It’s bad enough that Congressman Anthony Weiner had been taking photos of his naked self and sending them to women who weren’t his wife. It’s worse when we learn that his wife is three months pregnant.
Aha, that it!, some cynics claim. Now that Weiner’s oats are sowed, he’s exploring new (and, if the twittering teen rumor is real, very green) pastures. It’s only natural.
But is it? Are men really more likely to cheat when their wives are pregnant?
Turns out, the answer is that it depends on the man.
Reviewing the studies of pregnancy and sex, it seems there are three categories of expectant fathers.
- Type Z cheats or wants to cheat (the Weiners).
- Type Y desires his pregnant wife more than ever.
- And then there’s Type X — a man who has a decreased sex drive and a lower risk of cheating on his wife.
The bad news is that at least one study found that, yes, the risk of a given man to cheat on his wife increases during pregnancy, even if he is otherwise satisfied in his marriage. His reasons? He may feel ambivalent about the pregnancy or the changes that go with it. His partner, especially in her first and third trimesters, may not feel like having sex. Her sex drive may diminish. She may think her body is unattractive.
(Incidentally, bodily dissatisfaction happens to be the number one reason why most women have less sex during pregnancy. Most of us think pregnancy is a turn-off for men. That’s a misconception.)
But here’s the good news for pregnant women. Fact is, many men — the majority as found in this study — desire their pregnant partner even more over the course of the pregnancy, even if they aren’t having as much sex as before. They find her as physically attractive as she was prepregnancy, if not more so. These are usually the Type Y guys. Another study found that, while couples had sex less frequently in third trimester, the only circumstances under which men change their sexual behavior is if they are older or worried about the safety of the fetus. (Note: Sex does not raise the risk of miscarriage in pregnancies that are not high risk.) Otherwise, men desire sex with their wives just as much.
From an evolutionary perspective,this makes some sense. Women benefited from having their mates around to help support them through pregnancy and childrearing. Sex helps men stick around.
The Type X expectant father – the one with a low sex drive and a lower risk of infidelity – may overlap with Type Ys. These are men who, at some point over the nine months, are afflicted with pregnancy symptoms: nausea, weight gain, mood swings, fatigue, even vomiting. Hormones are the culprit. These men have higher levels of prolactin, a hormone associated with sluggishness, weight gain, and bonding and parental behaviors. Their testosterone levels plummet, making them less combative and sexually aggressive.
There’s an upside to Type Xs. It turns out that these faithful, fattening men display the most fatherly behavior when the baby arrives. As new dads, they’re more likely to hear and respond to their infant’s cries. They’re more compassionate and tolerant. They make better fathers.
One might speculate that Weiner’s Type-Z behavior while his wife is pregnant doesn’t bode well for Weiner’s fathering instincts. It’s clear that if any hormone is raging in the man, it’s testosterone — not prolactin. He is probably not sharing his wife’s morning sickness and taking turns with her over the toilet.
There’s no crime in what Weiner has done; he’s just another politician more interested in power more than paternity. But he is making us a little nauseous.
*If you like this blog, click here for previous posts and here to read a description of my most recent book, Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?, on the science behind love, sex, and attraction. If you wish, check out my forthcoming book, Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies: Exploring the Surprising Science of Pregnancy.
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?
Earlier this year, I wrote about Tiger Woods after he lost the World Gold Championship. My theory — perhaps a stretch — was that Tiger’s testosterone was down. He said he had been spending a lot of time with his pregnant wife Elin and their two-year-old daughter. In February Elin gave birth to a son.
All this downtime on the homefront suggests, at least to this observer, that Tiger was hormonally challenged. In the months preceding and following a baby’s birth, fathers’ testosterone levels are lower. Lower testosterone levels make a man less aggressive, less focused, less competitive — and more agreeable and responsive. High testosterone levels have the opposite effect.
Later this year Tiger rebounded to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial Tournament, the WGB-Bridgestone Invitational, the BMW Championship, and the 2009 Presidents Cup this. And now it emerges that during all this winning he had been cheating — on his wife.
Is there a connection here? Again, it may be a stretch, but did Tiger’s philandering contribute to a testosterone surge that helped his game? Lots of illicit sex, after all, could be linked to high testosterone levels. So did cheating help him win? Or did his success and the resulting testosterone-high spur him to cheat?
Or was it a vicious cycle: cheating leading to winning leading to cheating, and so on?
If you believe that all the good men are already taken, doesn’t it follow that you’d be more interested in a married (or otherwise engaged) guy? It’s been found to be true of other female animals — even fish and birds — they all prefer to “poach” males already chosen by other females. And I describe in BLONDES, studies have found that men who are in the company of an attractive woman (especially if they’re smiling at him) are more desirable to female judges.
But are women more likely to chase that guy if he’s already taken?
Psychologists at the University of Oklahoma wanted to know, so they recruited nearly 200 heterosexual men and women, some of whom were single and others who were in relationships. Told only that they were participating in a study on attraction, they were shown a photo of an opposite-sex stranger and answered questions about their attraction to that person: How likely would you show interest? How likely would you be to initiate conversation? How likely would you be to initiate a romantic relationship with this person? The psychologists also attached a relationship status to the person in the photo: either single or in a relationship.
Turns out the relationship status made a tremendous difference — but only when it comes to women choosing men, and not the other way around. As expected, women in relationships were less attracted to the stranger than single women were, regardless of the man’s relationship status. But here’s the interesting result: single women were more attracted to the man, and more likely to initiate a relationship with him, when told he was in a relationship than when told he was single. According to the psychologists, an attached man signals desirable resources and a willingness to commit to family life. He’s been tested, “pre-screened.” Simply put, commitment makes men more attractive.
As for men, a woman’s relationship status, at least in this study, had little effect on her attractiveness Single men were slightly (although not significantly) more attracted to the woman when told she was single. Attached men were slightly (although not significantly) more attracted to a woman when told she was attached.
Of course, bear in mind that this study is based on photos and is hypothetical. I suspect a man’s partner has some influence over whether a single woman dares move in on her territory. Is she beautiful? Is she the jealous type? And what happens after a divorce or break-up? Is a divorced man more attractive than one who never committed?
In the book I write about the overperception bias — that is, the tendency of the average guy to overestimate a woman’s sexual interest, thinking she wants him when in fact she has no interest whatsoever. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s better for a man to overperceive a woman’s interest and get rejected than to underperceive it and miss out on an opportunity to spread his genes.
According to a recent study led by Paul Andrews at Virginia Commonwealth University, men are also more likely than women to perceive — and also overperceive — infidelity in a relationship. When 200 couples filled out confidential questionnaires that asked whether they’d ever had an affair, men detected 75 percent of the reported infidelities and women detected only 41 percent (29 percent of men admitted to cheating, compared with 18.5 percent of women). Not only were men more likely than women to tell if a partner cheated, they were also more likely to accuse a partner of being perfidious even when she was faithful. (Then again, who knows? Maybe women are less likely to report infidelity, even confidentially.)
In the end it all comes down to that old evolutionary bias: Men have evolved to be on the lookout for infidelity as a way of ensuring paternity. On an unconscious level, hthey’re safeguarding their genes. No matter how many people a woman sleeps with, she knows the baby is hers. A guy doesn’t have that certainty, so he compensates with suspicion — which is sometimes justified.
Imagine there’s a genetic test that could reveal your man’s chances of being a cheater — or, at least, a difficult long-term companion. Would you make him take it? Turns out we’re one step closer to having the option.
Can your genes make you cheat? is one question posed in BLONDES. To answer, I mention recent studies on the monogamous prairie vole and the role of vasopressin, a hormone associated with monogamy. Prairie voles are much more monogamous than their cousins, the montane vole, and the difference might boil down to different variants of vasopressin receptor genes in the two species. (Vasopressin receptors exist in regions of the brain related to trust, reward, and bonding, including the ventral tegmental area or VTA.) Scientists have since speculated that men, too, might vary in their vasopressin receptor genes….and that might make all the difference between faithful guys and cheating rats.
Now there’s more concrete evidence that men do indeed differ in their vasopressin receptor genes, and that that a single genetic variation affects their love lives. Hasse Wallum , a medical epidemiologist at the Karolinska Institute, found that men who had one or two copies of allele RS3 334, a variant of a vasopressin receptor gene, were more likely to have relationship crises than men who lacked the variant. The wives of guys with the variant cited more relationship problems than did women married to men without the variant. Interestingly, studies have also found that autistic men are more likely to have copies of this wayward gene variant.
Although the study stresses that men with RS3 334 alleles aren’t guaranteed to be romantic duds and deadends — after all, the effects are modest, other genes may be involved, and cultural factors have their sway — but it inspires the imagination. What do you do if your man has the “cheating” gene, putting your relationship at greater risk of strife and infidelity? Do you still date him – or do you dump him? Would you even want to know?
So, do you test him?
(Thoughts welcome in comment box below.)