Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

“Cheating gene” mouth swab test available

Posted in news by jenapincott on May 8, 2010


In BLONDES and in this post I write about the so-called “cheating gene.”

Not long ago, Hasse Walum, a handsome post-graduate at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, decided to study the association between a particular gene for what is called a vasopressin receptor and relationship stability. He analyzed the responses of over 550 twins and their partners to questions, some of them intrusive, about their relationships: How often do you kiss your mate? “Have you ever regretted getting married/moving in?” “Have you discussed a divorce or separation with a close friend?” “Rate your degree of happiness in your relationship on a scale of 1-7.”

Walum then sampled the men’s DNA. Getting DNA from the men was simple. You don’t need blood to have access to another person’s genome, just saliva, which the men submitted in a mouth swab.

What Walum discovered was stunning. Focusing on one particular vasopressin receptor gene variant, allele 334, he found that the more copies of it a man had, the weaker his bond with his partner. Men who lacked the gene variant were generally happiest in their relationships — only 15 percent of them had a crisis. Men with one copy were slightly more likely to have marital problems. And men with two copies were, on average, twice as likely to have had a relationship crisis in the past year than men who didn’t have the variant — meaning that 34 percent of them, or one in three, were headed toward a break up. Their partners agreed. Women whose partners carried one or two copies of the allele 334 variant were generally less satisfied with their men, probably because they generally scored as less affectionate than other guys.

Walum also found that men with two copies of the variant were nearly twice as likely not to marry their partners and mothers of their children as men who had no copies of the variant. This suggests that there is something slightly different about the vasopressin receptors in the brains of men who struggle in their roles as partners and fathers. These men may have more difficulty bonding with other people, including their wives and kids.

I imagine that some of you are now scheming to get an allele 334 test for your man. Of the more than five hundred women who responded to my online poll on this topic, nearly 65 percent said they would test their man if given the option.

And now you can. Yes, you can order a saliva test for allele 334 of the AVPR1A gene for $99 from Genesis Biolabs. (I can’t vouch for the lab. I’m reporting for entertainment purposes.)

Ladies, there’s a caveat here, of course. Even if there’s a correlation between this particular gene variant and a man’s behavior, it doesn’t account for all men. Just as the “god gene” and “gay gene” are met with skepticism in the scientific community, so is the “cheating gene.” Even within Walum’s study, there were men with two allele 334 variants who were happy husbands and fathers, and there were men without the variant who were miserable in their relationships. The statistics apply to populations, not individuals, who are also influenced by a other factors — parental role models, partner choice, opportunity to cheat, past loves, age, life satisfaction, religion, hormone levels, and so on.

A two-allele man may become a number one husband under the right circumstances.

But it’s your call. Swab him and then decide?

4 Responses

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  1. maude said, on May 10, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Hello,
    I don’t understand the whole point of this article… Once you have underlined the caveat, you actually say that such a test has no relevance for an individual. Even if it can tell something about an individual, it cannot hold as an explanation of any particular behaviour. This is because so many elements come into play in a relationship or any “cheating” experience.
    And even if it was pertinent concerning individuals, the purpose of knowing whether someone has this allele looks very devious and insane. How can you actually advertise on something like that, implicitly encouraging women to test their men (with their consent or not…??). Once they know, then what happens? “OK you’ve been cheating on me but its not really your fault” and the guy avoid any responsibility? or The women becomes suspicious about everything making their relationship indeed unstable given the unablility to trust the guy any more?
    Please I really don’t understand the point of those genetic tests, I find them very unethical and makes me remember the film Gataca…
    By the way I am french, and in France no such things existe. So despite that I think the article and the general trend to get genetic test is stupid and insane and dangerous, I would like primarily to understand what is the driving force behind this whole enterprise…?

  2. Lynda said, on May 26, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Genetic variation in the vasopressin receptor gene (AVPR1A) associates with pair-bonding behavior in human males only. (Walum H, et al. [2008] http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2008/09/02/0803081105)

    The correlation found was very strong – double strength cheating for guys with two long alleles.

    The study did not work with a single SNP but the length of an allele (multiple SNPs – called a repeat sequence in the flanking region of the gene avpr1a). Oracle Genomics, Inc. – oraclegenomics.com – performs the DNA test on a commercial basis.

    What seems to happen is that fellows with only short alleles become very anxious (have less pleasure) when presented with sexual opportunities outside their bonded relationship. Consequently, they have fewer extramarital adventures. Guys with one, and especially guys with two copies of the long allele (334 SNPs) either don’t bond so much/well, or they don’t become anxious when they have a cheating opportunity (they experience greater pleasure).

    Also, males with two copies of the long allele are much more likely to never pop the question – which suggests that they don’t bond easily. In any event, they are more likely to never enter long relationships. Only men in five year long relationships were included in some of the numbers reported; if the unmarried men with double copies of the long allele had been included in all the numbers – even more infidelity would likely have been observed in those men who have a double dose of this gene.

    There is a lot of discussion along the lines of “it just gives them another excuse” or “genes are not destiny” or “genes don’t predict the future.” Such diversions miss the point.

    The science, the take away from these studies on vasopressin receptors in humans and monogamous voles, is that there are variations in the feelings of each man and woman which are driven by the genes that built them. Feelings drive us through life. Different genes = different feelings = different actions in identical settings.

    Here is an example other than AVPR1A which is well known in genetic/medical circles.

    Persons with Parkinson’s Disease are sometimes given drugs which act on the dopamine signaling system. These drugs help many people; however, there are people who dramatically change their behavior after taking those drugs.

    A fellow who worked for my husband was disabled by Parkinson’s. After he began treatment, which helped him walk, etc. he began gambling so much that casinos in Canada began sending limos to his home to pick him up. He also took up with a woman half his age.

    When the drug company discovered the relationship between their product and gambling they informed all their customers. He stopped taking the drug, stopped gambling and lost the sweet young thing.

    His story though unusual is not rare.

    He is different from the majority of drug companies’ other patients in that his dopamine signaling system was constructed from different DNA than those that take the drug but don’t start gambling.

    The point is that DNA makes a difference, in our genes, makes a difference in our neurotransmitters and their signaling systems and ultimately in our behaviors.

    Take a married attractive guy with two short alleles in the flanking region of AVPR1A. Keep him sober and he is less likely to hook-up with a woman he just met in a bar while on a business trip.

    Take his twin – except the twin has two long alleles in that flanking region – and he is more likely, even while sober, to hook-up with a stranger in a bar.

    Take the first guy, the one with two short AVPR1A alleles, fill him with liquor and his felt anxieties are flattened – alcohol depresses – he too might go back to the room with a stranger. No gene will make your partner bonk proof against all environmental possibilities.

    Genes load the gun; environment pulls the trigger.

  3. karen said, on January 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    i want to know if there is a test that i can use to swab my husbands privates, after he comes home to see if hes been cheating? does anyone know?

  4. Amanda said, on June 14, 2011 at 6:34 am

    @ Karen: I really hope you were kidding because I laughed out loud. But then it occurred to me you might actually be serious. I truly hope not. If that’s the case, I feel so sorry for you and perhaps you need to find a new partner who won’t give you reason to doubt him. If you doubt his loyalty due to his past, I’m afraid he’s unlikely to change.

    What an interesting article and thank you Lynda for your informative comment. You were spot on when you said “Genes load the gun; environment pulls the trigger.”


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