Excellent point, well put.

      “Boys and girls have different body parts because they have different jobs.”

      Yep. Also well put (and easy for most children to understand, I’d think).

  4. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #2: I remember “my talk” with mother. If she’d been prone to lying, I wouldn’t have believed her. “It all” seemed too bizarre, lol. I’m not a parent so can’t give advice, except to say I believe parent(s) should provide age-appropriate answers.

    • avatar wyrdotter says:

      I hear you on the ‘wouldn’t have believed it” Cindy. Would have been nice if my mom had waited until I actually asked, too! I was about 8, hadn’t really given the matter much thought, when she interrupted a perfectly good book to inflict “the talk” on my bewildered self. I was sitting there nodding, thinking, “I need to know this now why?”

  5. avatar Brooke Schubert says:

    I think the trick to talking with kids about sex is to sit them down and ask them what specific questions they might have about it.  If their question is vague, ask why they are asking-they may have seen something they didn’t really understand and want clarification.   You don’t need to offer anything more after you’ve answered the specific question.  If they know they can come to you with any question about sex and get a thoughful and honest answer, they’ll continue to come to you when the questions get more complicated.  This is how my mom handled it, and I actually waited LONGER than all of my friends to have sex since I already knew the ins and outs (no pun intended) and potential benefits and consequences.

  6. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – I think parents need to speak to their children in an “age appropriate” manner. I know of 4-5 year olds that speak of their “vagina or penis” and that unnerves me. It seems simple to me, at the age of 5 I have no problem if a little boy speaks of his penis as a “pee pee” however if he is 15 or 25 years old doing the same….we have a problem. 🙂

    I say it is never a good idea to lie to children, so if they ask how babies are made, there is a generic and childlike manner of explaining it. I applaud this mother for wanting to do what her parents did not or could not do for her. We all know those annoying adults that are uneasy in their own bodies because of their childhoods. I know grown women that say they have no idea what their own vagina looks like because they were told as children it is disgusting or immoral to “explore” their own bodies. Parents educating their kids about sex, babies and their bodies – raise adults that are more mature in those areas.

    Letter #1 – I remember that letter. The problem is for the most part, sisters and brothers that are engaging in incest “rarely” french kiss in front of their family and friends. There is always a vague and “something doesn’t look right there” ambiguous idea that something is going on. It’s a delicate line to walk between accusing them of engaging in sex and simple sibling closeness.

    Outside friends and associates don’t really have a say in asking if something is going on. But I think family members do. A sister or brother that suspects incest, not only can but should ask, if they suspect. Because it IS wrong on so many levels and DOES point to mental issues. Anyone that would argue to the contrary has their own mental issues to deal with. For anyone to say that a brother and sister, father and daughter, mother and son that engages in sexual activities with one another should be viewed as acceptable because they have a right to do so, is a person with severely flawed thinking.

    • I disagree. Adults should be free to love any other consenting adults. I’ve interviewed siblings living as spouses who are in lasting, loving, healthy, happy relationships. They are productive members of society, good citizens, and the biggest problem they have is the bigotry of others.

      • avatar Lym BO says:

        I don’t have a problem with two siblings adults having a sexual relationship. Who cares?
        It’s not molestation if it started when they were old enough to know right from wrong & both were agreeable.
        I believe they need to ensure there are no offspring for medical & social reasons. “Flowers in the Attic”. I don’t agree with it, but it’s not my place to judge.

      • avatar Belinda Joy says:

        Your belief (IMO) is outrageous.

        A father in your mind should be allowed to be in a sexual relationship with his child (even though he or she may now be an adult) is simply outrageous. Incest is incest. And not only is it against the law, unlike the ridiculous belief that has been talked about recently about women’s bodies “being able to shut down during LEGITIMATE rape” it is true that a child conceived through incest has actual chances of being born with a hosts of physical and emotional issues.

        My hope is that you are simply trolling on this issue and that you are not serious in what you are saying. That is truly disturbing if you and others believe the act of incest is something our society should accept and legitimize.

        • Thanks Lym BO.

          Belinda Joy, you haven’t explained what the problem is. Simple saying “incest is incest” does not explain the problem. Comparing consenting adults (who are close relatives) having CONSENSUAL sex to one person assaulting/molesting another person (who is a close relatives) is like comparing consenting adults (who are not close relatives) having CONSENSUAL sex to one person assaulting/molesting another person (who is not a close relative). The difference is CONSENT.

          Adults having consensual sex have many birth control options (and some adults having consensual sex don’t even need birth control, because they aren’t capable of having children, or because they are the same gender) and we do not prevent people who have a dramatically higher chance of having children born with issues from having their reproductive rights.

  7. avatar butterfly55 says:

    LW 2, I’d say from age 11 or so, tell them a little more than you think is age appropriate, your age apprpriate & theirs are most likely different.  Also, from experience, I know that I went out and tried things at 14 because I wasn’t told enough at home, curiousity won out in my case.  Better to tell too much than leave them wondering.  I know that there is more info available in other places now than there was then but good old do-it-yourself always works.  That should not be the way they learn.

  8. avatar Koka Miri says:

    Your intentions were good, and your implications good as well, but could we PLEASE not mention homosexuality again in an unrelated column about incest?

    • I’m interviewed gay siblings who are living as spouses. Other than that, incest and homosexuality are two different categories. Most people involved in consensual incest are heterosexual.

  9. avatar MSLLL62 says:

    LW1. One way to approach the twins would be to approach one and start asking questions like, I have a friend who saw your picture and was interested in you. Would you like to meet him/her? See what the answer is. If they say no ask them do you want to date? If they say no. Ask why. Take a round about way of asking, you might actually get the truth.

    Start on your child’s level. My daughter came into the bathroom one time and realized It was during my menses. She was 3 and upset something was wrong with me. I proceeded to tell her about how mommies make beds every month for babies to live inside them and if no baby is made she has to change  her sheets. The sheets were made of blood. A few months later I became pregnant. She then (in front of a room full of people btw) said Mommy since you have a baby living inside you, you don’t have to change your sheets anymore do you? I explained no. She understood the concept and was happy. If you want your children to come to you and ask you the most important questions in your life. You always have to give them the correct answers to the smaller questions in their life. Be honest and always on their level.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Right, because after a few questions the twin is going to say: “You got me, I just can’t do this anymore. I’m in an incestuous relationship.”

      If anything, the letter above illustrates one of the major problems with journalism these days: the leap of logic when something COULD be a possibility to the idea that it IS the ONLY possibility. I remember the letter quite vividly, since—in my opinion—it was a fake. But since there is the possibility that the situation is indeed real, it would stand to reason that anyone who believes their siblings are involved with each other would be concerned about their happiness and mental states, not whether the scandal might erupt and tarnish the family image. If I believed my imaginary siblings were incestuous with each other—the first thing I would do is speak with a counselor in a face-to-face setting to express my beliefs and to—more importantly—determine whether those beliefs had any validity or if the problem WAS WITH ME. No offense to Margo or her column, but it would not be high on my list to seek out help from an advice column or an online forum unless said forum were specifically dedicated to incest and how to manage it.

      • avatar luna midden says:

        I am not sure if the letter is fake…. THOUGH.. I did think about the letter, wondering HOW MUCH YOUNGER WERE THESE TWINS??? Why?? Because why couldn’t the older Sister… the LW… GO , TO THEIR HOUSE, sit DOWN, and have an honest CONVERSATION WITH ONE OR BOTH OF THEM!!!! 

        or, at the very least.. why couldnt the letter writer call HER SISTER and say, WE NEED SOME SISTER TIME and talk together??? Afterall, these are her SIBLINGS????? Yes, I do understand the twin thingy.. my late MIL was an Identical twin-and she and her sister had a younger brother… (he is still alive and he, Harry, was the outcast at times, from what I understand, but THEY WERE ALL SIBLINGS!!!! STILL GOT TOGETHER, BROKE BREAD, ETC ETC ETC….) 

        All I got out of the letter was a set of twins who are very much like Identical twins-using each other, JUST like my MIL and her sister did-for vacations, holidays, shopping trips, etc.. BECAUSE IT WAS EASIER… AND THEY BECAME LAZY AT  MAKING FRIENDS..!!!!! and it ends up in the end, being very sad… because of the lack, the EXTREME LACK OF FRIENDS….. especially when 1 dies YEARS BEFORE THE OTHER… 

        if this was  or is an incestous relationship, the LW never ever noticed anything before????? Nothing strange in her childhood???
        ‘flowers in the attic’ a book of fiction, was a book of EXTREME ABUSE…. no abuse in their childhood home/???            

    • The twins, even if consanguinamorous, are not hurting anybody, not even themselves. What would be harmful would be to interfere in the consensual sex lives of adults.

      • avatar Donna Sampson says:

        although….isn’t incest illegal? To me, that would be an issue.

        • avatar Bayou Voodoo says:

          Oral and anal sex, and sex toys are illegal in some places. I believe incest was made illegal, if it is so, because of the high likelihood of genetic anomalies in the case of close relatives reproducing.

          On another note…long time reader/fan of Margo…first time to reply. 🙂

          • avatar duranimal says:

            Actually since the Supreme Court ruled on Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, oral and anal sex are no longer illegal anywhere between consenting adults.

          • avatar CanGal says:

            So the Supreme Court of the United States of America have jurisdiction over the entire world?

          • The court has jurisdiction over the United States. But anywhere in the world, adults should have their human rights to love each other as they want. If we can’t even love each other the way we both want, what rights do we have?

        • avatar Lym BO says:

          THere was a law on the records when I was a teenager in the mid 1980s in the city laws that it was illegal to hold hands. If you want to get in legalities, it is actually illegal to have intercourse with anyone who is not your spouse in many towns/states.

          • avatar duranimal says:

            Again, these laws were also basically overturned under Lawrence v. Texas.

          • Again “Isn’t incest illegal?” is begging the original question. WHY is consensual incest illegal in the first place? And, there are US states and advanced countries where it ISN’T illegal.

            Sex between consenting adults shouldn’t be illegal in the first place. Nobody seems to have a good reason why these consenting adults should be denied their rights.

  10. avatar sdpooh says:

    Regarding the sex education letter.  I remember when I first started getting curious.  Being the little scholar that I was, I looked it all up in books.  I was astounded!!! I thought this will never work.  The man puts what(?) where (?).  I thought it was the silliest thing I’d ever read.  LOL!!!  Then I grew up and realized, hey yeah, this does work.  Parents really do have to be open to childrens’ curiosity, and keep it age appropriate.  What I read at 9 was not geared to my little mind, it would have been nice to have a more open parent.  But that was the 50’s in a Polish Catholic house.  When my son was little I started slowly, like with seeing lady’s who were expecting and telling him a baby was growing inside.  Later answering in child terms how the baby got there, etc.  Slowly and only answering, not pushing new stuff he was not ready for.  

    • avatar K Coldiron says:

      I too didn’t think it would work. The organs seemed to be situated wrong to fit into each other. Books don’t make the geography particularly clear.

  11. avatar loribugca says:

    LW2: “As to why those two species became the euphemism for sex, I have no idea, since one lays eggs and the other makes honey” You just answered your own question!

  12. LW#1: “Normal people do not fall in love with their friend of the same gener and express that love sexually. When homosexuality occurs, it is because of deep childhood harms that occurred, and it’s always a sign that someone needs help. Fast.” I’ve read things like that pretty much word from word from bigoted psychologists.

    Now, I realize sexual orientation is different than either Genetic Sexual Attraction or Familial Sexual Attraction, but if we’re talking about CONSENTING ADULTS, who cares??? Why is it anyone else’s business? Those twins can consent to join the military, operate heavy machinery, major surgery, and so many other things, but they can’t consent to have sex with each other? Sex is NOT a bad thing! If you think it is, you are doing it wrong.

    As with interracial, adult intergenerational, or gay sex/marriage, there is no rational reason for keeping laws or taboos against consanguineous sex or marriage. Personal disgust or religion is only a reason why one person would not want to personally engage in what I call consanguinamory, not why someone else shouldn’t do it. An adult should be free to share love, sex, residence, and marriage with ANY consenting adults. Youthful experimentation between close relatives close in age is not uncommon, and there are more people than you’d think out there who are in lifelong healthy, happy relationships with a close relative. It isn’t for everyone, but we’re not all going to want to have each others’ love lives, now are we?

    Some people try to justify their prejudice against consanguineous sex and marriage by being part-time eugenicists and saying that such relationships inevitably lead to “mutant” or “deformed” babies. This argument can be refuted on several fronts. 1. As I noted, some consanguineous relationships involve only people of the same gender. 2. Not all mixed-gender relationships birth biological children. 3. Most births to consanguineous parents do not produce children with significant birth defects or other genetic problems; while births to other parents do sometimes have birth defects. 4. We don’t prevent other people from marrying or deny them their reproductive rights based on increased odds of passing along a genetic problem or inherited disease. It is true that in general, children born to consanguineous parents have an increased chance of these problems than those born to nonconsanguineous parents, but the odds are still minimal. Unless someone is willing to deny reproductive rights and medical privacy to others and force everyone to take genetic tests and bar carriers and the congenitally disabled and women over 35 from having children, then equal protection principles prevent this from being a justification to bar this freedom of association and freedom to marry.

    Some say “Your sibling should not be your lover.” That is not a reason. It begs the question. Many people have many relationships that have more than one aspect. Some women say their sister is their best friend. Why can’t their sister be a wife, too?

    Some say “There is a power differential.” This applies least of all to siblings or cousins who are close in age, but even where the power differential exists, it is not a justification for denying this freedom to sex or to marry. There is a power differential in just about any relationship, sometimes an enormous power differential. To question if consent is truly possible in these cases is insulting and demeaning.

    Some say “There are so many people outside of your family.” There are plenty of people within one’s own race, too, but that is no reason to ban interracial marriage. So, this isn’t a good reason either.

    Some people who say it is wrong seem to have no problem with complete strangers having sex. So get over it, all of you who want your personal disgust to dictate the lives of others.

    • avatar mac13 says:

      I think your reasoning is slightly flawed.  You reduce sex to a mere biological function.  Which it is, but it has emotional ties. That being said, that means there are outcomes that are more than just biological.  For example, eating is a necessary biological function.  Personally I like cheesecake, but if I ate it a lot because it was enjoyable, there would be an outcome other than just fulfilling that biological need.  There would be weight gain and all the physical repercussions that go with that. So just merely partaking in a biological function because it is enjoyable can have physical and emotional repercussions. So I think Margo’s point is it takes some type of emotional damage to involve yourself in something that is considered taboo by all corners of society. If that damage be only the shock of others.  If it isn’t so shocking, why would you hide it.

      • Why hide it? Because of prejudice, codified in some places (not all) by criminal laws. I know siblings in spousal relationships. They are happy, healthy, contributing to society. They would LOVE to tell everyone the full nature of their relationships, but they don’t want to deal with the hatred and vitriol of bigoted people.

        My reasoning is not flawed. I do not reduce it to mere biology. The twins, if they are together and are like the people I’ve interviewed, have a beautiful emotional connection and bond. They support each other and bring happiness to each other. There are no negative effects other than discrimination. So far, nobody here has given any reason why such a relationship is unhealthy. So the grand irony here is that when someone says the relationship is forbidden and harmful, and the only harm is the discrimination faced by them, the person expressing “concern” about the relationship is the same person CAUSING the harm to begin with. Aren’t there enough siblings who HATE each other and fight or shut each other? Here we potentially have siblings who love each other, and the sad thing is, people condemn them much more than they would if those twins were instead having casual sexual encounters with people they’d dated two or three times.

        • avatar mac13 says:

          So, with your across the board it is ok, can I assume you think it is ok for fathers to have sex with their daughters? Mothers with their sons?

          • The original letter deals with twins. Are you agreeing that the twins should be allowed to live their lives with each other as they want?

            As far as parent with their adult child, I think it is child abuse if someone doesn’t raise a child to be an independent adult. If, as an independent adult, someone wants to have a wholistic or sexual relationship with their mother or father, I haven’t seen a compelling reason why they should be denied that right that is consistently applied to other relationships. A 21-year-old woman can consent to sex with a different middle-aged man every night, even three at the same time (group sex). She can enlist in the military, vote, run for office, sign contracts, go to prison for life, drive, drink, consent to an abortion, be a mother, and like I said, can consent to sex with middle-aged strangers night after night. But she can’t consent to have sex with her own mother or father? Whether or not something disgusts you should not determine if it is unhealthy for other people or should be denied to them. Yes, I have interviewed women who are in such relationships with their genetic mother or their genetic father, most of them were not raised by that parent.

            Either we’re going to take the right of consenting adults to have their love lives, or we’re not.

    • avatar duranimal says:

      Sorry but genetics and reproduction is a valid reason to ban incest, at least for mixed-gender couples of childbearing age. The risks might be minimal for the first generation or so, but when it becomes the norm, you get the likes of Charles II of Spain (the product of years of royal inbreeding who suffered multiple mental and physical defects). Nature likes genetic diversity, hence why parent-child and sibling incest is almost universally taboo in all societies, even the ones that wear little clothing and practice free love.

      • Adults having consensual sex have many birth control options (and some adults having consensual sex don’t even need birth control, because they aren’t capable of having children, or because they are the same gender) and we do not prevent people who have a dramatically higher chance of having children born with issues from having their reproductive rights. Equal protection principles, Constitutional in the US, invalidate this as justification for preventing consenting adults their relationship rights.

        By the way, MOST children born to close relatives are healthy. We all know some, whether you know it or not. I personally know of several children born to siblings who are happy, healthy, intelligent, and attractive. Your statements are a slap in their face. Their biggest problem is the ignorance of others.

  13. avatar Hellster says:

    Questions like this make me miss Briana.

  14. avatar bamabob says:

    When my father had “the talk” with me (I was six years old and asking questions) he was so embarrassed. He tried so hard to use the “right” words but during The Talk was the only time he ever used them. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t say “vagina”. Instead he said, “Virginia.” He couldn’t say the word “semen” so he just said, “it looks like milk”. He stressed a hundred times that the two of you had to be married, no exceptions. By the time he finished I thought if you wanted a baby you got married, went to Virginia, and had a glass of milk. I was more confused than ever. It’s funny to say this on Margo’s site but everything I know about sex I learned from Ann Landers.

  15. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: The twins are living their lives. Unless they are young enough to procreate, there’s no danger. And it’s only speculation that they have a sexual attraction, anyway. People should MTOB.    

  16. avatar chuck alien says:

    Well doc, nothing is “always.”

    so when you use the term “always” when talking about things like this, it really destroys your credibility. you know?

    you cannot say that situation always means someone was abused, because it’s not true. even if one couple, anywhere in time, was not abused… then it’s not always. and it has happened, in the history of mankind, at least once.

    and so i call into question your entire statement.