A recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience (here) has conveniently coincided with the announcement of the High Profile Affair of the Year awardee. The two have come together to stir up interest in having some sort of fidelity pill that spoken-for men could take to stop their philandering ways. And, based on science, that pill could be oxytocin. You can see this very topic discussed here, featuring this author as the lone defender of man.
So let's talk about the study. You will be disappointed.
The researchers at the University of Bonn took single and married men- about 80 in all- and gave half of each group oxytocin and half a saline placebo, both with an internasal spray. Oxytocin is a 9-amino acid neuropeptide that regulates things like sexual activity and salt intake, and is also linked to bond-pairing, trust and increased generosity (google it: it actually does everything). Then they had the men line up with a woman and had them demonstrate the distance that they felt most comfortable meeting the woman socially. It turned out that the married men who had taken oxytocin preferred a distance that was about 10 cm farther than any other group. This was without an alteration in their self-judgement of attraction or arousal. It's a cool study, but it came to no definitive conclusions on why that happened, other than quoting the things that oxytocin is linked to (seriously, google it).
So, what happened?
Word got out, and people began to wonder if a fidelity drug was (a) possible and (b) a good idea.
Is it possible? Probably, but oxytocin alone won't do it. It isn't unlikely that we will understand the brain well enough to someday invent a drug cocktail that will attenuate sexual attraction and impulse outside of a set monogamous relationship. It would probably include oxytocin. And there would be significant side effects.
Would it be a good idea? Nope. Very little about the possibility of a fidelity pill of any kind is ethical. Let's say that such a pill existed, and could be (a) slipped into a husband's drink by a wife (b) given by an agent for a celebrity or political candidate, (c) mandated as part of a court-ordered therapy. Some would think that a good idea. But none of that is legal, let alone ethical. At worst, it comes very close to a low-level version of a mandated castration practice associated with eugenics. At best, it diminishes the will for self-control. (And yes, you cynics, there is such a thing).
But all of that is speculative. The truth is that we aren't there yet. We're far enough along to think about it seriously, and make a law banning it, but we aren't there yet.
I know it's a big letdown for some, but it ain't gonna happen. My advice to women who really need to rein in their men? Try reins.
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