Over the last few years, I’ve been deeply impressed with the understanding of human nature that is emerging from behavioral genetics. When I was growing up, folks would passionately debate whether one or another behavior was inherited through our genes or simply learned. There were many people who took the position that all human behavior was learned, and that only “lesser” animals inherited some of their behaviors.
Yet, nowadays, it seems behavioral genetics and related fields are demonstrating that nearly every major human behavior has both some basis in our genes and some basis in our learning. The question seems no longer whether a behavior is genetic or learned, but how much it is one or the other.
If a recent study of twins proves to be reliable science, then our genes somehow influence the age at which we first have intercourse. I don’t have access to the actual study, though, so I am only repeating here a little bit of what’s come out in the media. Always a risky business.
At any rate, the study was conducted on 59 pairs of twins — some of them identical, and some fraternal. I assume each pair of twins had been raised apart, which would provide the researchers with evidence of whether an individual’s behavior was the result of her genes or the result of the social environment that the individual was raised in.
The study found that about a third of the variation in ages at which individuals first had intercourse could be explained by their genes. If that’s true, then genes have a much more modest influence on the age of first sex than they do on such things as height and intelligence.
I should note the study is not the first to find a link between genes and the age at which people first have intercourse — at least one earlier study found something similar — but this new study seems to be the first one to specifically focus on how much of a role genes play in the timing of first intercourse.
Another thing to note is the study does not necessarily imply there exists a gene or genes that determine the age at which we lose our virginity. Instead, it’s quite possible that our genes influence the age we lose our virginity in indirect ways — such as making us relatively more adventurous than others, which might then lead to our losing the Scarlet “V” earlier than others.
I wonder if this new study has any implications for abstinence only sex education? What do you think?