Let's Put the 'Slut Gene' to Bed Already

Cristen Conger

Does a 'slut gene' really exist? (© 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation)

Science doesn't get much sexier than this. Researchers at Binghamton University in New York have supposedly identified a 'slut gene'. People with a particular genetic variation of dopamine receptor DRD4 may be more inclined to hop into the sack with a stranger or cheat on a partner. Scandalous!

Sort of.

Not surprisingly, the media has salivated over news of this scintillating "slut gene" that separates the faithful from the frisky, but neuroscience expert Casey Schwartz over at The Daily Beast warns the study results are being grossly misinterpreted. Dopamine receptors certainly influence how we act because they help determine how much satisfaction we derive -- and crave -- from different experiences and emotional responses. The dopamine system is highly active in those crazy, elated feelings you get when you fall in love. A hungry dopamine system is also responsible for the terrible despondency that comes with falling out of love. Schwartz notes that the DRD4 receptor also pulls the lever on a wide range of behaviors beyond the bedroom. "The DRD4 gene has made headlines before. In fact, it's a goldmine of scandalous behaviors, linked to everything from alcoholism to impulsive financial decisions. It influences how our brains respond to dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter unleashed by new and rewarding experiences."

Considering that, the DRD4 variation might make some of us more impulsive and pleasure-seeking than others. According to media reports on the Binghamton study, those folks are also more likely to have a one-night stand. But not so fast, Schwartz says. The researchers merely asked student participants about their sexual behavior then collected a saliva sample for DNA analysis. The final results revealed a correlation between participants with a 7R+ (as opposed to a 7R-) DRD4 gene and more one-night stand notches on their bedposts. The relationship between the two isn't airtight, though, since some people might've been more open and honest about their sexual history than others.

Although it's tempting to explain away bad behaviors with genes, even Binghamton study author Justin Garcia advises approaching the 'slut gene' theory with caution: "The popular thing right now is the cheating gene, or the slutty gene, or the promiscuous gene, and it's a little bit more particular than that."

Follow Cristen & Molly from Stuff Mom Never Told You on Twitter and Facebook.