Can Infidelity Really Be Cured?

In a recent article on my page, New year–New infidelity “cure”?, I let my readers in on a shocking discovery. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, compared the genetic makeup of the prairie vole–a monogamous rodent–to the genetic makeup of its cousin the meadow vole–a promiscuous rodent–and discovered that the more promiscuous animal had decreased amounts of a hormone called vasopressin. Just as seratonin is linked to pleasure, vasopressin appears to be linked to happy monogamy. Further, human researchers at the Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm, asked twins to take a Partner Bonding Scale test which shows the strength of a person’s attachment to his or her spouse. Those twins who lower score on this test had a variant of the “334” gene–those who did not have this variant had significantly higher scores and more satisfying marriages and spouses!

My article raises the question of whether or not infidelity is genetic. Previously, a person’s faithfulness to their spouse was considered to be in the realm of social sciences or a person’s religious views. Morally, in Judeo-Christian society such as we have here in the USA, it is considered “wrong” to be unfaithful, and the only grounds for divorce granted in many churches is “sexual impurity.” Speaking very generally, it’s considered a virtue to remain faithful to one spouse for your whole lifetime, and that’s usually at least part of the vows in marriage ceremonies. But if being faithful or unfaithful is genetic–does that change things? Will people be able to go to their doctor, in the future, and say, “I’m about to be married and would like a prescription for fidelity pills please?” And what if your spouse then lets their fidelity pill prescription lapse or secretly decided to not take them? Do modern science wonders like this change the dynamics of marriage in the 21st century and possibly even change morality itself?

Honestly, I think not.

As much as we’d like to think that curing infidelity would be as easy as “taking a pill” there really is a lot more to the marital loyalty than genetics. These kinds of medical discoveries may help explain why a person might lean one way or another, or help us understand the physical reasons behind the choices. For example, after researching the biochemistry of affairs, we know that chemically an affair is very similar to being high on drugs, and that the addiction to the affair partner can be just as strong as any addiction to drugs. This is why disloyal spouses find it so hard to end all contact with their lover–they miss the high, and in order to actually end all contact they have to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Understanding “why” in no way changes the moral and societal implications though. Being unfaithful is still a choice that’s made (or really several very little choices) by the disloyal spouse, and the disloyal spouse still is personally responsible for the choices they make. Things that are considered sin by G*d would still be considered sin–we would just have a medical reason to explain our propensity to sin. Now, we just medically know WHY some folks say “Once a cheater, always a cheater” or why disloyal spouses find it hard to end the affair: because they have to go through addiction withdrawal. Knowing “why” does not change the morality of faithfulness in marriage, or shift the responsibility for the actions to genetics. Can’t you just hear promiscuous people everywhere saying, “I couldn’t help it! It’s in my genes!” Well maybe there is a genetic leaning one way or the other, but part of being a godly spouse is choosing to struggle with temptations, protect our marriages, and choose to love our spouses!

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