Sari van Anders of the University of Michigan is the second speaker in MSU’s semester-long series “Whom You Love: the biology of sexual orientation.” Her lecture, 4 p.m. Monday, is in Wells Hall room 115B and is free and open to the public.
Van Anders is an assistant professor of neurosciences; reproductive sciences; and science, technology and society. Her lecture is called “Beyond Sexual Orientation: Testosterone and Sexuality Diversity in Humans.”
What do you mean by “beyond” sexual diversity?
Sexual orientation is often assumed to refer to same-gender, other-gender, or mixed-gender sexual attractions. Despite this, we tend to lump sexual minority individuals and communities together whether they fit into this traditional sexual orientation model (lesbian, bisexual, gay) or not (kink, polyamory). With my talk, I plan to discuss how sexual orientation connects with other sexual minority categories and how testosterone research helps to reframe thinking about sexual diversity.
What role does testosterone play in sexual orientation?
I study adult circulating testosterone. I’ve found evidence that testosterone is related to something I call “relationship orientation” in men, and “relationship status” in women. In my talk I’ll be discussing how sexual diversity — including interest in multiple partners vs. one partner — might be more meaningfully studied in testosterone research.
What’s the most interesting aspect of your research?
My research moves across a lot of levels. I will be discussing really science-y stuff like hormones, really cultural stuff like identity and lots in between.
What motivated you to pursue this kind of research?
I was always interested in sexual diversity, but I became specifically interested in polyamory when a participant wrote in a response to a standard question in a questionnaire about relationships I used to use in graduate school. That person said, “Your options don’t fit me, I’m polyamorous.” I realized that the questions I had been asking (single? dating? monogamously partnered?) fit my preconceived cultural notions of what relationships looked like, not how they actually were. And a hallmark of science is making observations — I realized I couldn’t observe diversity if my questions precluded it.
What do you think this speaker series could do for the social perception of homosexuality?
There are fundamental misunderstandings about same-sex sexuality, the research on homosexuality and the scientists who conduct this research. I think this speaker series provides a way for people to learn whether their beliefs are founded on verifiable facts or unfounded opinions.