Taking Sex Differences Seriously

by Steven E. Rhoads, Ph.D.

Q and A with Dr. Rhoads: Sex Matters

May 27, 2004
Datingnow.com

Professor Steven Rhoads takes a new look at the battle of the sexes. Steven Rhoads is a professor of public policy at the University of Virginia and the author of Taking Sex Differences Seriously, a new book which argues that there are genuine and important differences between men and women. DatingNow talked to Steve Rhoads about what those differences mean for relationships.

Your book describes the differences between men and women in all sorts of spheres. In terms of relationships though, what do women want? And what do men want?
Women are far more likely to actually want relationships. Men may like an evening out but they are more likely to think a good date ends with sex. Many aren't sure what relationships add besides burdensome commitments.

In and out of marriage, most women say they engage in sex to share emotions and love. Men give reasons that are more narrowly physical such as need, sexual gratification and sexual release. Thus women read romance novels, and men view pornography.

What are the sources of these differences?
Mainly evolution and biology.

Evolutionary psychology predicts that men will be more eager for sex than women because eons ago men who mated more frequently usually produced more heirs. Men with powerful sexual urges passed on their genes in greater numbers than men with a moderate or low inclination for sex. [For men,] more mates would mean more offspring; a woman who chose to mate with only unusually strong men or those willing to commit to her children's needs would increase her children's likelihood of survival. Thus, through the ages, women with such tastes would be more apt to reproduce successfully.

[And] testosterone explains libido. Men have far more of it. But women with higher than normal amounts of testosterone are more interested in sex than other women.

If men are primarily interested in casual flings, why do they marry?
Because they fall in love and don't want to lose their special woman by not committing. And they finally grow up and almost every society holds the belief that mature men - real men - marry, provide for and raise a family. Besides marriage is good for men. They end up happier and healthier within it. But for a long time they think, "Why commit? I'm getting good sex and often good cooking and companionship, and a better woman may be right around the corner."

If a man cheats on his wife or girlfriend, can he argue that fidelity is just not natural for men?
Not really. He can control himself. But it is typically harder for the husband than the wife. So perhaps he deserves real appreciation and admiration if he doesn't stray.

You talk quite approvingly of The Rules in your book. Do you recommend The Rules as a way for women to date?
It's not bad, but it may not be tough enough about sex to serve women's interests fully.

The Rules says no to sex until the woman has waited at least a few weeks or months. After this probationary period, when the couple has had sex, the authors [say that] she should "stay emotionally cool no matter how hot the sex gets." And the next morning she should "be casual and unmoved about the fact that the date is over."

But would a woman wanting to land a husband - and that is the goal of The Rules - really want to act so nonchalant after she and a potential Prince Charming have given each other great sexual pleasure? Might not the man wonder how often she has had similar nights with other men if their wonderful night together seemed so routine?

Without a context in which sex is presumed to involve commitment, the man will almost always have the upper hand. Many college men see sex as simply an enjoyable game. A student in my wife's class at all-male Hampden Sydney College illustrates this attitude: "Sleeping with a woman who has already submitted," he said, "is like playing a computer game you have already won."

What do you see as the key to a successful relationship?
Understanding the differences. And realizing that they are part of the attraction. Women who constantly want their man to show his feelings should realize that he doesn't have as many to show as she does. And she should ask herself how she would really feel if he cried as much or more than she did. That manliness, stoicism and calmness in crises is almost certainly part of what makes him attractive to her.

Understanding sex differences can bring a ceasefire in the gender wars. Once we can see that our romantic partners are fundamentally different on the inside as well as the out, we will be less likely to expect them to be like all our same-sex friends. Husbands, for example, will see that women in general, not just "their crazy wife," like to talk about problems that have no solutions. And wives will see that most husbands - not just their's - don't care about the messes they leave in their wake.