Scientifically Discovering My Sexuality
By Gen Tolhurst, 2019 Alumni
Asexuality as a null hypothesis
In our community people are often presumed to be straight, unless proven otherwise. This felt uncomfortable to me.
I’ve been thinking about my sexuality a lot lately. I have been reflecting on how my experience with sexual attraction fits in with other people. I’ve rarely felt attracted to men, but I’ve also rarely felt attracted to anyone else. Am I still straight?
To work this out, I turned to science!
The Scientific Method
Scientists use this framework to systematically find explanations for things we notice but can’t explain. It typically follows this process:
Make an Observation
First we make an observation. I observed that sexuality is an important part of many people’s identities.
Sexuality is the label we give to describe how we experience sexual attraction, and who we find attractive. There are four common groupings identified by comparing your gender to the gender(s) of people you are attracted to. These sexualities are:
- homosexuals (lesbian or gay) who are same-gender attracted,
- heterosexuals (straight) who are other-gender attracted,
- bisexuals (Bi+) who are same- and other-gender attracted, and
- asexuals (ace) who are not attracted regardless of gender.
The vast majority of people are straight: men attracted to women, and women attracted to men. I’ve noticed people experiencing sexual attraction by hearing them fantasize about “sexy” celebrities, or lusting over strangers by saying “They’re so hot! I want to do them”. I’ve never felt that way.
Ask a Question
Then we ask a question to address our curiosity from our observation.
My question was “What is my sexuality?”.
Construct a Hypothesis
To answer the question we need a testable hypothesis, something we aim to find out. Hypotheses are often in the form “Does X cause Y?” or “Is A different to B?”. My hypothesis could be “Am I straight?”.
In statistics we use a Null Hypothesis. This is a general statement which you assume to be true if you don’t have evidence against it. In general the null hypothesis describes “no difference”. For the previous examples the corresponding null hypotheses are “X has no relationship with Y” and “A is no different to B”. In my case, the null hypothesis is “I experience no sexual attraction regardless of gender”.
To work out my sexuality, I use two null hypotheses:
- H0A: Not attracted other women
- H0B: Not attracted to men and/or other genders
The alternative hypotheses are what we find if we reject the null hypothesis with enough evidence. These are:
- H1A: Attracted other women
- H1B: Attracted to men and/or other genders
Once we have information on my attraction, I can use the table below to determine which sexuality fits me best.
|Cannot reject H0A:
not same-sex attracted
|Cannot reject H0B:
not other-sex attracted
Conduct an Experiment
The experiment occurs every day when we notice or meet people. Throughout our lives we meet thousands of people: at school, work, parties, through friends and events, or swiping through dating apps.
We could be attracted to anybody we meet. All these people are the “data” we analyse in the next step.
Analyse the Data
For the purpose of the experiment, my attractions to all the people I meet are “data” to analyse.
We sort the data by gender to test the hypotheses.
- For H0A: how frequent is same-gender sexual attraction?
I am rarely, if ever, sexually attracted to people as the same gender as me. Therefore, I don’t have enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis “H0A: Not same-gender attracted”.
- For H0B: how frequent is other-gender sexual attraction?
I am rarely, if ever, sexually attracted to people of other genders. Therefore, I don’t have enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis “H0B: Not other-gender attracted”.
To consider myself same-sex attracted or other-sex attracted I need enough data to reject the null hypotheses.
Throughout my life, I have barely three people who I find sexually attractive. This means that I don’t have enough data to reject either null hypothesis. From the table we see that asexuality represents me best.
Following this journey we’ve learned a couple of things about me. I’m Ace and I’m also a nerd.
The scientific method gave me clarity to work out what sexuality suited me. I understand myself much better now, rather than assuming I was straight because I couldn’t prove that I wasn’t.
It’s poor science to assume people to be straight unless there is evidence to say otherwise. It’s better science to assume the null hypothesis of asexuality.