Now that my friends and I are in our fifties I’m amazed that the differences between the sexes remain so baffling and mysterious, and still such a huge topic of conversation. A lady friend reminded me of this recently when she asked, “Don’t men feel romantic like women do?” She had gone through a bad divorce and was gearing up to reenter the battle of the sexes, and I think she was wary of being fooled again. She leaned over and whispered embarrassedly, “You know, when a man is inside a women, when they’re having sex, don’t men feel a psychic bond with women?”
I told her I couldn’t answer for all men but I said it helps to picture men in simple terms. “Remember when we were kids, and we needed to go to the bathroom?”
“Yes,” she replied surprised by the change of subjects.
“You’d say, ‘Mommy, I’ve got to go to number 1’ or ‘number 2.’”
“Yeah,” she said giving me an odd look.
“Well, sex for men is number 3.”
“That’s disgusting. That’s the most horribly unromantic thing I’ve ever heard. I don’t think it’s true.”
“Okay, think back to all your boyfriends and husbands. How often did they want to have sex and how often did you want to have sex?”
She open her mouth to argue back immediately, and then paused, “OK, I can see what you mean.”
I’m reading a book called Why Women Have Sex by Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss and it makes it abundantly clear that women are complicated, giving 237 reasons why women have sex. As a male, I found it very informative, because it explained 237 reasons why I seldom got laid.
Why Women Have Sex feels like a freshman survey textbook, and reading it suggests that both men, and women, will need graduate work, if not a doctorate before they will understand female sexuality. There is no need to write a book about why men have sex. Their physiology programs them to reproduce. They feel this programming as a strong biological urge that requires release. Thus, the reference to number 3.
My lady friend complained about science intruding into the topic. “What about romance?”
“Some men are romantic and some are not,” I replied. “But I don’t think it’s connected to sex, but I’m not sure.” I went on to explain a story in the book Why Women Have Sex, which illustrates my point.
I can’t remember the exact details, but the book described a small mammal that came in two species. One was monogamous and one was not. Scientists eventually found a chemical in the monogamous species that wasn’t in the other. They injected the chemical into the life-long bachelor species, and they became monogamous.
All I can tell my friend is maybe some men have a romantic gene and others don’t. If women ever get an over-the-counter test for the monogamy hormone, guys we’re in trouble. And what if science creates a monogamy pill? Will men have to take their faithful drug every evening when their mates take their birth control pill?
I’ve talked to a number of women about this conversation and they all dislike it. They don’t like science analyzing human nature. One lady said she wanted men to be like my blogging friend Carl. I was amazed at this because it was many months ago when a few women in the office read Carl’s comments to one of my blogs and they all immediately loved his romantic ways. Evidently romantic guys are memorable. Notice that my lady friend above never asked why men wanted sex, she just wanted to know if men were romantic like women. If fact, she implied she didn’t want to believe that men were unromantic.
I’m reading Why Women Have Sex because women’s sexual urges are baffling, not as simple as going to number 3. If women were like men, we’d all be mating like Bonobos. If men were romantic like women, wouldn’t the world be very different? That might be the answer to my friend.
Women should be reading this book more than men because it explains why women love and hate men. But time and again my lady friends are repelled by the details I relay to them from the book. So I’ll suggest another topic for Meston and Buss. They should write a book about why women hate scientific inquiries into romance. Whenever I talk to a woman about relationships and suggest there might be a biological basis, most women get annoyed. It’s anti-romantic.
I know its terrible to generalize like this, but it does appear to be a common attitude among the women I know. One lady friend gave me a clue though. She said science might explain animal biology, but it can’t explain human behavior. I wonder if this is a religious bias. Are humans divine and unexplainable by research, and animals are lowly aspects of the physical world that can be explained. It makes me wonder if romance and religion have similar biological causes, and for some people it’s territory that scientists shouldn’t explore.
JWH – 12/22/9
13 thoughts on “Mommy, I’ve Gotta Go To Number 3, Bad”
While I do not deny the biological components to mating, attraction, etc. I for one have never bought them as the be-all, end-all of why we choose the relationships we do, how relationships work, etc. For me there has always been a spiritual component that not only needs to be considered but is much more relevant than the biological component as the spiritual is the underlying foundation for all the nuts and bolts biology.
Now I know that you wholeheartedly disagree with that James and there certainly is no point in me steering the conversation down a road that will never lead to us coming to an agreement on it. That being said, here is my take on sex vs. romance:
I believe men AND women can certainly have sex without romance. I DON’T believe that this is without consequence emotionally. I have always believed that there is (again) a spiritual component to this and so no matter how “meaningless” the act of sex is, I certainly believe that at least the first time two individuals choose to mate, whether it be the first of many meetings or a one-night giving in to urges, that there is a connection with that person on an emotional/spiritual level and I believe that sexual choices, like all choices we make, have effects on our lives be they big and noticeable or small and behind the scenes.
I do believe, however, that men who choose to enter into a committed relationship with a woman can certainly be romantic and I believe that those romantic feelings exist.
Now certainly some men are much more attuned to these feelings and are much more comfortable than others. Why that is I would not hazard a guess, other than to say that we are all so different in so many ways that it only makes sense that the way men choose to deal with their feelings is different from one man to the next.
I can only speak for me, and nominally for any guy who would read what I have to say and agree that they come from the same mold: I am a romantic, at least as defined by myself and many of the cliches of what a romantic is.
I love (most) chick flicks. I prefer my reading, be it science fiction, fantasy, or literature to have romantic relationships. Heck I prefer video games that have some form of romance in them..the most recent being Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect where you, as the main character, can choose to have or not have relationships and, if you choose to, can nurture those throughout the game.
I think romance, like the “love” that one feels at the beginning of a relationship may begin is a feeling (which no doubt has many biological reasons behind it), but I believe continued romance, and “true” love require commitment and work. It must be cultivated, guarded, nurtured. I think the key to maintaining a romantic relationship is making sure you pay attention to the other person’s needs and that you learn what makes them tick.
There is a book written by a Christian marriage and family therapist called The 5 Love Languages. In it he postulates that men and women fit somewhere within one or more of these 5 ways in which we express our love towards people and in which we receive love from them. It is one of those books that is amazingly simplistic and can be profoundly deep at the same time. My wife and I read it many years ago and it was really insightful. Again, this is a pretty basic overview of something I read over a decade ago, but for me, I am a gift giver. I absolutely love giving gifts to people and it, more than any other thing, is my automatic default language for how I express my love and affection to my wife, my daughter, family, friends, strangers, etc. I have always loved to really personalize gifts, wrap them certain ways, include little personalize effects. When I read about that it the book it was really like an “oh, duh!” moment for me and really opened up my wife’s eyes to one of my communication styles. For her, it is all about Acts of Service. She loves getting help with the dishes, having things picked up, having someone share the load of chores, etc. without having to ask or demand. What a book like this does is very simply show both couples how to take the style of communicating love that they are most fluent in and continue to do so, but also learn how to love the other person in the language that they best understand and meets their needs. It also helps each person to understand more fully what their partner is communicating to them based on the way that they show love.
I know I’ve explained it horribly, but it is fascinating.
Anyway, I shared all that to say that, in my opinion, men are some of the most romantic saps around. And many men of all faiths (I can only speak for Christianity) are continuing to be encouraged that there is nothing emasculating about being open about one’s love and affection for one’s spouse, children, friends and those one comes in contact with in daily life.
Men are extremely capable of romance, and sex, while very much a biological “it feels good, lets do it” act for men, can also be a pretty awesome way to engage in romantic behavior with the woman that we love. But I believe it takes a commitment, not just a one time decision.
Wow Carl, your comment was longer than my post! And it suggest further scientific inquiry. I wonder if you are so romantic because you are also very religious? And I wonder if I’m so unromantic (my wife can confirm this) because I’m very unreligious? Strangely enough, my wife isn’t very romantic either, and she’s not religious either. And my lady friend who asked the original question is also religious.
Of course this brings up so many other philosophical questions that relate romance and religion. Christianity can be seen as anti-sex and pro-romantic.
And romance can be seen as ritualistic. Also, both religion and romance are based on faith, and the unseen. What an interesting direction this blog is taking.
There is definitely a line…or several lines…of potentially interesting inquiry here. I certainly think there is a possible link to one’s practice of religion or lack thereof, at least if the person’s religious practice is more about relationship and less about dogma. But I also have to wonder what other factors potentially play a part.
I spent much more time with my mom than my dad growing up because every other week my dad was working a shift that meant that I didn’t see him that week.
Also I never went through that ‘girls have cooties’ phase. As far back as I can remember I recall feeling all warm and fuzzy about girls.
I also wonder how much nurturing that “romantic” attitude all throughout my youth and young adulthood had to do with the formation of my personality in regards to my thoughts and feelings about romance and relationships. Even when I was very young, before any physical signs of puberty, I liked reading stories filled with chivalry and “kissing parts”. I was never like the kid in Princess Bride who wanted to skip over the mushy parts. And it was never only about sex. My entire adolescent life was more focused on having relationships that having sex, despite having very healthy sexual desires. I have always wanted something more than merely the pleasurable act of sex, which I think might be one of the contributing factors to the fact that my wife and I certainly have more sex now that we did even when we were first married.
Who knows, it is all very interesting though. I’d love to read some of the women’s thoughts on all of this.
I often get told I think like a man. That ‘number 3’ explanation resonated with me. I’ve always been able to separate the sex from the emotional connection although I’ve always preferred to only have sex with people I also have an emotional connection with. Romance held a more important place in my thinking when I was a teenager and still believed the fairy-tale was possible – and didn’t realise there was life after the HEA endings.
My partner, David, is the romantic one in our relationship. He remembers significant dates and activities and does little things every day to remind me he thinks I’m special. That sort of stuff never occurs to me at all.
Glediar, I think you bring out a key point. Women are romantic when young, a time when they are the most anxious to find a sexual relationship. As they get older they get more wary and pragmatic about men.
I also think menopause greatly affects women’s attitude towards sex and men. Women make fun of older men chasing younger women, but often older women no longer want to be chased.
Now is David genuinely romantic, or just skilled at playing the role? I think men can be both.
Is he faking it? A lot of people seem to ask that question: men of women, women of men. My response in nearly every instance: who cares. If he’s faking it, I know he cares enough to give me what I want. If he’s not faking it, I know he cares enough to give me what I want. Either way I win.
It’s only when expectations differ that faking it becomes a problem. For example, if I expected someone to be faithful (as opposed to appearing faithful) and they faked it, I’d have a problem. When I was younger I did have expectations of other people. I’ve learned over the years that the only expectation I have a right to is to expect other people to be themselves, whatever that is. If I don’t like that, I move away from them.
I agree that romantic expectations are higher when you’re young. I think that’s the case for both men and women although I expect that women rate higher/deeper on the romance-required scale. Personally I blame society’s expectations for those unrealistic expectations. People are brought up within a culture of expected outlook (not just expected behaviour) and it takes a long time and a very strong sense of self-worth to overcome those unrealistic expectations. It takes a long time to accept what society is really like rather than the image presented and to learn to live happily with those boundaries. Of course we could then get into the argument of ‘what is society’ and ‘does “society” have it’s own separate dynamism’, but let’s not.
You’re probably right about hormonal changes as well. I’ve always had low levels of female hormones so that might account for why so many people tell me I think like a man.
I couldn’t reply to your reply of my reply, so I’m replying to your original reply. Does that make sense?
Anyhow, I agree about faking it. I believe romance is like a language, some people are fluent as a second language while others might be natural born speakers, while most people speak it haltingly, or not at all.
But I also believe that faking it is very important to both sexes. Among the 237 reasons chronicled in the book Why Women Have Sex, is one about having sex when you don’t want to please a partner, either man or woman. That’s quite generous when you think about it. And learning to be romantic to please a partner is just as generous.
But David could be a natural born speaker of romance, and if that’s true, does he like you to speak the same language back to him?
Wanting to please the other person is important, regardless of how it’s achieved. It takes a lot of effort to step outside your own needs to be able to do that – at least it does with me. I’m incredibly self-absorbed and self-focused and I have to make a conscious effort every day to pay attention to other people and other peoples’ needs. That’s one of the reasons I don’t go out a lot and don’t entertain much. By the time I get home from work or wherever else I’ve been and spent all day focusing on other people, I’m exhausted and need time to recharge.
I occasionally wonder if David wants more romance from me but, if he does, he’s out of luck. I’m not the least romantic. I’ve had to learn to make sure I ask him if he wants a cup of tea when I make one for myself. Sometimes I even have to remember to make and serve two meals for dinner. I do make sure he feels needed and useful though – I always have a list of things for him to do. 😉
I’m curious about the book. Is it based on interviewing women, or on experiments? If it is based on interviewing, I suspect its value is very limited for exactly some of the reasons you state, primarily that women don’t want to analyze romance/sex/relationships in a scientific way, and are often self-deluded about what happened and why. I won’t say men aren’t the same, either, in certain circumstances.
I’ve learned a lot about this over the last few years and get laid a lot more often, and some of it can be reduced to formulas and procedures. The particulars are a mix of biology and culture.
And I agree with the other comments about men who are very romantic and women who are very sexual. There are a spectrum of behaviors and attitudes in each sex, and significant overlap. Most women want sex as much as men, if not more, but they weigh that desire against other things much more, or at least much more often.
Mike, yes it is a book based on interviews, but I still found it a very worthy read, although not scientific, the writers did try to be systematic and thorough. They interviewed over a thousand women and came up with 237 reasons why women have sex. What’s surprising is how many of those reasons aren’t for romance or just plain sexual release. The second half of the book explores many reasons why women don’t want to have sex.
Our pop culture sells sex hard, and falsely – 95% marketed towards men’s fantasies. I’d say very few women want to live out the fantasy roles men imagine for them. There are some lucky men that women truly want to throw themselves at, and there are many men that women love as devoted husbands/boyfriends and they inspire a certain level of sexual passion, but I think most men are of little interest to women sexually. And even the well love husband/boyfriend is not as sexual appealing as often as the men wished.
Another way to put this. If a million men were all horny on January 1 and anxious to get laid, comparing them to a sample of a million women, maybe only 20,000 women might be feeling the same desire to get lucky that day as the men. And of that million men, there are probably only 10,000 men that women find really hot, and maybe another 20,000 that’d consider making compromises on.
What the book illustrates is men want women, but women don’t want men in the same numbers.
Oh, I think your numbers are way, way off, James!
You might be right about the numbers of women who admit to such desires, but you’re wrong about the number that will put out with proper attention. Very wrong. There isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t want to be swept off her feet and just be amazed at what happens. In the last year or two, I’ve had one night stands on at least three continents, been to swing clubs, and had multiple women in the same night. Yes, men do it easier than women, but women want it and just need some understanding to get there.
Having said all that, I’m looking to get married again and just visited a woman in the Ukraine and there was no sex on this trip. Relationships and sex are correlated, but not identical.
I agree that women want to be swept off their feet, but they are particular who they want doing the sweeping. Since you are so lucky with women Mike, I bet you are on the tall side, dress nice, play close attention to women, have the right smell, the right job, and in general, appeal to what women want. Some women aren’t that picky, but there are guys who are far more appealing than others, and you might be one of them Mike.