On the heels of The Re-education of the Female, which suggests that women keep their men by doing chores in sexy outfits, comes a study implying that male fidelity may have more to do with genetics than wifely subservience. According to scientists at the Karolinska Institute (sounds like a ballet studio, actually a Swedish medical school), two in five men carry a gene variant that makes them less likely to commit to women. The Daily Mail calls it "the love-rat gene" — presumably in reference to Rod Stewart's appearance in the accompanying photo — and it apparently has a surprising number of social and sexual effects.Men with the gene, which, as the Washington Post notes, regulates the hormone vasopressin, are more likely to live with women without marrying them; if they are married, these men are more likely to fight with their spouses and consider divorce. Their female partners (the study only looked at heterosexual couples) also "reported lower levels of satisfaction, affection, cohesion and consensus in the relationship" than partners of men without the variant. "No one is saying biology is destiny," says anthropologist Helen Fisher, who studies romantic love. She might marry a man with the "love-rat gene" — "but," she says, "I might not start a joint bank account with them for the first few years." Kidding aside, this study looks at first glance like another great way to reduce human relationships to biological imperatives. As if comparisons between men and male animals weren't popular enough, the Post cites an earlier study in which the same gene variant was found in mountain voles, who are apparently more caddish than their prairie cousins. (Interestingly, Ayelet Waldman got the jump on this years ago, calling her faithful husband Michael Chabon a "prairie vole.") People seem to find it comforting to believe that their behavior is predetermined. Fisher says a man with the variant "might be able to use the knowledge to ignore tugs of restlessness he might feel in his marriage: "You can say, 'Oh, it is just my DNA, and I am going to ignore it.'" Certainly better than the alternative — "oh, it is just my DNA, and I can't do anything about it" — but still kind of disturbing. The danger in putting too much stock in this kind of research is that we'll use it as yet another proxy for actual communication in relationships. In the last five years, the science sections of newspapers have started to read a little like Cosmo — they tell us how to learn all about our men without ever actually asking. On the other hand, the study does counter a spate of recent books and articles that blame women for male inability to commit. In addition to Dante Moore, there's psychotherapist Gary Neuman, whose The Truth About Cheating: Why Men Stray and What You Can Do to Prevent It says "Men will eventually find their way into the arms of another if they are not getting enough sex at home." And of course there's Elroy Riggs at the Central Kentucky News-Journal, who blames divorce on modern women's unwillingness to whip up homemade biscuits. If the love-rat gene makes people realize that infidelity is often more about the cheater than the cheat-ee, then more power to the Karolinska Institute. The most interesting research, however, has yet to be done. The Institute plans to study whether oxytocin, another hormone, affects women's ability to commit. This study might take some of the annoying stereotypical sting out of sex research. Thus far, much of it has been about why men "can't commit," with the assumption that women want them to. Corresponding research into women's predispositions might underscore the fact that we're not all sad little lady voles who sit around waiting for our man vole to come home. Nor are we slaves to biology. Some men and some women want to commit, and some don't, and our goal should be to avoid a mismatch of the two, not to pore over our genes for predictors of our happiness. The love-rat gene: Why some men are born to cause trouble and strife Study Links Gene Variant in Men to Marital Discord Monogamy gene found in people Author risks fury of millions of women with a claim that THEY are to blame when husbands stray
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