How likely are Icelanders to hook up with their cousins, really?

How likely is it to end up with a relative in your sleeping bag at the Vestmannaeyjar festival, Þjóðhátíð, this weekend?

With foreign media continually misunderstanding and misrepresenting a jokingly made incest-fighting app, one has to wonder.

This question, in regards to first and second cousins is asked and answered in Morgunblaðið’s Sunday Edition:

The guests of Þjóðhátíð are a random group of people from every corner of the country which is why they pose a far better sample than, for example, the guests of Sjallinn in Akureyri. In Sjallinn, Northerners would probably be the majority and so it would be harder to apply the results to all Icelanders between the ages of 20 and 40, about 50 thousand men and women.

The result – 46/50,000 is easily calculated and could even be used as a line in the hills of Herjólfsdalur: “Don’t worry, the odds of us being closely related is only one in one-thousand.”

Hearing these news, Hafsteinn Einarsson with the University of Iceland’s Social Science Research Institute, offers another more liberal explanation.

“Although the odds are small for an individual, the odds 1/1000 mean that such incidents can occur regularly in society,” he says. “People simply have sex that often.”

According to a survey relating to the sexual habits of 65 thousand women in the Nordic countries, Icelandic women aged 26 to 30 years old have slept with eight people during their lifetime. Interestingly, this is a Nordic record; Norwegian women of the same age have only shared their bed with five people while Danish and Swedish women have had six lovers.

These are median numbers, meaning that most women are closest to this number. If the calculations were done to find the average number, women with unusually many lovers would bring it up quite a bit, further from the general truth. Of course, it should be noted that by saying so, no one is criticizing any behaviors but simply pointing out statistical challenges.

The survey was done in 2007. Then, women in Iceland between the ages of 26 and 30 were 11.046. Multiplied with the number of lovers –eight– 88.368 couplings had taken place for women within that age group. Therefore, 88 relatives had sex, if the odds are truly one against 1/1000 but there are a few big faults to that result.

Egill Bjarnason who writes this article points to foreign myths in regards to the sex lives of Icelanders.

Icelanders are the exotic white people. When foreign media covers Icelandic society cause and effect often have the common denominator that Icelanders appreciate the spiritual above the worldly. That is the core, the red thread through it all even if this idea is never put into words directly. A the top of the New York Times list of articles relating to the country one will find reports on Icelanders being especially happy because of warm pools, go to Austurvöllur for the love of democracy and pay writers as if they were public servants for the love of fiction.

There’s a grain of truth but the leitmotif is distorted.

Bjarnason's full article is accessable in Icelandic in Morgunblaðið's Sunday Edition.

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