Again, Men and Women Are Biologically Different

Again, Men and Women Are Biologically Different

If you’re interested in the scientific roots of this discussion, as I am, please click here to read David P. Schmitt’s lengthy article “Sex and Gender Are Dials (Not Switches)” in full.

I share it because, as a dating coach who reads incessantly about gender, sex, and relationship dynamics, I want to ensure that I’m giving the most informed, responsible advice. One of the things that underlie my advice is that, while men and women are equal, they are different biologically. Of course, one look below your waist would tell you that, but the way the online dialogue goes these days, it bears repeating.

Gender discrimination is wrong on a personal level, a societal level, and an institutional level. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that is harboring an ill-informed, black and white view of the world.

Gender discrimination is wrong on a personal level, a societal level, and an institutional level.

At the same time, where did we get the idea that sex/gender is a mere societal construct? That little boys and girls are like blank slates with NO biological differences? That’s complete bunk – and it’s bunk that’s been thoroughly debunked by scientists.

If we can’t understand and acknowledge the broad overall differences between men and women, it becomes nearly impossible to grapple with modern dating dynamics.

Sometimes, stereotypes have a place in this world; what we don’t want to do is assume that EVERY member of a group adheres to the same stereotype. Cue Dr. Schmitt:

“Although male/female, masculine/feminine, androphilic/gynephilic, and so forth might be scientifically useful as overall summaries (a sort of shorthand until we figure out what is really happening), massive amounts of sexual diversity exist under that surface-level description. The underlying variation is not random (cisgender men are usually more masculine and gynephilic, on average than cisgender women), but a lot of hidden and scientifically important sexuality exists underneath sexual labels. Scientifically, this is a problem.”

This is why it’s so tricky to discuss. And this is why Schmitt refers to sex and gender as dials instead of switches. Despite the fact that there are obvious gender differences as a whole, there  is wide variance within both men and women.

“According to the  organizational hypothesis  of sex differentiation, a key cause of male-female sex differences is the prenatal experience (or lack thereof) of androgen-related brain masculinization. In humans, a critical gestational period exists during the second trimester during which male brains, but typically not female brains, are permanently altered in function and structure in ways producing masculinized physical and psychological traits (e.g., personalities, cognitive abilities, play preferences).

Perhaps as a result of these differential  in utero  exposures to testosterone, when we look around the world we find across all (or nearly all) cultures that men and women differ, on average, in many regards. Ellis (2011) documented 65 apparently universal sex differences in cognition and behavior, ranging from preferences and attitudes to interests and abilities.  

Here are the Top 10:

If those sound too much like stereotypes, how about we redefine them as heuristics? A heuristic is “any approach to problem-solving, learning, or discovery that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient for the immediate goals.”

So we can rightfully state, in the same breath, that  women are more verbal, more social, less aggressive, and more anxious  AND that this doesn’t apply to each and every woman.  Says Schmitt:

“Yes, evolutionary selection pressures may lead male sexual identity to generally be co-aligned with other expressions of masculinity (e.g., a deeper voice, Puts et al., 2016; a stronger sex drive, Baumeister et al., 2001; more interest in competitive  team  sports; Deaner & Smith, 2013), but evolution in sexually-reproducing species allows for a lot of variation along the many sex/gender dials (due, for instance, to sexually-antagonistic selection pressures; Stearns et al., 2012; Stulp et al., 2012). Sex/gender dials do not all need to be turned “all the way up to 11” for evolution to play a role in producing human sexual diversity.”

So we can rightfully state, in the same breath, that  women are more verbal, more social, less aggressive, and more anxious  AND that this doesn’t apply to each and every woman.

You may find  my approach to this topic to be didactic, and you may be right. I just think that it’s essential that we converse using the same set of facts. Facts shouldn’t be subject to one’s feelings or biases. Nor should they be twisted to enact some sort of agenda. They should just stand on their own. I’ll let the author get the last word.

“From an evolutionary perspective, it is extremely unlikely  there is  one “gender switch” adaptation that invariably gives rise to essentialist, determined, and dichotomous male and female psychologies. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Rather, there are likely dozens (if not hundreds) of evolved sexuality adaptations, each turning the sex/gender dials of men and women in oblique, context-sensitive ways, each contributing a small part in generating the wonderful sex and gender variations observed in our species, all around the world.”

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

Join our conversation (11 Comments).
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  1. 1

    I found the chart of male and female “dialed” tendencies interesting, though I was surprised at some of them.   A question for the women of this blog:   In your dating/relationships/friendships with men, have you found men to generally “be” a certain way?   Have your experiences mostly jived with Evan’s chart?   And is there something that you wish was different about men, either dialed down or on the opposite end of the spectrum?   And if so, do you think the men in your life know that you wish it was different?

    1. 1.1

      Hi Jeremy. I have not dated many men, but have certainly interacted with many. I think when men are not in a dating mode (and particularly in “working” mode) they tend to be more candid in their choices and behaviours.   In these situations, I have certainly noticed men behaving more “sterotypical” and tending towards the Maleness side of Evan’s chart. This was certainly very very strong and evident in a male dominated workspace like IT and engineering fields in which I worked for a while. I have also noticed that for any given man, he could be fluid along the spectrum, depending on what was required of him – ie he could be very sociable, open and compliant when outside of a work context, but very opinionated and aggressive when defending his work and professionalism. To be honest, I found these men to be very attractive despite many of them them being below average in looks and physical appeal. Those ones who could not calibrate their interactions in different settings and situations tended to be few and whom I later discovered to be on the autistic spectrum.

    2. 1.2

      @Jeremy: I looked back at my past relationships and dating patterns and realized I consistently gravitate toward INTP and ENTP men in artistic and/or STEM fields who have a diagnosed anxiety disorder and a ton of hobbies they love to talk about.    (They seem to really like me too — 80 to 90% of my first dates over the past year have resulted in second date invites, probably because I screen a LOT)   Most of these guys have come across as pretty balanced on a lot of the above spectra, although not necessarily the same ones as me, nor even the same as each other.

      (no claim as to whether or not these are qualities that make someone a *good* partner for me, they just seem to pop up repeatedly in my dating history)

      I would never, ever generalize about “men” from this pool of guys: I’m sure as hell not normal, and selection bias is an actual thing.

      And… I don’t know that I can speak about things I wish “men” did… most of the things that have annoyed me about the men I’ve liked seemed like the dark side of qualities I *did* enjoy or varied a great deal depending on the individual… living in the real world involves understanding that there are benefits and drawbacks to pretty much any person or any decision and IMO all you can do is try to figure out which ones you can and can’t live with.

  2. 2
    Yet Another Guy


    Once again, everything pretty much comes back to how the hormone testosterone affects development as as well as behavior.   The average post-puberty male has a testosterone level is that is an order of magnitude higher than that of the average post-puberty female.   Women have a total testosterone level in the 30 ng/dl to 90 ng/dl range whereas men have a total testosterone level that is in the 300 ng/dl to 1200 ng/dl range.   Even men who are classified as hypogonadal usually have a total testosterone level that is higher than that typically found in women.     Testosterone level is directly responsible for the sexual desire dial.   The impact of this hormone on sex drive is evident to anyone who has spent time in the bodybuilding community where women routinely use testosterone.   If you take the horniest normal woman you have ever met and it kick it up a couple of notches, that is the sex drive that one typically encounters in female bodybuilders who use testosterone.   It also results in an increase in the size of the clitoris.

  3. 3

    He might be controversial but I like Jordan B. Peterson’s lectures on these issues. It’s important to note that it’s perfectly “normal” for a man to be further towards the right in one or more categories or for a woman to be towards the left. The statistical average man/woman is just that, a statistic. Besides, who wants to be average? 😛 I seem to recall Dr. Peterson also saying that the variance within the sexes is larger than the variance between sexes. While the differences between the sexes are small, they are statistically significant.

    I suppose in one way it would be useful for dating to identify your female traits and play on these when looking to date a man and vice versa? This is assuming that there is truth in men generally seeking feminine traits and women masculine.


  4. 4

    Yup. I’m a man. This once again confirms it sigh. Too bad I was born with the wrong body parts (and straight to make matters even worse).

  5. 5

    I’m a woman who’s in the middle somewhere on most of these spectra, and more often toward the left than the right side on the others.   (Like many adults I can adapt to a variety of situations that require me to be more or less “masculine” or “feminine” than my baseline… but have found it’s unsustainable for me to stay in a long-term situation that requires me to stay *too* far away from that baseline.)

    @Evan, when I started reading your blog my initial impression was something like “this reality you speak of?   Is clearly not the one I inhabit.”   Gradually, over time, I started to notice that you’re far less extreme and more flexible than I’d initially perceived you to be.

    Now when I read your blog, I mentally insert the words “most” or “many” when you write about “men” or “women” — and insert “often” or “usually” when you make an assertion re: the collective behaviors these groups.   Doing so keeps me more open to your opinion in situations where I’m more stereotypically female — in situations where you’re definitely NOT talking about me I can cheerfully say to myself, “ooh, interesting anthropology lesson!”, and learn something about people I don’t understand on a gut level.   (in other words, your blog can be enjoyable and useful in either case)

    So, thanks for choosing to post this… not only do I find it validating, but it could also lead more of your readers to realize that your POV actually *isn’t* as black and white as they thought.

    1. 5.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Thanks, Ada. I’m always shocked when people think I’m black and white because I’m anything but. Like, nothing would describe me LESS than being called black and white. But hey, that just shows that I can do a better job of communicating.

      Frankly, I feel it’s tedious to put “most” or “many” or “often” or “usually” in every single sentence, even though, as you pointed out, it may improve people’s perceptions. To me, “most” and “often” are implied and need not be said. I mean who ACTUALLY thinks ALL men are X and ALL women are Y to the point that I’d need to issue a disclaimer stating otherwise?

      1. 5.1.1

        I agree that constantly qualifying your statements would be tedious, and intended my reply as a compliment.   I obviously* value your opinion a great deal and apologize if what I wrote came across as a veiled criticism.

        Even though I eventually realized that you *mean* things like “heuristic” and “most”, it still felt wonderful to SEE you quoting and linking to that article 🙂

        Impressions of your POV as black and white may be due to

        1. Blog post titles, which are often provocative (can see why this might be a good strategy in other respects though)

        2.   Some readers are outliers who are weary of feeling like perpetual aliens.   Many people’s views of gender and dating ARE pretty rigid.   It can take considerable time and energy to determine whether a writer is *intentionally choosing simplicity over precision*.   I like to get a lot of data before drawing conclusions (“ask questions first, probably not shoot later”) but some people don’t have the bandwidth or experience to do that kind of processing on a regular basis.

        3.   Speaking as someone who’s dated a few high-functioning Aspies… some people are terrible at reading between the lines despite best efforts and DO need to be hit over the head with something “obvious” occasionally.

        4.   I was initially influenced by negative reader responses to your writing, not the writing itself.   Unfortunately association is a big part of how brains work, so I’m probably not alone in this.

        I’m definitely NOT saying any of these are your fault, nor that you should change your blog going forward to appeal to a minority of readers.

        (* “obviously” = I’m one of Evan’s private coaching clients)

      2. 5.1.2
        Adam Smith

        I used to write for a blog with comments section and, much to my chagrin and amazement, I learned (was told) that statistical probability is a relatively recently developed field of mathematics. This implies that it isn’t as intuitive to people as you’d imagine. So, everytime you make a statement, e.g. ‘Dogs are usually bigger than housecats,’ you will always have 10% of your audience respond with, ‘you can’t say that, I’ve seen big cats and small dogs!’

        Its so tedious but the constant throat-clearing is just required, unfortunately. Its like an episode of get smart; keep opening and closing those doors behind you, especially with anything to do with gender, because theres also a part of the audience that cynically wants to to misunderstand and attack you.

  6. 6

    “One of the things that underlie my advice is that, while men and women are equal, they are different biologically.”

    My advice: this is correct. Follow his advice. 😉

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