Ask Dr. Helen: Kissing Cousins

Reader RW writes in:

Hello Dr. Helen, Please help me. I want to find out if I can marry my second cousin. I am in love with my dad’s first cousin. She is my Dad’s mother’s sister’s daughter. We are the same age, please tell me if our children will be deformed. Can we marry?




Dear RW, First of all, I believe (and I am sure someone out there will correct me if I’m wrong) that rather than your second cousin, the woman you want to marry is your first cousin–once removed. Your great grandparents are her grandparents making her your first cousin–once removed. This cousin stuff is confusing but can be made easier by taking a look at this Wikipedia entry that illustrates the relationships between cousins and how one is to refer to them. In answer to your question, you can probably marry a first cousin, once removed–heck, you might be able to legally marry your first cousin–not removed–if you live in certain states. And in answer to your question about deformed children, you can read about the statistics of cousin marriage at

Children of non-related couples have a 2-3% risk of birth defects, as opposed to first cousins having a 4-6% risk. Genetic counseling is available for those couples that may be at a special risk for birth defects (e.g. You have a defect that runs in your family) In plain terms first cousins have at a 94 percent + chance of having healthy children. Check the links section for more information on genetic counselors. The National Society of Genetic Counselors estimated the increased risk for first cousins is between 1.7 to 2.8 percent, or about the same a any woman over 40 years of age.

You can also learn other cousin facts such as:

26 states allow first cousin marriages; most people can marry their cousin in the US;

The frequency of cousin marriages in the USA is about 1 in 1,000. The frequency of cousin marriages in Japan is about 4 in 1,000;

It is estimated that 20 percent of all couples worldwide are first cousins. It is also estimated that 80 percent of all marriages historically have been between first cousins!

Albert Einstein married his first cousin. And so did Charles Darwin, who had exceptional children.


So, RW, while you may get some weird looks from people if you tell them you married your cousin, it seems that you are in good company. I hope this information helps you with whatever you decide.

Dr. Helen

Next, Danielle asks:

Dear Dr. Helen:

I am a 21 year old college student, about to graduate with my bachelor’s and am in the process of applying to graduate school. I have lived in various regions of the US and have spent about a year in both the UK and Africa. I live a full life and every day is something new. I’m young and unattached so I figure it’s ok to experience life randomly and freely. I don’t really get into relationships and have never (even in high school) had a real boyfriend. However, I have met a man who has changed my perspective.

I never intended to get married but I always wanted lots of kids (six or more). But now, I have met a man who is on a totally different page. He and I have a really great relationship; we have fun together, we talk, we’re intimate, and we respect one another. But he is 33 and ready to get married and have his first child…within the next year. I never even considered these things at least for another 5 or 6 years but he is ready now and I feel like he is shoving it down my throat. He always asks when are we getting married? Or he will make comments like, “I need to get you pregnant!” Or sometimes, right before we make love, he’ll say, I can’t wait to hear our little boy kicking in there! It drives me crazy and I’m feeling overwhelmed because while I do love him, I feel like I need him to wait for me. We’ve been dating about a year. I finally set him down and had a talk with him about the situation. I expressed how I wanted to finish school first and make sure our relationship was solid by dating another few years before we made that type of commitment. His excuse is that I am flaky and there is a chance that I could leave him. I feel like these are his insecurities and he is overeager to start his married/fatherly life before he gets too old. Am I being unreasonable or is this relationship doomed due to the two of us being on different time tables?


Dear Danielle,

It sounds like you have two questions: 1) Do you really want six kids? and 2) do you want to have them with this man? Many women think that they would like six kids but after having the first, realize that one, two or maybe three is enough. If you do not have experience with kids, take care of a friend’s children and see how you feel. You may change your mind. If you are truly committed to having six kids, you may need to have them sooner than five or six years from now. After 30 or 35, it gets harder to have children so if your dream is to have six, start early. Also, you mentioned that you want six kids but never intended to get married. How did you plan to raise them–alone with six kids? That seems a bit naive, not to mention the problem with the children not having a father around. That said, do you really want them with this man? Do you want him specifically to be the father of your children?

As I read your letter, two things concerned me in your description of your boyfriend. First, I noticed that you mentioned that your boyfriend stated, “I need you to get pregnant,” with no thought to what you want. Second, when you tried to explain your feelings, your description made it sound like he did not take any responsibility and ask what he could do to make things better between you. He simply blamed you by stating that you are flaky and might leave him. Have you given him reason to believe this? Maybe you have and don’t realize it. If not, then he might have a tendency to externalize blame to others if he does not get his way. Is he like this in other areas of your relationship? Can you talk with him freely about problems or issues that you have without him blaming you for them? Ask yourself some of these questions and your decision may become clearer as time goes on.


A relationship is about give and take, and compromise. Do you feel that he cares about your needs as much as he does his own? Does he ever ask you what you would like in a relationship or what would make you happy? The answers to these questions should be “yes.” You state that you want to go to graduate school. It is possible to do that while married and with children, but it is hard. How important is your career to you? Is it something that you can go back to after having children? How would you feel about yourself if you did not go to graduate school immediately? It seems that I have more questions for you than answers but once you answer these questions honestly with yourself, I think you will have your answers. Good luck.

Dr. Helen

If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at [email protected]. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question-if you want me to use your name, tell me, otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader” etc.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee and blogs at This advice column is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace therapy or psychological treatment.


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