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Sex, Mating & The Male Brain

Louann Brizendine, M.D.


For the typical hot-blooded male, looking at attractive femaleshapes and body parts is as natural as breathing. And it’s perhaps just as necessary when it comes to keeping the human race going. Remember, the men who are alive today have been biologically selected over hundreds of thousands of years to be good at focusing on fertile females.

The biology behind the man trance

When a man’s visual cortex spots a woman’s hourglass figure or plunging neckline, his eyes zoom in on her breasts, legs or derriere for a better look. As I explain in the “Love and Lust” chapter of The Male Brain, men have evolved to focus on certain features that indicate reproductive health. Researchers have found that the attraction to an hourglass figure — large breasts, small waist, flat stomach, and full hips — is ingrained in men across all cultures. This shape tells the male brain that a prospective mate is young, healthy and probably not pregnant by another male.

When research studies revealed that a man’s No. 1 mate detector is visual, men all over the world were probably saying: “They had to do research to know that?” But what most men, or women, don’t know is just how fast that detection system works. Researchers at the University of California found that it takes the male brain only 1/5th of a second to classify a woman as sexually hot or not. This verdict is made long before a man’s conscious thought processes can even engage. If he likes what he sees, his pupils dilate, his testosterone surges, his heart rate accelerates, and he gets that glazed look in his eyes that means the rest of the world has temporarily disappeared. This is the male brain in “man trance.”

Designed for sexual pursuit

The male brain is structured to push sexual pursuit to the top of his priority list. With the area for sexual pursuit in the male brain being 2.5 times larger than in the female and the testosterone fuel that runs these male brain circuits being 10 to 15 times higher, it’s clear that males have evolved to be always at-the-ready when a sexual opportunity arises. In Mother Nature’s terms, a man’s primary job is to successfully procreate.

Research shows that men report wanting an average of 14 sexual partners in their lifetime, while most women in the study said they wanted an average of 1 or 2.Researchers surmise that some of the disparity in these numbers can be chalked up to men’s interest in one-night stands. Since Mother Nature designed men to be mating Maseratis, they come equipped with the capacity to learn and use the mating styles that work best for them.

Why do men cheat? Sex, mating and the male brain provides some possible answers…

For example, human males and females may use the dinner date in a similar fashion to their primate cousins’ use of the “meat for sex” principle. Biologists have discovered that in primates, females have more sex with males who bring them meat. Primatologists have dubbed this the “meat for sex” principle. The males who showed they were willing and able to provide food got more sexual access to the females, increasing their chances of paternity.

Colorful mating styles

Of course, humans and animals have differences in their mating strategies, but scientists have observed some curious similarities. One of the most colorful examples of animal tactics is provided by the side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana). Conveniently, the males come with three different colored throats that match their mating styles. Males with orange throats use the alpha-male harem strategy. They guard a group of females and mate with all of them. The males with yellow throats are called “sneakers” because they slip into the harem of the orange throat and mate with his females whenever they can get away with it. The males with brilliant blue throats use the one-and-only-strategy; they mate with one female and guard her 24/7. From a biological perspective, the approaches of all three of these types are successful mating strategies for lizards and have been known to work for human males too.

In the basest way, to a male brain, winning the mating game means getting his DNA and genes into the next generation. Even though he isn’t consciously thinking this, the instinctual part of his brain knows that the more women he has sex with, the more offspring he’s likely to have.

On the other hand, biology is not destiny. So even though the male brain is geared for sexual pursuit and mating, human males possess the power to override their primal instincts with logical reasoning courtesy of a very large frontal cortex.

Why do men cheat?

So why do so many men cheat? Nobody knows for sure, but we may have gleaned some clues from furry little animals called voles. The prairie voles, which have a long version of a gene in their brains for vasopressin receptors, are faithful stay-at-home dads. Themontane voles with the short version of the vasopressin receptor gene are the philanderers. When scientists took the gene from the faithful dads and put it into the Casanova voles, these became devoted to one mate. In a study of human males in Sweden, those with the longer vasopressin receptor genes tended to get married more often and stay married longer. And for reasons that we still don’t know, married men live 1.7 years longer. But as my patient Tom says in the “Mature Male Brain” chapter: “Those extra years better be damned good!”

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