These iden­ti­cal twins share the same genes and up­bring­ing, but one of them is straight and the other gay. They’re tak­ing part in a new study that aims to help us un­der­stand what makes us who we are – and why we fall for who we do


With mir­ror-im­age man­ner­isms and match­ing DNA, iden­ti­cal twins cap­ture some­thing in our imag­i­na­tions. They are mys­te­ri­ous – how many times have you asked a set of twins if they can feel each other’s pain or read one an­other’s thoughts? – pos­sess­ing an iron-strong bond that non-twins can’t even be­gin to wrap their heads around. But as so much is said about twins’ ‘same­ness’, what hap­pens when they dif­fer in one fun­da­men­tal as­pect of their lives: their sex­u­al­ity?

New re­search car­ried out by Dr Tues­day Watts and her team of psy­chol­o­gists at the Univer­sity of Es­sex seeks to de­ter­mine how and why, de­spite hav­ing the same up­bring­ing and the same genes, iden­ti­cal twins can iden­tify with dif­fer­ent sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions. A part of this work in­cludes look­ing at im­ages of the twins through­out their lives – to see if test sub­jects can iden­tify when they be­gan to ‘di­verge’ in their mas­culin­ity-fem­i­nin­ity, with one show­ing signs of gen­der non­con­for­mity, which is re­lated to sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. This study found that these twins started to vis­i­bly dif­fer from each other in this re­spect much later than non-twins.

So could twins ac­tu­ally hold the key to de­ter­min­ing the roots of our sex­u­al­ity, giv­ing us long-searched-for an­swers about what re­ally makes us who we are? The re­searchers be­lieve their find­ings rule out the idea that sex­u­al­ity is solely the prod­uct of genes, be­cause these twins share all the same DNA. They sug­gest that hor­mones and epi­ge­net­ics (the in­flu­ence of en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors on genes) could be im­por­tant.

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