Just as her hotly-awaited new book ‘The Male Brain’ is released ( March 23), we sat down with author and expert Louann Brizendine, M.D. to learn all about what goes on inside that head of his — literally!
1. What are the biggest differences between male and female brains?
If you’ve ever wondered why it seems like all the guys you’re dating think about is sex, you might be surprised to find out that in some ways they can’t help it. The brain develops an area in the hypothalamus called the area for sexual pursuit, which is 2.5 times larger in males than in females. And the fuel that runs sexual desire is testosterone, which men have 10 times more of than women. Those are just two of the biggest differences (See #4 for more details!).
2. Do you feel that one sex is superior to the other in their physiological makeup?
Both sexes have been designed to be more alike than different — after all, we are the same species. But when it comes to the brain, it’s clear that there are some things that men are predisposed to do better and some things that women are typically better at. For example, if you’ve ever wondered why guys want to fix your problems — instead of hearing you out the way your girlfriends do — the answer may be in their brain circuits. When a man hears a woman in distress about a problem at work or the fight she had with her sister, he races to solve her problem. So when you tell a guy why you’re upset, an area of his brain called the TPJ quickly takes over. As soon as he thinks he understands the problem, he stops listening to you and starts proposing solutions.
When a female hears someone describe an emotionally distressing situation, she continues to listen and empathize and may or may not offer solutions. Both of these brain responses are important for helping the person deal with the situation, and I wouldn’t call one better than the other. The better you understand each other’s brains, the better you can relate to each other and appreciate your differences.
3. Can you explain why men fear commitment — is there a hormonal connection?
I’m not convinced that men fear commitment more than women do. I think it’s more about men’s innate desire for variety. Studies show that when men and women in their twenties are asked how many sexual partners they want to have in their lifetime, men say 10-20 and women say 1-2. Evolutionary biologists believe this is because males can spread their seed without the consequences of pregnancy and caring for helpless infants, whereas females need to choose one mate who will help provide for and protect her and the children.
4. Do men really think about sex more than women do? If so, why?
Both men and women think about sex a lot. But the male brain’s visual system and sex-drive system are set by default to the “on” position, whereas the female’s may take a little longer to get going. It goes back to two of the differences between the male and female brain. His sexual pursuit area is 2.5 times larger than hers and makes 10 times the fuel that runs sexual desire — testosterone. So, if the guy you’re out with seems like he’s got only one thing on his mind, now you know why. But just because he’s likely to want sex before you feel ready, that doesn’t make him a bad guy. But it also doesn’t mean you have to follow his lead. If you want to take things slower, tell him.
5. Can you talk about emotional closeness, and what this means to both sexes?
Men say they know “she loves me” because “she wants to have sex with me”; women say they know “he loves me” because “he wants to talk to me.” Couples who come to my office because of a difference in the desire for sex are often shocked when they hear these words come from their partner’s mouth.
6. What is the best way to communicate to a man effectively?
It depends on what you hope to achieve. If a female wants intimacy with her partner, she should be flirtatious and wear sexy clothing. On the other hand, if she wants to have a long talk about their relationship, she should have sex with him first — to reassure him and make him feel safe — and then suggest they go for a walk or a drive where she can bring up the topic while sitting or walking side-by-side with him rather than face-to-face.
7. What is something you learned through your research of men that has helped you in relationships with them?
I learned that men sometimes have a stronger emotional response than women do, but are usually much better at hiding their true feelings. The male brain also has larger anger-aggression circuits and a more competitive streak. Testosterone stimulates aggression, strength, and sex drive in men, so we can’t expect men to think and act like they have female brains, any more than they can expect us to act like we have male brains. The thing to remember is that, basically, men and women both want love, respect and gratitude.
8. How can we take our physiological differences in terms of brain structure and activity and make them work for us when trying to communicate with the opposite sex?
This answer could be an entire book! But the main thing to remember is that both sexes want to understand the other. It’s not as easy as we wish it could be but the stories of couples in ‘The Male Brain’ provide good examples of what works and what doesn’t.
About the Author:
Louann Brizendine, M.D., a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the National Board of Medical Examiners, is clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF. She is founder and director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic and the Teen Girl Mood and Hormone Clinic. After receiving her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, she completed an internship in medicine and neurology at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a residency in psychiatry at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center of Harvard Medical School. She sits on the boards of many prestigious peer reviewed journals and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards.