Monday, November 29, 2004

A Cheating Gene?

Last Wednesday Reuters news agency reported a study on female infidelity(1), which was referenced in a CNN story this morning. According to the study, conducted by St. Thomas' Hospital in London, about 40% of the influence on infidelity and number of sex partners is due to genetics. In the study, they compared identical to non-identical twins, presumably to filter for upbringing and other environmental causes.

But what does this mean? Does it mean that cheaters "can't help it" because they are a slave to their genetic programming? I don't think so, although it is unfortunate that a lot of folks will get this impression by reading about this study.

What I find interesting here was that the study indicated that genetics did not influence the subjects' attitudes about infidelity - which means that some of them tended to cheat even when they thought it was wrong. When we take that fact, along with the fact that the number of sex partners is also tied in, it appears that what's actually being measured here is sex drive. It would stand to reason, then, that there would be a higher incidence of infidelity among those with higher sexual drives.

There is no doubt that it is more difficult for a person with a high sex drive to remain faithful when tempted than it is for a person with a low sex drive. But this is no different than any number of other matters we face day to day. Some people may have a high appetite while others may have a bad temper. We all face our own level of strengths and weaknesses, but it is incumbent upon each of us to resist those urges when they encourage us to be unethical. Regardless of our urges, we must each be held responsible for our own actions and expected to live up to our commitments. And, aside from psychologically damaged or deranged people, it is possible for anyone.

As science continues to understand more and more about human biology, we will no doubt be able to spell out in fine detail every explanation for nearly every action. But who ever said that responsibility only counts when our inner workings are a mystery? What we should keep in mind is this: explanation is not excuse. So, sorry, but genetics aren't a free ticket to do evil.

1. Reference: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=6909742


Blogger max said...

once again you have hit it on the head. society seems to think that an explanation is an excuse for one's failure to exercise self control and discipline. as is true with most things, our "i want it all, and i want it now" attitude has driven us to blame everything from our upbringing to genetics to shift the blame, thereby allowing us to remain pure and chaste, regardless of how we behave. when will the tide turn? how long until someone summons the inner strength and cajonies to accept responsibility for their actions. until this trend turns we will continue to have a flood of people who refuse to accept the truth......ultimately, YOU and only YOU can control your actions.

4:57 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Thanks for the comment Max (and thanks for being the first to comment on my new blog!)

I agree. I think part of the problem has been what I mentioned about a refusal of people to be judgmental. And, for those that are, they are painted as intolerant or self righteous. Certainly there is a place for humility and toleration, but I think we have a responsibility to shun or discourage unethical behavior and to keep one another in check. The lack of that has caused a complete loss of any concept of shame in our society, which I think we could use a little more of. I'll be making another post in the future that touches on the relationship between flexible open minded moral deliberation and taking a moral stand. Thanks again! :)

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that it's ok to cheat and to shag as many women or men as you can. Just use protection Folks!!!haha

12:59 PM  
Blogger DT Strain said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for the comment. I think you're mistaken, and will likely find a rough road ahead with that strategy :)

1:39 PM  

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