Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women

Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women

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by Deborah Blum
     
 

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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

Overview

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."

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Editorial Reviews

BUST Magazine
Not just another Men-are-from-Mars, Women-are-from-Uranus, status-quo-upholding, subjectivity-in-the-guise-of-objective-science kind of book, Sex on the Brain is a wise and thoughtful overview of the findings on the biological bases for human sexual behavior. Blum is that rare gem of a science writer, one who can present her material in an entertaining, and at times even humorous manner. But most importantly, Blum is able to carefully disentangle the material she is presenting from the numerous sexist assumptions that often underly it.
Los Angeles Times
Superbly crafted science writing, graced by unusual compassion, wit, and intelligence . . . an important addition to the literature of gender studies.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On the most basic hard-wired biological level, are men and women alike or different? Researchers usually find evidence to support either position depending on how the initial question is asked. Blum, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the articles that lead to her book The Monkey Wars, assesses the differences. She has a skilled journalist's ability to take abstract and confusing genetic, hormonal, endocrinological and neuroscientific findings and make them intelligible. She applies this material to differences in emotions, sexual orientation, love, lust and power. Blum also has a nonscientist's willingness to draw inferences from research done on chimpanzees, hyenas, insects and apply them to the human condition. And, perhaps inescapably, she has a tendency to present these findings without the context of qualifying conditions imposed by the original researchers. The resulting product is not a single big picture but a series of little ones. Does Blum believe that the sexes different? Well, sort of. Most of the book reads as if she believes that the Freudian assertion that "Biology is destiny" may be true after all. However, the conclusion reached by Blum is more ambiguous and somewhat contradictory: on one page she argues that "we have to get away from the outdated notion that biology assigns us a fixed place," and, on the next page she resigns herself to the fact that "[m]aybe we are pushing uphill against biology to some extent." Blum may waffle on her conclusion, but getting to them is fun, informative reading with plenty of facts and figures that are guaranteed to provoke discussion, or at least thought.
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Blum (The Monkey Wars, LJ 10/1/94) covers a lot of ground here: the origins of sex, differences in male and female brains, hormones and emotions, monogamy, sexual orientation, love, rape, and power. Her understanding of the scientific literature relating to gender biology appears to be thorough, but her pattern of citing information is uneven. Often, she merely refers to newspaper articles she has written and not to the primary literature, although she quotes liberally from conversations with many scientists. In addition, Blum's writing style is too cozy and loose for this reviewer's taste; distracting parenthetical thoughts, e.g., "variation in these estimates of the relationship between nature and nurture (as if that weren't nature, too)" combine with a lack of focus to divert attention from the subject matter and make reading slow-going. Still, science collecions that have her other books may want to consider. Constance A. Rinaldo, Dartmouth Coll. Lib., Hanover, N.H.
Los Angeles Times
Superbly crafted science writing, graced by unusual compassion, wit, and intelligence . . . an important addition to the literature of gender studies.
Kirkus Reviews
To the growing genre of gender-behavior books, add Pulitzer Prize winner Blum's (The Monkey Wars, 1994) take on sex differences.

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, neuroscience—not 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 inevitable—for better or worse—that mix seems to be.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781440621338
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/01/1998
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
293,397
File size:
0 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

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