A Drug That Keeps Men Kept

By Michael Baker

Researchers may have discovered a hormone that will prevent men from cheating on their significant other.  Oxytocin, when sniffed by men in committed relationships, caused them to stand farther away from women who they’d just met than their happily single, hormone-sniffing homeboys.  So what we basically have here is a drug that encourages monogamy in men (who – let’s face it – collectively pose the world’s largest threat to monogamy).  Where was this stuff when Petraeus needed it?

At first blush, this might seem like a good thing.  If we can agree that cheating is wrong then certainly something that discourages it must be a step in the right direction.  But I’m not so sure.  On a simple level, this might just be a solution to a problem.  But there are deep ethical questions to any artificial means of making people do the right thing.  What is the moral weight of a drug that makes you act morally?

Think about this question: how would you feel if you knew for a fact that your spouse or significant other would never cheat on you, but you only knew that because they were taking a drug that makes it so?    No doubt about it, they’re not cheating.  But are they actually faithful to you?  Maybe.  But even if they are, is there really any virtue in it? 

What it really boils down to is – is it really morality if you don’t have a choice?  Or if you have a choice, but an artificial hormone is gently nudging your brain chemistry in the right direction?  I’m inclined to say that it’s not.  Free will is worth something, and I think I’d rather be a cheater who knows what he’s really made of than a doped-up monogamist.  Of course, I’d rather just be a guy who keeps it in his pants because he knows that it’s the right thing to do (or, at the very least, because you live in constant cowardice of being caught).  And that’s the real crux – if you rely on Oxytocin, you can never really be that guy.

When we lose the ability to decide for ourselves whether we’re going to do what we know to be honest and morally right, we lose any right to take pride in having done the right thing.  And you’ll also never know the truth of who you really are or – in this case – who you’re really with.  Oxytocin might keep some women satisfied, but they’re the ones who probably should’ve walked away in the first place.