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Being Unfaithful May Be in His or Her Genes


Having a spouse or partner who has been unfaithful is usually a painful, and often devastating experience for the one who is being cheated on. Promises of “I won’t do it again” may be welcome words, but can the unfaithful keep them? A new study from Binghamton University finds that infidelity could be in the cheater’s genes.

“My genes made me be unfaithful, dear”

For now it’s just a theory, but a team of researchers led by Justin Garcia, a State of New York (SUNY) Doctoral Diversity Fellow at Binghamton University, evaluated sexual behavior and genetics and found that a dopamine receptor (D4 polymorphism, or DRD4 gene) may be the motivating factor behind people who cheat on their partners.

Previous research has shown that the DRD4 gene is associated with pleasure-seeking behaviors such as gambling and alcohol use and that it impacts the brain’s chemistry. Garcia’s team wanted to discover why individuals are motivated to engage in sexual activities, especially those related to infidelity and promiscuity.

The authors gathered detailed histories of the sexual behaviors and intimate relationships from 181 young adults, along with DNA samples. Analysis of the data and DNA samples led the researchers to find that “individuals with a certain variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to have a history of uncommitted sex, including one-night stands and acts of infidelity,” noted Garcia.

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This propensity for cheating “seems to stem from a system of pleasure and reward, which is where the release of dopamine comes in,” notes Garcia. Essentially, cheaters get a “rush” of dopamine from their experiences.

Although a DRD4 gene variation may be a reason some people cheat, the study “doesn’t let transgressors off the hook,” said Garcia. He also noted that not everyone who has this variant will commit infidelity, just that the findings suggest “a much higher proportion of those with this genetic type are likely to engage in these behaviors.”

Garcia also pointed out that “betrayal can be one of the most devastating things to happen to a couple.” Just ask Peggy Vaugh, an extra-marital affairs expert and author of The Monogamy Myth, in which she notes that conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will engage in an extramarital affair sometime during their lives.

She also notes that “despite the increased attention to this problem, I have NOT seen a change in the degree of pain and devastation experienced by the person whose partner has an affair” and that it is “extremely difficult for people to recover their self-esteem and rebuild their relationships.”

Garcia points out that he and his team plan to continue exploring this issue with related studies “to better understand what kinds of associated factors motivate uncommitted sexual behavior.” For those faced with an unfaithful partner, he or she may argue it’s in their genes, but that does not lessen the pain.

Binghamton University
Vaugh, P. The Monogamy Myth