Throughout history, conjoined twins have fascinated people around the world. Mainly, people want to know what it's like being a conjoined twin. Most people can't imagine what it's like living day in, day out, attached to your sibling. Most of us can barely stand being around our brothers and sisters for more than a couple days; how do these extraordinary individuals live their entire lives literally attached at the hip... or waist, or head?
While conjoined twins were introduced to pop culture mostly through "freak shows," conjoined twins today lead relatively normal lives. So, if you have questions about what it's like living attached to a sibling - and what that can mean for someone's physical, mental, and emotional well-being - you're in the right place.
Physical Intimacy Can Get ComplicatedPhoto: American Horror Story / FX
After Abby and Brittany Hensel’s TLC special came out in August 2012, curiosity got the best of many viewers. Lots of people became fascinated with the twins sex life. After all, Abby and Brittany Hensel share their sexual and reproductive organs. In the show, the twins are in their 20s, but there isn't been any talk of significant others. The women do mention they hope to get married and have kids one day, though.
Sex as a conjoined twin is not such a novel idea. After all, the original “Siamese twins,” Eng and Chang Bunker, were married and had 22 kids between them. Their sex life supposedly “shocked the moral sense of the community.” Other twins throughout history expressed some reservations when it came to sex. "Physically there are no serious objections, but morally there was a most decided one,” said 19th century conjoined twins Millie and Christina McCoy.
Modern-day twins are more open to sex. Conjoined twin Lori Schappell, who is attached at the head to her twin George, said she lost her virginity at 23 years old. She said George would just read a book when she was being intimate with her boyfriend.
Unfortunately, even if both twins are consenting to sexual activities, it can be difficult for conjoined twins to find a partner. Some professionals believe the constant physical connection to someone else may lessen the physical need for a partner, as well. According to Alice Dreger, professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University:
From my studies, I would postulate that conjoined twins probably end up having less sex than average people, and that is not only because sex partners are harder to find when you're conjoined. Conjoined twins simply may not need sex-romance partners as much as the rest of us do. Throughout time and space, they have described their condition as something like being attached to a soul mate.
Marriage Can Be Difficult For Conjoined Twins
Throughout the history of conjoined twins, marriage and everything it entails has been a slippery slope. The Bunker brothers married two sisters in 1843 in North Carolina. Their wives’ father disapproved of the marriage not because of the Bunker brothers' conjoined status, but because of their Asian descent. There is a history of conjoined twins being refused marriage licenses because of what their condition implies about their sex lives.
Violet and Daisy Hilton were conjoined twins born in 1908. They tried to get marriage licenses several times, but were denied. In 1941, Daisy’s marriage to Harold Estep was finally legalized. According to Daisy:
Mentally we have found a way to live separate and private lives, but it’s almost impossible to convince other people of that. We were denied marriage licenses in 27 different states because they saw it as bigamy. All our lives we’ve had to bury every normal emotion. I’m not a machine; I’m a woman. I should have the right to live like one.
Conjoined Twins Are Always Born The Same Sex, But Do Not Always Identify As Such
Because conjoined twins form from the same fertilized egg, they are genetically identical, which means they are always the same biological sex. But this doesn’t always mean they identify with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Lori and George Schappell are another pair of famous conjoined twins. But George, a country music singer, didn’t always go by that name. He was designated female at birth and named Dori. George originally used the stage name Reba when performing, before coming out as trans in 2007:
I loved playing with trains and hated girly outfits. I kept my desire to change sex hidden - even from Lori - for many years. It was so tough, but I was getting older and I simply didn’t want to live a lie. I knew I had to live my life the way I wanted.
If One Twin Dies, The Other Cannot Live Much Longer
If still conjoined, a twin cannot live very long if their other half dies. If the dead twin is not removed, or it is impossible to remove them, toxins will quickly seep into the living twin's bloodstream as their sibling’s body begins to decompose.
In 1969, famous conjoined twins Daisy and Violet were found dead. After a forensic investigation, it was determined that Daisy died first. Violet reportedly lived for up to four agonizing days attached to her deceased sister, as she was not able to call for help.