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Wanted – twins for sexual orientation study

Essex 20A new study at the University of Essex is hoping to help understand how childhood experiences shape our sexual orientation and well-being when we are adults.

We often assume our upbringing is important in many ways – but how does this relate to twins where one is straight and one is gay?

Many of the ways in which we behave and express ourselves develop in our early childhood. These early behaviours are linked to both our sexuality and well-being during adulthood. Previous research into this area has focused on the part played by our genes.

croppedHowever, scientists at Essex are attempting to uncover what social experiences during childhood make us become the people we are. The study will focus on identical twins and the influences of upbringing on sexual orientation and current life satisfaction. Because these twins are virtually genetically identical any differences in their sexuality or well-being must be due to other influences than their genes – influences that we do not yet understand.

The research, led by sexuality scientist Dr Gerulf Rieger and PhD student Tuesday Watts, is looking for identical twins, where one is gay or bisexual and the other is straight. The study is also looking to recruit identical twins where both are gay. An associated study will also be carried out at Kings College London.

As Dr Rieger explained, our sexuality forms a huge part of who we are, yet we know so little about where it comes from and the Essex study will be taking a fresh approach to researching this area.

“Some research has already tried to understand how our sexual orientation is linked to childhood experiences,” he said. “However, these past studies have heavily focused on negative experiences during childhood and neglected the possibility that people may have had positive interactions with parents, siblings or peers that have shaped their sexual attractions and identities.

“By comparing these twins, we will have the ability to explore how the social environment can have an impact on sexual orientation and well-being, above and beyond our genes.”

Further information is available from the University of Essex.