The genetic factor that may determine promiscuity
Let’s admit it: We’ve all at one point in time found ourselves jamming out to “Promiscuous Girl” by Nelly Furtado. How can you not love it, with lyrics like, “Promiscuous girl, wherever you are, I’m all alone and it’s you that I want. Promiscuous boy, you already know that I’m all yours. What are you waiting for?” But have you ever wondered when it became acceptable for women to act this way?
Some believe it’s the media’s fault (isn’t it always?), but researchers at Binghamton University have discovered that it could have to do with the genes. All people have a gene that makes them more prone to being a thrill-seeker and more vulnerable to promiscuity, but only about half of people act on it. We are all born with a DRD4 gene, which is a certain variant of the dopamine receptor D4 polymorphism. This gene is also responsible for alcohol use, gambling addictions, drug use, overeating, political liberalism, ADHD and impulsiveness.
Brandy Bessette-Symons, a psychology professor at Ithaca College, said, “Having the gene variant may increase the likelihood of cheating (a correlational relationship), but it certainly should not be considered the ‘cause’ of such actions.”
The gene is believed to have evolved between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago as humans were moving out of Africa.
Jessica,* a junior at Ithaca College said, “I’ve cheated on every boyfriend I’ve had. It’s not that they aren’t good enough for me, I just can’t help myself sometimes. I’ve never heard of this gene, and maybe it’s the reason I am more likely to cheat.”
The DRD4 gene can influence the brain’s chemistry and people’s behavior. The desire to cheat or have multiple partners originates in the brain’s pleasure and reward center, where the “rush” of dopamine motivates those who are vulnerable, according to researchers at Binghamton University.
Ryan,* a senior at Ithaca College said, “I think I act the way I act toward women because of the college setting. If I met the right girl, I definitely wouldn’t cheat on her. I only ‘cheat’ because I don’t take a lot of the girls here too seriously.”
Justin Garcia, a doctoral fellow in the laboratory of evolutionary anthropology and health at SUNY Binghamton, did a study on the students at SUNY Binghamton by having 181 student volunteers take an anonymous survey on their sexual history and behavior. The questions asked how many partners they had and if they have ever cheated. He also tested their DNA by having them rinse with a special mouthwash that genotyped the DRD4 gene.
Garcia said, “University students were a great population for this study, as we know that ‘hook-up’ culture is a predominant sexual script for emerging adults on college campuses, so a majority of students experience both committed romantic and uncommitted sexual encounters.”
The gene is believed to have variations, and people who have longer alleles of it are more prone to participate in one-night stands and promiscuity. It is also inheritable.
However, not everyone believes that promiscuity is rooted in our DNA. Some believe it has to do with personal choice and how they control their impulses. And not everyone who has the gene will be a cheater in relationships. The study also indicates that thrill and sex drive can function separately from love. It has more to do with how you feel about the person rather than just impulse“
“I think the DRD4 gene variant contributes to the behavior, but it does not determine it,” Besette-Symons said. “As I mentioned earlier, there are many other factors that have been correlated with one’s decision to cheat and infidelity statistics. Some of them may have a unique or independent influence on the decision, such as religious beliefs, quality and length of relationship, or parental involvement.”
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.
Lindsey Ahern is a sophomore journalism major who likes to shake what her mama gave her. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.