It’s easy to assume that men and women think about sex differently. But is that really the case?
As it turns out, no it’s not the case. Or at least, it’s not the full story. There are differences. For example, whether gay, bi, or straight, men tend to respond automatically to specific body parts they find attractive. Women’s responses tend to be more dependant on context. In fact, in clinical studies, well-established differences exist between men and women, and it can be measured.
These automatic responses, beyond the conscious control of men and women, manifest themselves in wider relationships too. Straight women often experience a feeling of being ignored or neglected, and men tend to feel like they’re often criticized. Gay men are generally more comfortable with open relationships than gay women.
Those observations are generalisations of course. But they are borne out by statistics and surveys. There are, obviously, exceptions. But what do they mean? Where do these differences come from?
Much of the problem in studying these differences is in how they’re interpreted, and the results from one study can be, and often are, subject to heated disagreement. And while it seems natural to suggest and study a difference between men’s and women’s brains, it also seems less and less politically correct to do so. You’d hope a field like brain science would be free from subjectivity and bias, but it’s not the case. Results of inter-gender or inter-sexual studies can be understood very differently according to the perspective of the observer.
But there are biological and biochemical differences. Brain Researcher Daphna Joel demonstrated in a 2012 TED talk that female brains tend to be smaller, to have more grey matter and less white, and to have smaller amygdalae but larger hippocampi.
But she goes on to point out (in a 2015 article titled Sex Beyond The Genitalia: The Human Brain Mosaic), that few men or women have completely male or female brains. The vast majority of us have what she calls a “mosaic” brain – that is, our brains feature components typical of your gender with those typical of another gender.
Dr. Joel has a theory on why this might be so. An earlier study, in 2001, showed that 15 minutes of psychological stress caused some neurological patterns in males to look entirely female, and vice versa. She theorizes that the same thing might be happening to us in the womb, where maternal stress might influence the development of our growing brains, causing them to have features of both male and female “mosaics.”
It’s as plausible as any other explanation we have for gender-specific brain activity, and it seems to be measurable in everyday life. Most of us appear to be mosaics, don’t we? Our minds are highly influenced by our culture, but our brain is inanimate. Our culture might disapprove of homosexuality, for example, but that doesn’t change the neurological composition of our brains. We’re gay or straight regardless of culture.
And it’s true regardless of sexuality. Women in relationships often want to feel sexually desired, making them responsive to their partner’s desire. In that way, we might expect responsiveness to be a more typically female trait regardless of sexuality. But it’s not always the case. New research indicates that some men also respond to feeling sexually desired, whereas conventional thinking would have it that men don’t necessarily need to be desired to have sex. Previously, men were often bracketed as “spontaneously” sexual, as opposed to “responsively” sexual.
This is a difference, or a perhaps a similarity, between men and women that seems deeply entrenched. Women will usually cite being desired as their biggest turn on, and will even list being passionately desired as more important than orgasm. That’s was traditionally thought of as the woman’s response, and that men, while they appreciate being wanted, will put orgasm above the sensation of being desired most times. But if you look a little closer, you can see that some men actually want the exact same thing.
Some men’s sexual nature happens to be gender a-typical, more in line with female neurology than male neurology, in this one important sexual feature. They are mosaics of male and female attributes.
This is just one narrow example to highlight the flexibility and uniqueness of our minds, and how they integrate with our brains. We’re all different, and yet all the same. We’re identical in our uniqueness. Similarly, men are assumed to masturbate more regularly than women, but even the existence of a brand like LELO should be demonstration enough to show that there is a significant amount of exceptions.
And it’s here that we hit a wall that we often hit when we discuss the nature of the mind in human sexuality: just how relevant is gender anyway? Are we coming to a point where these labels need to be disregarded entirely?
If we’re all mosaics, irrespective of gender or sexuality, what does the label even matter? The more we learn about our sexualities, the more we seem to learn that we’re all as diverse as each other.