The Cheating Gene?

You meet a man. You fall in love. You want to marry him, but you don’t want to be an adulterer’s wife. Wouldn’t it be great if you could check out his DNA before tying the knot to see if he’s likely to be unfaithful? 

"The Fleeing Lover" by Achille Buzzi. Did he have the cheating gene?
"The Fleeing Lover" by Achille Buzzi. Did he have the cheating gene?

According to a British survey from 2014, adultery may run in the family, but is it due to nature or nurture? Of adulterous women polled, 73% said their mothers had been unfaithful, and 54% of cheating men said their fathers had been philanderers. Since mothers tend to do more of the child rearing than fathers, could that difference be due to environmental rather than genetic factors?

Sadly, as is so common in surveys these days, the sample is pretty biased and unscientific. The data comes from an online poll of 2000 people visiting the British extramarital dating site, This would be a self-selecting group composed only of those interested in adultery. What result might you get from 2000 monogamous people? Perhaps a significant chunk of them might have had a parent whose adultery had made their family life so difficult that the children were totally repelled by philandering rather than attracted to behaving that way themselves. In addition, sometimes married folks, particularly men who can be “at work” for long hours, hide their affairs so well that the children are never even aware of them. Thus a study that determines whether a parent had or had not been adulterous solely by asking their progeny is bound to be flawed. Nevertheless, the results received a lot of press, for example in the Huffington Post and the British newspaper, The Daily Mail, which was probably exactly what motivated the dating site to do it.

In the USA most people have never heard of—Ashley Madison seems to be the best-known—some might say the most notorious—extramarital dating site. Joining Ashley Madison or Illicit Encounters is free for women but men have to pay, just as it would be if they were visiting a call girl. According to my own extremely brief and unscientific survey of comments online, British philandering husbands seem to prefer to Ashley Madison UK as the Illicit Encounters site appears to have more genuine profiles of adulterous babes to choose from. What I liked best about Illicit Encounters was the warning in bold capital letters at the bottom of the home page. It was in gray rather than screaming black type. Nevertheless, it made me feel as if I was just about to indulge in smoking a packet of cigarettes and was confronted by a scary health warning:

Warning: Not everyone is suited to having an affair. They are not an alternative to working on or ending a marriage. Not all affairs have a positive effect on a marriage, some can be very damaging. Always consider other people and if you are going to have an affair, please select your partner wisely.”

But I digress—so I’ll now go back to the subject of research on what determines if someone is likely to be unfaithful. A more thought-provoking study investigating a possible genetic basis for infidelity was conducted by Binghampton University, State University of New York in 2010. Researchers there found that about 50% of the population possesses a “thrill-seeking gene,” a variant of the dopamine receptor D4 polymorphism known as the DRD4 gene. According to lead investigator Justin Garcia “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,” This particular gene is apparently also linked to sensation-seeking behavior such as alcohol use and gambling. Maybe in the future you’ll be able to use a blood test to find out if your potentially dearly beloved possesses this gene. Otherwise you could just flip a coin, since it appears that there is a 50/50 chance of having it.

Perhaps the moral of the story is that you shouldn’t blame your hound dog of a husband for sniffing around other women. Could it just be that he’s being led by mutant genes rather than a different part of his body? Perhaps you could channel his addiction to risk in a different direction, such as towards drugs, alcohol, high-stakes poker or, if he’s an outdoor type, paragliding off cliffs or bungee jumping. He might end up in an early grave, but at least he would have remained faithful.

Huffington Post Contributor and former BBC journalist C. J Grace is the author of the new book Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not, available on  Read C. J.’s blogs on and follow her on Twitter:

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