We’ve all heard that Women need to feel loved to have sex. Men need to have sex to feel loved. There seems to be some truth to here, but what does it really mean? In my article, The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex, I asked if it was true that, for men, sex was the most important thing in their lives.
When I was 17 years old I was sure it was true. When I was 37 years old, I suspected it might not be true. And now that I’m 73 years old, I know it’s not true. Now don’t get me wrong, sex can be wonderful at any age, but there’s something that is more important than sex, but it’s something that men have difficulty admitting and women have difficulty giving.
In this article, I want to explore the other side of the question. Is there something that women want more than love? And a broader set of questions including these. Do women want sex as much as men? Do men want love as much as women? Are there differences between women’s desires and men’s desires? Is the battle of the sexes inevitable or can there be peace and harmony between men and women, without losing our passionate connections?
In order to answer these questions, it helps to know a little bit about the field of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology seeks to reconstruct problems that our ancestors faced in their primitive environments, and the problem-solving behaviors they created to meet those challenges. Understanding our evolutionary roots helps us better understand why men and women are the way they are.
Biologists have a very simple and useful definition of what is male and what is female, whether we are fish, ferns, or human beings making our way in our African homeland. An individual can either produce many small gametes (sex cells) or fewer but larger gametes. The individuals that produce smaller gametes are called “males,” and the ones that make larger gametes are called “females.”
These obvious biological facts have huge implications for our lives. It’s easier to move the smaller gametes to the larger ones, than vice versa. As a result, males compete with other males to have access to the females. Females choose the male that she fancies the most to mate with. Female mammals, including humans, carry the baby inside their bodies, and nurse the newborn child.
To understand what women want more than love, you have to place yourself in the shoes of our female ancestors. Imagine that you live in East Africa 100,000 years ago. You are born and raised in a closely knit family and when you come of age, you hope to have a man who will be a good hunter and provider and a good protector.
But you face dangers that men don’t have to face. In order for the species to survive human females had to become pregnant, but pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous activities. Remember, no birth control pills 100,000 years ago. So, if you got pregnant you were at greater risk from being killed by a lion or a leopard. Try running fast and climbing a tree to get out of harm’s way when you’re pregnant. If you survived the pregnancy, you had to worry about the risks of giving birth. Many women died in childbirth.
Let’s imagine all goes well and you have a beautiful, healthy baby. You’re still at greater risk because now you have to protect yourself and your baby. You may have to put your own life on the line to protect your child. But there’s another danger that is different for women than for men. When a woman gives birth there is no question whether the baby is her baby, that the little one carries her genes. This isn’t the case for males.
Biologically, one of the risks for men is that he would take care of a child that wasn’t his own. If the baby isn’t his, he spends years raising a child that doesn’t carry his genes. As a result, men are always worried about ensuring their paternity. There’s a saying, “mother’s baby, daddy’s maybe.” As a result, men can become aggressive, not only toward other men who might want to have sex with his partner, but towards their woman who might cheat. All women know the fear of dealing with an angry, jealous man who is accusing her of sexual infidelity.
If surviving wild animals, the risks of giving birth, rape from male strangers, and jealous husbands wasn’t enough, women had to worry about run-of-the-mill domestic violence. She might face assault from a mate who had a bad hunting day and took his anger out on her. It took me a long time to fully appreciate the fears that women live with every day. I’m sure, being a man, I’ll never fully understand the many fears that are at the core of women’s life experience, but empathizing can help.
But what I’ve learned has helped me understand what women want more than love. I believe that what women want more than love is a partner that they can feel safe with. They want a partner who understands the inherent dangers in being a woman and who is committed to playing his part in protecting her. We don’t have to worry so much about wild animals these days, but women still worry about other men and they worry even more about the man they are living with.
Why do men have a difficult time giving women the feelings of safety they need? First, because the aggression that is built into men that allows them to hunt and kill wild animals and to fend off male competitors can’t always be turned off when he is at home with his wife and family. Second, because he is vulnerable to rejection. If a woman turns him down or cuts him off, he may react with anger. Third, because men feel less needed today than ever before and their roles are unclear, they are much more reactive and their anger can be set off more easily.
So, there is a downward cycle that I’ve seen in my own marriage and in many others. From the man’s point of view, he gets angrier when a woman closes down and withdraws. From a woman’s perspective, she closes down in response to his anger. We each think we’re merely reacting to the other. I remember yelling at my wife, “Of course I get angry. Who wouldn’t get angry, when your wife closes you out?” She would quietly respond from her own wounded center. “Of course I shut down. Who wouldn’t shut down when you’re being assaulted by an angry man?”
So, what’s the solution? It helped me to be less angry when I understood that my anger was making my wife more fearful. It helped her to reconnect more quickly when she realized that her withdrawal contributed to my pain, loneliness, and anger. We must both understand the evolutionary challenges we face in finding a mate and having children. It’s confusing for us all and contributes to the anxiety, anger, or depression that is so prevalent in our world today.
Do men and women both want love? Of course they do. Do men and women both want sex? Yes, again. Yet, we faced different challenges 100,000 years ago and we face different challenges today. Women still carry the babies and men must still compete to be chosen. To have more sex and love in our lives, we both must learn to provide real safety—a safe harbor for men and a safe partner for women.
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Originally published on Men Alive.
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