Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Sex and math: You can integrate my curves any day

I just read an article on the Guardian CiF titled "Sexing up mathematics does not compute" and it made me irrationally angry. Okay, now maybe I should not take stuff like this so seriously, and one man's opinion is fair enough, but I am tired of generalisations made about an entire field of study. I'm going to pick apart some specifics then get to my general response. Let's start with this paragraph:
In truth, graduate students in mathematics are more concerned with prime numbers than they are with primal instincts. I did not even kiss a girl until a full two years after I got my doctorate... Mathematics, though a predominantly male endeavour for whatever reason – is definitely not testosterone-fuelled.
Let's break this apart, bottom to top. Can't the last sentence read "is definitely not hormone-fuelled" or something of the like? True, it is predominately male, but that's not to say that the sex drive of mathematicians has to be driven by testosterone. Women have just as much of a right to be crazy sex-monkeys as men and initiate whatever the hell they want. 

I am sorry, but "did not kiss a girl until a full two years after I got my doctorate"?! Please do not associate the fact that you are a mathematician with that. You just possibly destroyed a whole future generation of potentially brilliant mathematicians who now think that if they study mathematics, they will not kiss a girl until their late-20s. Not really selling the whole "Math is cool" concept, now are we? We want to encourage young, hormonal teenagers into studying mathematics, not scaring the hell out of them.

The line "...graduate students in mathematics are more concerned with prime numbers than they are with primal instincts" really drives me nuts. Okay, now I am not a graduate student in mathematics (astrophysics is my master!); my degree in mathematics may only be at a Bachelor's level, but man, did I live up the title of "Bachelor degree". My primal instincts ruled most of my decisions during those years and yes, I found complex analysis and the male persuasion equally sexy (though that would fluctuate depending on the time of day). Let me tell you, the day I learned about Cauchy's Integral Theorem, I went straight home and showed my boyfriend exactly how to integrate my curves! 

Right, let us discuss this bit:
There is a noble lineage of brilliant mathematicians who probably never dated and who never married... 
Fair enough, but here is a logical statement: Some brilliant mathematicians hated sex and never married. This does not imply that all mathematicians hate sex, nor that if you hate sex you will be a brilliant mathematician. Imagine some young, impressionable, intelligent boy or girl read this and think to themselves, "Oh no! I am attracted to that hot, young thing in my English class, that must mean that I will never be a brilliant mathematician." That is not the impression we want to be giving. 

True, mathematical brilliance may not necessitate an understanding of passion or love, in the same way lyrical brilliance might, but that does not mean it is mutually exclusive. I would argue that to see the beauty in mathematical proofs and concepts, it helps to see the beauty in the world around us. I remember first learning about Green's Theorem and suddenly realising that math was indeed beautiful. In fact, that was the same day I decided to pursue mathematics as a separate degree; I wanted to learn as much as I could about how mathematics describes the world. 

I am not an expert on sex drive, nor by any means am I a mathematical genius, but one should never exclude the other. I never dated until I was out of high school, but I do not think that had anything to do with my skills in mathematics, that was just because I did not feel a desire to. I certainly had a sex drive, but just was not ready to pursue it. It came in time, and never once along the way did anyone tell me that my skills in math came in exchange for a sex drive, like this article is implying. 

Sex is distracting, no one can argue that. When you are in the middle of writing a thesis or doing top research, sex is a bit of a deterrent, one need only use my last 6 months of my undergraduate degree as an example. So, okay, maybe when you are working on the next Maxwell's Equations, or simply trying to finish a proof for your linear algebra class, it may not necessarily be the best idea to have a naked person in the room with you. I don't know about you, but for me I found it easier to walk away from my Abstract Algebra assignments for said naked person, then say, my Complex Analysis, therefore clarifying in my mind where my priorities lay that's what she said

No one should ever imply that mathematicians are not and can never be sexy. Mathematicians may be the only people in the world who find math itself sexy, but believe me, we are capable of also finding people sexy and frankly, I think it makes us much more fun. 


  1. I'm still snickering. I also have no witty comments, despite trying to think of one. I have to say I have met some sexy mathmetitions, not to mention some sexy nerds, geeks and dorks as well. Even they think and care about sex too!

    The fact that this man had no interest in sex until that point makes him (in my experience) more of an outlier than a norm. Most of the science/math/nerd categorized people are just as sex hungry as anyone else, if not more so because of the stigma that surrounds their categorization. Reinforcing this stigma is horrible and worthless. I know many people who a brilliant and sexy and are great examples for why we shouldn't listen to people like this guy (our tattooed lady scientist included). I also don't care if it's his opinion. He writes like it should be the standard, and it's a crappy standard when so many of our mathy/geeky people are worth more than this guy want's to give them credit for.

    So; I would say, screw this guy, but clearly he is above such earthly pleasures so don't bother even trying.

  2. I'm a mathematician, engaged to a mathematician, who only ever dated mathematicians, and we can be a sexy bunch who manage to study and get busy at the same time. Just like every other major. Honestly, why do so many people see us as practically another species??

  3. I'm a math major working on my Bachelor's degree. A lot of the 400-level upper division classes are also grad student classes, with the understanding that they do a helluva lot more work for the class. Plenty of ABDs teaching classes and whatnot, too.

    Yeah, close to everyone above Bachelor's seems to be male. But lemme tell ya, they're certainly not hormone-free. Being a woman in a math department means getting ogled like I've never been ogled before.

    We share a building and floor with our computer science department, where about half of the students are your stereotypical CS majors - white, pasty, nerdy sorts - but the other half? Totally normal dudes with lives and girlfriends and whatnot, as my CS-major husband can attest to. That totally ridiculous "I was virginal 'til I was 26" or whatever thing? Seemingly not the norm.

    BTW, linked to you from SkepChick, and I like what I've read! Keep up the good work!

  4. I am a mathematics graduate student (though only in the lowly field of applied mathematics), so hopefully my input is still valid. I feel sorry for the author cited who said he did not kiss a girl until two years after his doctorate. There is certainly nothing from the field of mathematics stopping him. It is not as if he had gone to seminary, in which case his kissing opportunities would be seriously hampered. It is a also a shame that he could not put together that his lack of kissing was not related to mathematics, but rather his own personality. There are plenty of students in my department who are dating, married, partaking in romantic drama, and even parents. I guess it was that writers poor luck.

    BTW I just started reading your blog and like what I see!

  5. I was also angry by the original article. I'm a woman currently doing a phd in mathematics, and I get busy with my favorite male mathematician daily. I would say most of the other graduate students are also either getting laid or trying to get laid. No one showers thinking about prime numbers. And the professors are mostly married and have families and normal lives.

    We're not sexless robots. Farley sounds clueless (no kissing till after his doctorate...sheesh).

  6. Dr. Strangelove27 July 2011 at 04:30

    I have not seen your curve but I think it's sexy, mathematically speaking. I disagree that sex is distracting to math. Unless you're mentally solving a differential equation while having sex.

    Btw, Alan Turing was a mathematical genius and gay and oversexed. That's why he was arrested for indecency.

  7. In all honesty I find math in itself a sexually arousing act. I'm not sure what this means, all I know is that every time I get into long division and complex calculus I feel all riled up and ready to masturbate.