September 22nd, 2008
12:54 PM ET

Your cheatin' heart will tell on you

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

I have a friend who cheats on his wife constantly. What's worse, all his buddies know about it. Even his wife knows. On the surface, he's a nice guy, charismatic, a caring father, and a hard worker. He just can't stay faithful. His loving spouse continues to forgive him even though they've gone through years of therapy. He swears he loves her. He insists he tries to stay away from other women, but still his eye keeps wandering.

I am sure psychiatrists will tell you this guy needs help, but scientists say his behavior could be caused by his genetic makeup. That's right: Some of us may or may not have what researchers call the monogamy gene, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By looking at different versions of the common field or vole mouse, researchers injected the non-monogamous meadow vole with the monogamy gene from its close cousin the prairie vole. After receiving the gene, scientists found a noticeable change in the meadow vole's behavior. Instead of mating and immediately moving on, (the ol' love and leave 'em tactic) the meadow vole showed more of an attachment to its mate.

So the big question is, could this keep wayward folks from cheating? Would wives or husbands be able to poke a syringe into a wandering spouse’s tush and regain marital bliss? Scientists say hardly. It seems the monogamy gene is broken down into three parts: lust, romance and attraction, and in many cases they don't work together. Which is why doctors say, someone can have a strong attachment to one person and be madly in love with someone else.

That’s unfortunate, because in today's world, where recent polls show many men and women cheat on their partners, and cases of HIV and STDs continue to rise, being monogamous might be a safer, healthier and happier way to live.

What do you think? Let us know how you feel about monogamous or non-monogamous relationships? We'd like to know.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.