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Thursday, October 25, 2012

32

One Kiss, Three (Potentially Four) Brains

"[W]hen I talked to contemporary surgeons about how they decide whether to undertake the substantial risks some separations involve, I found that surgeons had two fears, sort of conjoined: one, that twins would grow up conjoined and thus never have sex; two, that twins would grow up conjoined and actually have sex."
—Writer and bioethics professor Alice Dreger on the sex lives of conjoined twins, who must have the best/worst stories about inappropriate questions asked by strangers.

32 Comments / Post A Comment

thatgirl

Wasn't there an episode of Bones where they went to a traveling circus where two conjoined twins had died, and as it turned out one of them had been sleeping with their therapist or something, and then the therapist and the OTHER one started having a thing?

I guess my curiosity about conjoined twins' sex lives is mostly an extension of my curiosity about human sexuality as a whole. I'm sure some of them do it, and some of them don't, and they make it work the best they can like any other human beings.

Das Rad

Considering conjoined twins have to deal with every other very private issue together, I don't think sex would be that much different for them to deal with.

However, I'd like to hear about how they deal with a scenario where one of the conjoined twins doesn't like the other's sexual partner. Like, so much so where he or she tries to deliberately kill the mood by farting or loudly eating potato chips every time they start having sex.

iceberg

@Das Rad Oohhhhh the possibilities for passive aggression are FAR more interesting to me than the mechanics of their sex lives.

Blondsak

I just had this conversation regarding the Hensel twins with a friend. Their case I think is especially interesting, since a) the two effectively share their genitalia, including sensation, b) both girls have discussed their desire to get married, c) they have been raised to be two very independent women who see themselves as separate people (even going so far as to take their driving test twice, one for each girl), d) they have willingly put themselves in the spotlight as the poster kids of conjoined twins, meaning any marriage would be on the cover of tabloids and People instantly, and e) the Hensel family is extremely religious (we figured this was an important factor to add, considering the proscribed tenets of marriage in Christianity).

Ultimately, we figured just the same as the article: in the case of the girls, those who knew them well wouldn't see any choices they or their potential lovers make as odd or against their religion, while society at large would be extremely judgmental and intrusive.

fondue with cheddar

@Gussie Fink-Nottle Imagine how difficult it would be to decide on a place to live when you've got FOUR PEOPLE who all have to agree.

And since they have very different personalities, what if they don't have an interest in the same career?

itiresias

@fondue with cheddar They'd work from home, I suppose.

fondue with cheddar

@itiresias In some jobs you can do that, but not all. What if one of them wants to be a marine biologist and the other wants to be a social worker?

NeverOddOrEven

@Gussie Fink-Nottle
If I recall correctly they didn't elect to take the driving test twice, it's what the state decided.
Fun Fact: I took a 911 call for them a few years ago. Neither of them was on the phone, it was a friend calling. One of them had recently had surgery and began bleeding in a mall. It was interesting to hear the friend try to use the proper pronouns and keep correcting herself.

itiresias

@NeverOddOrEven that is the definition of a fun fact.

fondue with cheddar

@NeverOddOrEven Makes sense, because even though they share control of the wheel and pedals they're legally two people. Two drivers' licenses, therefore two tests.

Did they take the written test twice, also?

NeverOddOrEven

@fondue with cheddar
Probably. I'm thinking of the documentary that was on TLC, I think, years ago. There was a shot of them taking a test in school and the teacher had placed a piece of cardboard between their heads so they couldn't cheat off of each other.
Resourceful, but a little demeaning.

fondue with cheddar

@NeverOddOrEven I guess the only other option would be for them to take it twice, each time with one of the girls blindfolded.

Blondsak

@NeverOddOrEven That is a great story. I know they like being conjoined, but I can't imagine how difficult it has been for them, health-wise. They are really nice girls, too - I met them at my alma mater once when they were visiting colleges, and we know a lot of the same people and share family friends, etc, which is why I know some of the details I do. You may be right that the state said they had to take it twice, but I also know for a certain fact that they insisted they wanted to do it twice, once for each girl, for reasons of independent identities.

olivebee

I am one of those people with a curiosity about conjoined twins, but it's not so much the sex that I wonder about as just about everything. Like, take Abby & Brittany, who have two heads and one body. They are two people with two brains and two personalities and two sets of wants and needs. So how do they decide what their one body does? If they are hungry, who decides when to stop eating? Or what they eat in the first place? Even something mundane like picking out clothes or what to do when they are bored. If one of the twins is dating, how does the non-dating twin respond to the boyfriend and what does that twin do on dates?

I guess the answer to my questions would be to watch the show.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@olivebee
You know, I could actually see the benefit of constant companionship outweighing the difficulties.

E
E

@olivebee the sex part is just the natural distillation of all those other questions, really. Falling in love with someone where your sibling is always there, for every fight, every kiss, every movie you watch, that's intense. Sex is just the most intimate part of that, plus there's the physicality to contend with, especially in the case of twins who share parts. For example, if you each have control of one hand, when having sex, does your sister help out? Do you just use only your own hand?

And the thing is I'd imagine it also varies so much. For instance maybe one partner is only ok having sex if the other conjoined sibling closes her eyes and puts in headphones, but then what if the other partner doesn't care? How do four people work out the rules of having sex where everyone might like something different?!

I find that interesting. Not titillating so much as I think we can all learn something about life when we explore the variety of experiences in other relationships.

NeverOddOrEven

@E
Or taking it even further, what if one was into kink and the other not? It starts getting a little rapey when you think of one having to compromise on their needs and desires.

baked bean

@NeverOddOrEven Yeah if they share everything from head down, there has to be an agreement with both people to have sex with one person. You can't just plug in headphones and ignore it, becasue you'd feel it too.

Elleohelle

I thought the part at the end about some conjoined twins not really needing to date/have relationships because they are essentially already attached to their "soul mate" particularly interesting. I guess I had never really thought of it that way, but it makes a lot of sense.

KatnotCat

@Elleohelle It actually lines up closely to the origins of the "soul mate" concept, other than the fact that conjoined twins are the same gender.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symposium_%28Plato%29#Aristophanes

Nutmeg

@KatnotCat I thought some of the "original humans" were female-female and male-male before they got all cleaved? My high school ancient Greek teacher played us "The Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch once in class and we were all "AWWW, MR. P---- IS THAT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT PAUL" and really, we were way too interested in that dude's personal life (because he is awesome)

KatnotCat

@Nutmeg You know what, you are correct. In the Plato/Aristophanes version, humans did come in male/male, female/female and mixed form before being split. I may be mixing it with another origin story. Good catch!

Jillsy Sloper

Oh, Alice Dreger is wonderful. She communicates issues of unusual anatomy with smarts and compassion. Before I read her stuff and thought about these issues, I thought of course everyone wants to look outwardly "normal," and that's always for the best. She completely changed my mind, and convinced me that surgeons preoccupied with normalizing appearance can have a devastating effect on patients' well-being and ability to function. Please, read her stuff!
http://www.alicedreger.com/new.html

KeLynn

@Jillsy Sloper - I'd never heard of her, but I went to that link and it looks really interesting! Thanks!

baked bean

@Jillsy Sloper Yeah, like how do they know these conjoined twins will someday want to have sex? And how do they know that they won't be ok with having it with their twin there? I imagine you could ask older conjoined twins and I imagine most of them are fine with having their brother or sister there all the time. They kind of have to be.

itiresias

I feel like if both conjoined twins were to marry, sex for the rest of their lives would probably just be a big party. Especially after reading the Wikipedia entry for Chang and Eng Bunker and how they shared a bed built for four.

Until the wives quarrelled and built separate houses, and the twins rotated time at each. There, it gets interesting.

I also wonder where the boundaries of one twin's body end. Like how when you're in bed with someone you love you show affection to their entire body, things like stomachs and arms and feet and what not. Is there an imaginary line down a conjoined torso you just don't let your lover cross? Are you just very specific about the parts of you that you have feeling in and therefore, pertain to you, and your sibling just has to kind of go along for the ride? And what about those shared parts? Do you argue about them with your sibling later on?

bitzy

@itiresias Dotted line tattoo. Maybe with the cute little scissors, like the "Cut Here" sign.

fondue with cheddar

@itiresias From what I understand there is a lot of shared sensation, but exactly how it works is going to be very different for each pair.

cd
cd

This just has me thinking about "Geek Love" which I have yet to finish. So strange, yet so slow.

fondue with cheddar

@cd Yeah, it was definitely slow in parts, but on the whole I enjoyed it.

Sea Ermine

I wonder, in the case of shared genitals what happens if one wants to have sex and the other doesn't? Is there compromise, is one forced into it, do they both abstain? That just seems like it could get really complicated and rapey fairly fast if they weren't in synch on a lot of things.

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