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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. For more information on the book please click here.

Chapter 11: Men and Women are Different

Men and women are completely different. As a teenager it is very easy to miss this simple truth. As soon as you accept it relationships donít make any more sense, but the fact that they make no sense begins to make sense.

One way to understand the fundamental differences between men and women is to look at their anatomies. Men are equipped to impregnate women. There is no cost to a man in impregnating someone. Women, on the other hand, are equipped to be impregnated and produce babies. As soon as a woman gets pregnant she has just signed on for a 20 year tour of duty taking care of the resulting child. Her goal, going back millions of years, is to help that baby survive. For a woman pregnancy carries an extremely high cost. Furthermore, the womanís mind and body also know, instinctively at some level, that a baby needs two people to survive. Women are therefore designed to wait for a strong commitment prior to getting pregnant. In our culture that commitment is called "marriage," and women are smart to wait for it. Many men seem to have little or no such programming.

This basic anatomical difference, by itself, leads to rather strong differences in priorities between men and women. In addition, men and women clearly have different programming in other parts of their brains. For example, men are much more aggressive, in general, than women, while women tend to be much more nurturing. Men are more individualistic, while women are more social. Men tend to rely more on rational thought, while women rely more on feelings. These observations are generalizations, or course, but they are fairly obvious. You can see these tendencies in children at play. Girls play with dolls and work with each other socially, while boys wage mock wars with one another. Neither mode is "better" than the other. They are simply different, and they have their own places. For example, you cannot deal socially with a wild tiger who is attacking your village, so an aggressive approach works better. On the other hand, an aggressive approach does not work at all with children.

A good book to read for more information is Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray. See the references section for more information.

You may have seen the tongue-in-cheek posters or T-shirts that purport to show the differences between menís and womenís brains. All that the posters are trying to say is, "In general, men and women have different things on their minds." For example, if you look at whoís browsing in the tool section at the hardware store, you will find that most of the people are men. Men tend to be more interested in tools than women are. Men also tend to be more interested in cars, sports, computers and so on. On the other hand, if you look in the cosmetics section at a department store you will find that most of the customers are women. Women tend to be more interested in beauty, fashion, and shopping than men are. Neither sex is "better" than the other, but there certainly are significant differences in preferences.

Another way to understand the differences between men and women is to look at the sexual anatomy and endocrine (hormonal) systems of males and females. Obviously, there are physical differences. In addition, the hormonal cycles of men and women are different because a womanís body is designed to produce babies, while a manís is not. Here is a simplified description of a womanís hormonal cycle:

Assume that the start of the menstrual period marks the start of the cycle. The pituitary gland, a small endocrine organ in the brain, begins secreting a hormone called the follicle-stimulating-hormone, FSH. FSH is responsible for stimulating the development of an ovarian follicle and the egg it contains. A follicle has the ability to secrete the hormone estrogen, so once it develops the estrogen levels in the blood rise. Estrogen has a number of effects. For example, the glands lining the cervix secrete mucus and the uterine lining builds up.

About a day prior to ovulation the estrogen level in the blood peaks. The peak triggers a change in the pituitary gland, causing it to secrete another hormone called luteinizing hormone, LH. Ovulation occurs because the level of LH causes the follicle to release the egg. The egg may be fertilized by sperm over the next 24 hours. If not, menstruation starts approximately two weeks later and the cycle repeats.

This certainly is not a simple mechanism. Men have a similar system, but in men the hormones act on different organs to produce testosterone instead of estrogen. Testosterone and estrogen have completely different effects on the brain and body. Given the differences in the hormones flowing in their blood streams, the expectation that males and females will respond similarly to any stimuli would be naïve. It is important to recognize that neither sex is "better." They are simply wildly different.

Knowing and accepting that there are all of these differences can make you much more alert and understanding in any relationship that you undertake.

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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.

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