This web page was produced as an assignment for an undergraduate course at Davidson College.


The "Sexual Precociousness" Gene:

Do Our Genes Determine When We Loose Our Virginity?



Journal Articles

Popular Press

Conclusions and References

The popular press just got hold of the idea that the time at which we have sexual intercourse may be encoded in our genes. As with other recently discovered genes, the presentation to the public can be often seen as disillusioned and the "sexual precociousness" gene is no exception.

Ewen Callaway for ABC News reported on March 31, 2009 that a "unique study of twins separated at birth finds a genetic link to the age at which a person first engages in sex" (Callaway, 2009). Right after he makes this broad shock-provoking statement he quotes one of the researchers from the first research article outlined by saying that there are heritable behavioral traits such as impulsivity that could help determine the age of first intercourse. Callaway notes that environmental factors may play a role in determining the age of virginity loss, but only mentions family environment and only mentions that the presence of these factors complicates the genetic linkage and does not disprove the genetic link.

Callaway explores the social effects not just the gene by citing the first research article "Age at first intercourse in twins reared apart: Genetic influence and life history events" and briefly overviews their methods. He then explores the gene that is possibly connected but gives absolutely no evidentiary support and does not even cite an article. He just claims that "another team previously found a version of a gene encoding for the neurotransmitter dopamine [that] is associated with age of first intercourse" (Callaway, 2009).

What is wrong with the presentation to the public?

Kua et al. published an article called "Science in the news: a study of reporting genomics," that explored what was "wrong" with how recent scientific findings in the genomics field were being reported to the public. Translating or relaying scientific findings to the public is not an easy task, especially due to the lack of scientific literacy. The true results of scientific studies often loose their context, weight and even legitimacy due to the inability of writers to capture the essence of the scientific process and their inability to convey the conclusions drawn from the unique problem solving methodology, essential to scientific progress. Kua et al. and many other writers recognize this problem and aim to not only pin-point the problems, but also fix them. The article, "Science in the news: a study reporting genomics," specifically reveals that popular press is not only changing how science news is presented but also what is being presented; and it is this subtle difference that raises concern among scientists, writers, and the public (Kua et al., 2004).

The bullet points below are the main "problems" when genomics research is presented to the public according to Kua et al. and other researchers. Now that we have a more in-depth understanding of the scientific research behind this particular genetic linkage we can explore the missing links and misrepresentations in the popular press article by ABC News.


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