Rosie Ablewhite and Sarah Nunn are identical twins who scientists now believe can help us understand the mystery surrounding sexual orientation.
The 29-year-old siblings, who have had the same upbringing and share the same genetic code, provide an interesting case for sexuality researchers as Sarah is heterosexual while Rosie identifies as lesbian.
Scientists are now studying the twins, as well as others who fall under similar circumstances, to work out the intricacies of human sexuality. More specifically they want to know when and how it develops.
Speaking to The Times Sarah said:
Any boyfriend instantly felt more at home with Rosie.
She liked football, talked about boy things, played video games. They’d be like, ‘Sarah, you’re really boring. I’m going to go and play with Rosie.’
I’d get jealous that they liked her better.
One method for finding the origin of someone’s sexuality is to look at different ways it can develop ahead of puberty. According to The Times gay people frequently note ‘gender-atypical mannerisms and behaviour’ at a young age. However these accounts can be difficult to establish based off the reliability of an individual’s memory.
In Dr. Gerulf Rieger’s (from the University of Essex) controversial study, Developmental Psychology, he and his colleague Tuesday Watts were able solve this conundrum with photographs.
The two university researchers asked 56 twins with ‘discordant sexual orientations’ to provide pictures from their childhood, to see if people – who were not aware of the experiment’s true intentions – could spot certain traits (i.e. clothing, style of ‘play’) which could lead to one’s sexuality.
A reason why this study has garnered controversy is because it could potentially link sexuality to certain aspects of gender identification. Therefore it could reinforce ‘dated’ stereotypes about boy’s and girls’ ‘innate behaviour’ – problematic.
However, Sarah and Rosie’s old pictures do adhere to some of these so-called ‘stereotypes’.
One picture shows the twin sisters on the swings with Rosie dressed as Superman while Sarah, who played with Barbies and dressed as Wilma from The Flinstones is wearing clothes more ‘traditionally’ associated with a young girl.
Most people point to genetics however Dr. Rieger tells The Times:
What we can do is rule out a few things now. A lot of people jump to the conclusion it must be genetics.
This shows there is something early on, in the early environment, that has nothing to do with genes but can still have a tremendous effect on sexual orientation.
The controversial nature of his study doesn’t seem to bother him either, adding:
It doesn’t matter to me if it’s controversial… It’s very dangerous to start going down the route of thinking that way.
For Rosie and Sarah they still find it strange, after 20 years, that it took so long for them to realise how different they were from each other.
Rosie says she ‘questioned it for so long’, Sarah was ‘boy crazy’ and for a while she tried to be just like her.
However when she had a boyfriend she realised she wasn’t attracted to him, naturally she didn’t want to kiss him, so Sarah being the loving sister she is helped Rosie out.
Sarah tells The Times reporter:
I said to him: ‘I’m the same . . . I will kiss you.’
As predicted, it seems that neither a nature-versus-nurture environment nor genetics can yet provide a conclusive answer to what, if anything, influences sexual orientation.
Of course, it could be far more useful to stop worrying about the how and why and just get around to accepting we are a varied and wonderful bunch – and that sexuality is just one of the many incredible facets of a functioning human being.
If you, or someone you know, has questions about his/hers/yours sexual orientation you can get advice from LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall.