Loyalty cocktail

Researchers have injected a monogamy gene into promiscuous mice. But will this appeal to male humans?


Virginia Vitzthum
September 7, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Hillary Rodham Clinton was mocked violently for theorizing in her recent interview with Talk about why her husband cheats. She may be vindicated, though,
by some other Southern marriages that have been living under a microscope. Just as
Hillary traced Bill's cheating to the struggles between his mother and
grandmother, these other males' philandering instincts were also treated as deeply
hard-wired. And like the Democrat who out-Republicaned the Republicans,
these males proved able to change according to the whims and needs of those they served.

But the male mice injected with the "monogamy gene" escaped the struggle that
almost cost Clinton his presidency and, one presumes, his marriage. When
Emory researchers spliced DNA strands from monogamous prairie voles into
promiscuous mice, the latter became more bonded to their mates, sticking
around even when the mousewives weren't in heat. Tom Insel, a psychiatrist
on the research team, was quoted as saying, "What is really intriguing
about this is that a change of a single gene can lead to a new pattern of
expression in the brain and a profound difference in behavior."

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Hillary had to like the sound of that. Though the country warmed up to her
as a wronged wife, her accounting for her no-account spouse backfired and
required days of damage control. But she should stay the course, because
the monogamy gene could validate her original version: Bill's inability to
keep it in his pants in the presence of big hair may be a kind of genetic disease. And you
don't leave somebody who's sick; you get him treatment.

Maybe Bill Clinton doesn't want to be the first human test subject for monogamy
gene therapy (possible drug names: Luvone; PantzOn; Noagra). Maybe he
thinks those scientists down in Atlanta should just stick to pussy-whipping
mice and let boys be boys. Tough. He owes her, big time: She reinvented
herself for him, took the hit for the failure of his health-care plan and
had to do the betrayal-and-forgiveness dance on TV at every bimbo eruption.

Bill the guinea pig could put Hillary's Senate campaign over the top.
New Yorkers might vote her in just to watch the drug trial unfold. A
digital display in Times Square could keep track of the days without a
"slip," as they call it in AA. Hillary, meanwhile, could campaign without
worrying about a new scandal, and Bill -- now undistracted by the hunt for poontang -- could touch up his legacy and find a new job. The scientific
researcher vote, at the very least, would be sewn up.

A genetically tethered Bill Clinton could help Al Gore's campaign, too, by laying down the medical gauntlet. A vaccine for cocaine, which would block
the drug's effects, is expected soon: Clinton could challenge George W.
to 'fess up and take his medicine like a man. Gene therapy, the new fiber in
Clinton's yo-yo diet of sinning and pleading, could complicate religion's role throughout the campaign. As the presidential candidates trot out their up-close-and-personal relationships with God, they would need to address the very nature of free will and determinism. After all, if it's suddenly clear that the Sixth Commandment is a matter of genetic predisposition, how
are we to account for the other nine?

But even if the experiment works below the belt, how would Clinton survive the
loss of all that sex for power's sake? How would the urge to stick an expensive cigar into a subordinate be rechanneled? Giving $10,000 speeches and stocking
his library ain't gonna scratch that itch.

Working, say, in some high-risk, high-stakes business, where he can crush
rivals in front of pretty secretaries, might stand in for his most swinish
sex. But the "love me" Clinton, the one Gennifer Flowers says eats pussy
like a champ, would need a place to play too. Assuming Hillary's still
angry, he could devote himself for a while to winning her back. Given
his love for his mama and the intellectual gulf between his Missus and his
mistresses, Clinton probably suffers a virgin-whore complex like that of John
Leguizamo in "Summer of Sam" -- the kind that precludes anything kinky with
the wife.

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The Clintons would just have to get over that. As his term winds down and
her campaign heats up, the two could play sexually with the shift from prez
and first lady to senator and first man. For Hillary
to fuck him with a dildo would not only pass the baton of power but would
claim him in a post-prairie vole way, cross-strengthening the gene
therapy's bond. If Hillary's diagnosis in Talk is correct and he needs to
repeat the trauma of pleasing two women, perhaps she could get a dark wig
and other accouterments for an alter ego.

In short, he'd have to do what most married people do: figure out ways to
keep sex with one person interesting. Even the estimated 60 percent of
Americans who cheat on their spouses generally don't cheat as continually as Clinton, and they achieve some workable system of monogamy. The president, the last two speakers of the House and most of the Kennedys hold a distorted mirror up to the rest of the country. They show us a nation of rutting rodents, men constitutionally unable to remain
faithful.

Would there be a market for a monogamy drug outside the Extremely Powerful
club? Priapic cartoons like Clinton, Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger don't
resemble men I know -- any more than the passive mommy voles look like my
female friends and colleagues. Granted, whenever I read that 87 percent of
Americans believe that Adam and Eve are their great-grandparents and that
homosexuals are going to hell, I remind myself that my educated little
circle in my Eastern city isn't any more representative of the United States than,
say, Salon's readership is. Maybe I'm naive, maybe it's not just a power
thing, maybe all the Joe Sixpacks in Kansas do have babes on the side. Since I don't know any of them (or Clinton or Beatty or Jagger, for that matter), I couldn't include them in my monogamy gene survey.

About 20 men responded to my e-mail question, "Would you take a drug that
would make you content with your mate and never want to fool around with
anyone else?" Most wanted the absurd premise clarified; they particularly
wanted to know if the drug would keep you bonded to someone you no longer love. My favorite follow-up question came from a single straight man: "Are all males so
required to self-medicate, or would there be a class of roving [polygamous] CEO dudes picking off the mates of contented drones?" Such responses
suggest that my friends spray the bushes just like Clinton, Gingrich and
most rodents, but with a self-awareness that breeds restraint. Most of the
gay men surveyed said they would take the drug if their partner did too.

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Several respondents suggested that the loss of desire would ripple far
beyond the romantic dyad. One divorcee said a monogamy pill could knock out
"FTD, Dr. Ruth, Oprah, Springer, sports, Playboy, music, painting and
poetry." A straight serial monogamist toed the Camille Paglia line,
declaring "the way one conquers [women] is through information,
inspiration, imagination and ambition." Both these men maintained that
insecurity and competition animates romance as well as
other achievement, but neither advocated open marriage to foster this.

The married men in my survey -- the target market -- uniformly condemned a
monogamy drug as "castration" and "lobotomy." (One said, however, if he did
have "the Clinton disease," he would take the drug so as not to lose his
wife and son.) "The conflict between lust and monogamy helps me understand
the responsibility I've undertaken by being married, a responsibility that
goes well beyond fidelity," one relative newlywed reported. Another friend
who's been married 12 years and has two kids wrote, "Surplus longing is
good for sharpening existential dread. Happiness is 'always already'
relative, even for the naturally sanguine. Thus we endure our contentment
as well as our pangs of lack." Fantasy, trust and the struggle to stay faithful make a bracing cocktail that these husbands would not want to dilute.

I'm skeptical about the monogamous paradigm -- I've seen it turn honest
people into liars and happy people into the cast of Sartre's "No Exit." But
my married friends' e-mails cheered me up considerably. These guys suggest
that sexual denial can be rich and conscious and paradox-embracing, not
just Puritanical repression or blind submission to a social more. Their
reflections give the lie to biological determinism as well: Human maleness
is not a disease to be cured, and monogamy can be something better than the
path of least resistance.

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Virginia Vitzthum

Virginia Vitzthum is a writer living in New York.

MORE FROM Virginia Vitzthum

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