Could one’s genes be to blame when comes to uncommitted sex? Recent research out of State University of New York at Binghamton, published in PloS One, suggests that a person’s DNA may be to blame when it comes to infidelity and sexual promiscuity.
In looking at potential biological mechanisms for sexual pursuits outside of a union, Justin Garcia and his team of researchers interviewed 181 participants about their sexual behavior and relationships, in addition to taking cheek samples of their DNA. Findings indicate that, regardless of gender, those with a DRD4 genetic variation – 7R+ - were likelier to be promiscuous, as in one-night stand, or to cheat on their spouse, with 50% of them having been unfaithful (vs. 22% of the participants who did not have this genetic variation).
Equally interesting is the fact that the dopamine receptor DRD4 gene has previously been associated with rewarding, feel good, sensation-seeking behaviors, like alcohol consumption, gambling, a love of horror films, and openness to new social situations. Garcia has proposed the neurotransmitter/hormone dopamine as a culprit. It is released for a ‘rush’ during uncommitted sex, where the risks are high, the rewards great, and pleasure a prime motivator.
Such findings complement a 2008 Swedish study, involving 552 men, which reported that those with a variation in a section of gene RS3 334 were likelier to have had a marital crisis in the last year. This is because this gene interacts with the hormone vasopression, which impacts attachment and his ability to bond.
So are cheaters now off the hook? Experts warn “no.” While DNA may influence one’s sexual behaviors, they should not be an excuse. Having certain genetic variations may act as predispositions, but are just one piece to a bigger puzzle of what influences one’s decision to be promiscuous or commit infidelity. Matters like one’s environment, family values, and parents’ sexual shenanigans can all play a role, amongst a host of other factors.
Yet the study’s researchers say that their findings are the first evidence of why somebody would be unfaithful, despite wanting to be in a long-term, committed relationship – and why they would act on such compulsions. They’ve suggested that one’s need for commitment and romantic bonding may operate separately from a desired dopamine rush.
While nobody should mistake these findings as a cause-and-effect relationship between one’s sexual behavior and genes, the research does raise the question of just how much human behavior – and moral decision-making - is due to one’s genetics. With brain chemistry appearing to play a role in one’s ability to commit, as with the Swedish study, people are sure to ask if potential partners should take a marriage-worthy test in weeding out those who might be thrill-seekers of the unapproved sort. Still, not everyone with the 7R+ genotype is going to have a one night stand or cheat, and those without it are still capable of engaging in either.