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Do Men and Women Think About Sex Differently?

Last updated on 21/01/2020

Let’s just say it’s complicated.

Which isn’t terribly surprising; we’re talking about the intersection of biology and sociology, a subject that remains ill-defined and is prone to emotional takes.

This New York Times piece by Kim Tingley (great name, if you’re writing about sex!) tried to come off as neutral but the structure of the piece – specifically the beginning and end – make it clear that the author very much WANTS men and women’s brains to approach sex similarly and DOESN’T want to discover that men and women are different.

The problem with this, of course, is that men and women ARE different.

The problem with this, of course, is that men and women ARE different. Look between your legs and take a few hormone readings and you’ll see. But people seem to have a vested interest in erasing these differences in the name of equality. I don’t see why we can’t be equal but also be different, but that seems to be a bridge too far for some.

Anyway, Tingley’s article begins with damning evidence, making her case that men and women’s brains respond similarly around sex:

“What Noori’s team found was that image type — whether it was a picture or a video — was the strongest predictor of differences in which parts of the brain became engaged. Unexpectedly, the weakest predictor was the subjects’ biological sex. In other words, when men and women viewed pornographic imagery, the way their brains responded, in the aggregate, was largely the same.

To her credit, Tingley walks this back in the next paragraph. Indeed, it’s complicated.

“The science of sex is inherently paradoxical. For centuries, social stigma, prejudice and misogyny have condemned as aberrant sexual pleasures we now know are healthy. Yet despite the growing realization of how much outside views shape even our most private behavior, we can still experience the mechanics of our own desire — never mind that of others — as a fundamental mystery. Noori’s team is trying to shed light on a big part of that lingering mystery: If men’s and women’s brains respond similarly to sexual stimuli, what accounts for the apparent differences in how they approach sexual practices?”

There’s a lot more but this is the crux of it.

I’m no biologist; just a keen observer of human dating and relationship behavior. What confuses me is that, if, in fact, men and women are the SAME sexually, why are their behaviors so radically different?

The author seems to believe that the fact that women don’t sleep around as much as men, engage in as much porn use, and generally have a harder time separating sex from emotion is institutionalized misogyny and shaming women for sexual thoughts and acts.

I’m more of an Occam’s Razor kind of guy. The simpler answer is that men and women are biologically different and the presence of testosterone is a more likely explanation for the gap in sexual beliefs and behaviors – even if we concede the article’s very valid point about societal misogyny and shame.

The author ends with a call for more research that may one day abolish “categories like “desire” and “arousal” or “male” and “female” in favor of descriptors that better capture how those concepts intermingle and connect with others.”

I’m all for more data in search of a more objective truth. I’d just be surprised if that research discovers that men and women are exactly the same in all areas.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.