Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The false paternity rate

Last Friday, myself and boyfriend number 1 were invited to a birthday party by my colleague P and his Chilean boyfriend D. It’s D’s birthday, and he’s hired a room in one of the gay bars in central London.

During the course of the evening I get talking to P about infidelity.

“Occasionally I hear comments about how promiscuous gay men are”, says P, “but so are the straights”.

This is one of my favourite subjects, or to be more precise it relates to the subject of false paternity which is one of my favourite subjects. Does P have any juicy stories?

“What makes you say that?” I ask innocently.

“Oh just things I’ve heard about recently in the town where I grew up”.

P goes on to tell me a story about a funeral.

“At the funeral, the only daughter of the guy who died overhears her uncle saying to someone ‘well it was good of him to bring her up’. She challenges her uncle and the whole story comes out, the dead guy isn’t her biological father after all. The dead guy had known the truth, but had agreed to pretend that he was the father for the sake of his wife, and to avoid scandal. But the daughter was in her late fifties so they’d kept the truth secret for almost sixty years!”

“Doesn’t surprise me”, I say wisely, “although I’d hate to be the daughter in that situation.”

“And something similar happened to a friend of a friend”, P continues, “Luckily she wasn’t as old as the daughter at the funeral, but she was still in her thirties. She’s a bit swarthy, and her parents had been spinning stories about how it must relate to the Sicilian grandparent. But no, turns out her mother got shagged by some black guy from Notting Hill when she was sixteen or seventeen and they tried to cover it up. She’s not talking to her mother now.”

Now it’s my turn.

“I presume you know the false paternity statistic?” I say in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.

“No, what’s that?”

“False paternity is when people are mistaken about the true identity of their father. They assume that their father is the husband of their mother, but as your stories prove that’s not always true.”

“So how common is it?” asks P.

“Well, a few years ago I was talking to a guy who worked for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, studying how genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis move from one generation to the next. Having access to the DNA of children, their parents and sometimes their grandparents, he said that he regularly has to exercise discretion when talking to the families because the DNA proves that sometimes the father isn’t really the father. He reckoned that the false paternity rate in the population as a whole is probably around .... 10% !!”

“You’re kidding!” says P.

“No I'm not kidding! 10%!! Well he said there’s a lot of uncertainty in the number, but he felt sure that the number is somewhere between 5% and 15%. Think about it, all the people you know, in your class at school, or in the office, one in ten may be mistaken about the identity of their father. Incredible isn’t it?”

Having had the conversation with P, I did a quick bit of research on the internet at the weekend. According to one recent article I found (One in 25 fathers is not biological parent - study), the number is just more like 4%. Even 1 in 25 is a lot of infidelity though, assuming that only a very small proportion of shags result in babies!

I’m sure that in 2005 thing haven’t changed much. Now we have the internet to oil the wheels of infidelity with web sites like:
Discreet dating site for those who are attached but want more in life

although any would-be cheaters who are reading this should also note the existence of web sites like
Catch your cheating husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend

Anyway, even if gay guys are somewhat promiscuous, the studies show that the heterosexuals among us are promiscuous too!


Anonymous said...

It has to be said there seems to be plenty of opportunity to be lead astray with sites like

Anonymous said...


I’m getting in touch on behalf of Great Ormond Street Hospital. The hospital recently updated its website and moved page to

I can see that you are linking to the old page and the hospital would be hugely appreciative if you could update the GOSH link on this blog so that the link points to

Great Ormond Street have spent a lot of time improving the site’s design to make it easier for visitors to find the information they need and it would be very helpful if you would continue sending visitors to the hospital’s homepage.

If you have any questions, or need help with this in any way don’t hesitate to get in contact.

Many thanks,
Alastair Natkiel

GB said...

That's fine, Alastair, I've updated the link now :-).

GB xxx