Does DNA Make You More Likely To Cheat?

"I just can't help myself, baby!" your straying partner insists. Is there a grain of truth to this (admittedly lame) excuse? Not to condone a cheating heart, but you might want to get his or her DNA checked. A 2010 study conducted by the State University of New York in Binghamton found that people with a genetic variation of the human dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4), a "feel good" gene, were more likely to be unfaithful than those who did not have this mutation, regardless of gender (per PLoS One).

"What we found was that 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," lead researcher Justin Garcia said to Pipe Dream. "The motivation seems to stem from a system of pleasure and reward, which is where the release of dopamine comes in. In cases of uncommitted sex, the risks are high, the rewards substantial, and the motivation variable — all elements that ensure a dopamine 'rush.'"

Children of cheaters are also more likely to be unfaithful

The age-old nature vs. nurture debate is alive and well when it comes to infidelity — because not only has cheating been linked to this genetic variation of DRD4, but studies also show that children of unfaithful parents are more likely to make history repeat itself. "As a child, you see how your caregivers deal with their anxiety, depression, and unhappiness," licensed clinical psychotherapist Dr. LeslieBeth Wish told Insider. "If... your father cheated on your mother, you see that behavior, you see your parents' moods, and you learn without knowing that you are learning about ways to manage feelings." 

It could be that both genes and behavior stacked the deck against your spouse's loyalty. In this way, it's not unlike the vicious cycle of alcoholism. Of course, whether it's genes or bad role modeling that have inspired your partner's adulterous behavior, you don't have to tolerate it — or forgive it. If they truly "can't help themselves" from straying, surely, they can help themselves straight for the door!

Another gene that may be at play

But DRD4 may not be the only gene potentially contributing to a partner's infidelity. A 2014 study published in the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behavior found that the arginine vasopressin receptor 1A gene, known as AVPR1A, may also be one to watch. In examining more than 7,300 Finnish twins and their siblings, the researchers found that the presence of genetic variations in the AVPR1A gene was linked with extrapair mating behaviors in humans — or mating outside of one's monogamous relationship (via PLoS ONE). Specifically, this connection was found in women, but not in men.

Potentially lending further evidence to these claims is a possible genetic component that has been noted in the mating practices of different species of voles, reports Fatherly. While some species mate with only one partner, others do not engage in this monogamous behavior. However, variations in vasopressin hormone receptors often prompt the opposite mating behavior in each species. However, human studies have produced conflicting evidence over the years. While some research has suggested a link between one's genetics and cheating behaviors, other studies have found no such relationship.

Support for those experiencing trauma from infidelity

No one relationship looks the same as another. This includes how people may personally define "cheating" for themselves. A 2017 research questionnaire issued by Deseret News to more than 1,000 people across the country found that what constitutes adultery can vary greatly from one person to the next, especially when researchers zeroed in on factors such as age, religion, and more. While most individuals felt that kissing and engaging in sexual activity with another partner while in a monogamous relationship qualified as cheating, other behaviors such as keeping a dating profile, going to a strip club, having dinner with a person they find attractive, or following an ex on social media fell into more of a gray area.

Some people may choose to seek professional mental health support for the trauma experienced due to infidelity. To best support patients and their partners, Dr. Talal Alsaleem, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in infidelity counseling, told Counseling Today about the importance of letting patients define infidelity for themselves so the term is inclusive of not just those in monogamous, heterosexual relationships, but also for members of the LGBTQ+ community or those in polyamorous relationships.

When it comes to treatment, Dr. Alsaleem explains that taking a generic trauma-informed approach is not always effective in cases of infidelity. Rather, these patients may have more specific needs unique to their own situation that counselors should keep in mind.