Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Womenby Deborah Blum
Go beyond the headlines and the hype to get the newest findings in the burgeoning field of gender studies. Drawing on disciplines that include evolutionary science, anthropology, animal behavior, neuroscience, psychology, and endocrinology, Deborah Blum explores matters ranging from the link between immunology and sex to male/female gossip styles. The results are… See more details below
Go beyond the headlines and the hype to get the newest findings in the burgeoning field of gender studies. Drawing on disciplines that include evolutionary science, anthropology, animal behavior, neuroscience, psychology, and endocrinology, Deborah Blum explores matters ranging from the link between immunology and sex to male/female gossip styles. The results are intriguing, startling, and often very amusing. For instance, did you know that. . .
? Male testosterone levels drop in happy marriages; scientists speculate that women may use monogamy to control male behavior
? Young female children who are in day-care are apt to be more secure than those kept at home; young male children less so
? Anthropologists classify Western societies as "mildly polygamous" The Los Angeles Times has called Sex on the Brain "superbly crafted science writing, graced by unusual compassion, wit, and intelligence, that forms an important addition to the literature of gender studies."
Comprehensive, yes, and well-written, but a problem remains: There is very little unanimity in the field, partly because so many disciplines are involved: anthropology, animal behavior, paleontology, endocrinology, neurosciencenot to mention a few political agendas. Blum has interviewed the experts and comes up with a number of agreed-upon facts: There are gender differences in the brain (including differences between homosexual and heterosexual brains); these differences are laid down in fetal development when testosterone kicks in to determine maleness. There are differences in the cycling of hormones: Testosterone fluctuates on a daily basis and is subject to situational stimulus; estradiol peaks in women at mid-cycle. These brain/hormonal differences could well translate into different styles of thinking or abilities and different degrees of aggression/arousal. But does this happen sometimes? always? to what degree? So caveats are presented along with the results of provocative experiments like one in which females exposed to sweaty men's T-shirts showed preferences for those belonging to men whose immune systems were least like their own (supposedly a guard against inbreeding). We are also told that gentlemen prefer blondes because fairness is associated with youth and hence good health and breeding potential. (What about cultures where there are no blondes?) In the end, Blum conjectures (with others) that we are evolving slowly toward monogamy from our polygamous ape relatives and that this has advantages in terms of moderating violence and bringing about greater gender equality. She suggests that we could help nature along by pushing the culture in that direction.
So the mix of sex and politics is ever-present, and Blum's book is a fine reminder of how inevitablefor better or worsethat mix seems to be.
- Penguin Publishing Group
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