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The One-Night-Stand Gene?

Casual sex generates headlines for scientists.

This one you can't blame on the journalists. Not entirely, at least: they couldn't possibly have resisted the bait. After all, everyone knows that reporters are hard-wired to respond to the chance to write stories about casual sex. (That would be the sleaze gene.) So when the lead investigator of a study published in the respectable scientific journal PLos ONE gives them a really juicy nugget, how do you think they'd react? Here's the crucial quote:

"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."

Science Daily at least printed the whole quote, and much more detail. But went straight to the obvious simplification, with this headline:

Honey, it's not my fault! It's the one-night stand gene

Other outlets ran the gamut from moderate to 'shocking':

  • Thrill-Seeking Gene Can Lead to More Sex Partners [ABC News]
  • Too Many One-Night Stands? Blame Your Genes [Time]
  • Study: Levels Of Promiscuity May Be Linked To DNA: What If Your Cheating Heart Doesn't Have A Choice? [CBS New York]
  • Into Uncommitted Sex? It May Be in Your Genes [Huffington Post]
  • The love-cheat gene: One in four born to be unfaithful, claim scientists [London Daily Mail]
  • Don't Blame Me, My 'Slut Gene' Made Me Do It [Fox News]

PLoS ONE, of course, was all scientific:

Associations between Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene Variation with Both Infidelity and Sexual Promiscuity

The study covered 181 individuals, 43 of whom had a particular variation of the DRD4 gene, which has previously been associated with ADHD, alcoholism and various types of risk taking. These subjects "report a greater categorical rate of promiscuous sexual behavior (i.e., having ever had a 'one-night stand') and report a more than 50% increase in instances of sexual infidelity."

It is important, wrote the study's authors, "to sound several notes of caution." There may be alternative explanations, the findings are "not definitive at this point," the behavioral outcomes are "probabilistic and by no means deterministic" and there may be cultural influences. (The research subjects were "recruited from a midsized state university in the northeastern United States," possibly not a million miles from Binghampton University, NY, where the authors mostly work.)

OK, they're covered, technically. But do they have to throw terms like "one-night stand" at the hungry press? Is the hunt for funding really down to this level now?

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