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Of Mars, Venus and stereotyping

Men and women: Are we <i>really</i> from different planets?

Men and women: Are we really from different planets? Photo: iStock

Just how true is the men are from Mars, women from are Venus hypothesis?

A new study from the University of Texas set out to settle the debate, and has turned up some interesting results that suggest the popular different-planets perspective might not be so accurate.

For example, gender stereotypes assume emotions don’t play into a man’s reason for having sex. “It’s just physical,” goes the logic. Men are supposed to shag with no strings attached, while women confuse sex with sentiment; ladies ‘make love’, they don’t ‘have sex’.

But the study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, reveals sex is an important channel through which blokes express a very important feeling – love.

That’s right. The more a husband loved his wife, the more he initiated sex. He also wanted to share as much time with his spouse as possible, be it leisure or performing household chores, and be just as likely as his wife to engage in warm, affectionate behaviours like saying “I love you”, offering compliments, or snuggling on the couch.

Meanwhile the more a wife loved her husband, the more likely she was create an ‘accommodating’ environment - the phrase ‘bite her tongue’ was used by way of explanation (cringe).

This accommodation could extend to into the bedroom with the researchers suggesting a “traditional deference to male sexual prerogative” on behalf of their female subjects could explain why couples who were very much in love also had more sex.

Because, it seems, sex for ladies is not really about expressing that loving feeling. In fact, based on the data collected from ‘average’ marriages over 13 years, the psychologists found an inverse relationship between a wife’s love and her likelihood to initiate sex.

In other words, a woman who fears her relationship is in on the rocks might use sex to ‘save’ her marriage.

Unfortunately, for me and my ideals at least, this seems to back up the idea that gender plays a big role in sexual expression (though I raise the notion gender is fluid, not fixed) albeit in a slightly differently to the he has sex’/’she makes love Mars/Venus dichotomy.

And while this is not true for every couple, it does shed some light on the bitter pain and confusion that can arise when long-term relationships fail.

For I know many women who have gone through a break-up and report being stunned that he didn’t see it coming, and men who were left reeling when she walked out the door - could it be because we make assumptions about gender behaviour we shouldn’t?

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: Yes, but...

Witness this case study.

Mutual friends of mine split last year. She had been trying to rediscover the love she had for him by making herself as sexually available as possible – planning hot date nights, naughty weekends away, etc. He relished in this new physicality, and took it to mean the niggling fights and her snappiness was little more than the busy, modern life outside their relationship.

But in the end, she decided to call it quits, sparking months of anguished stories shared with our friendship circle. At the time, the common theme running through each lover’s respective perspective was shock, awe, and mystification – how did they not realise it was over?

Yesterday, I flicked them each a copy of the study.

“That explains it,” he wrote.

“I’d been thinking we were closer than ever before she told me,” he said. “It wasn’t perfect, but we were doing all these things together that had me convinced she was more in love with me than when we first met. It made me love her even more. I guess that’s why I was so heartbroken when she turned around and told me it was over.”

Meanwhile, from her:

“Ah. I see.

“All that time I thought the sex didn’t really ‘mean’ anything – that it was just something you did to keep him happy – or that you ‘should do’ as a modern, sexually empowered woman or something. Though they tell you how you should ‘spice things up’ if you really want to save your marriage – you know, buy sexy underwear, plan trips, do all of those things you used to do but don’t anymore because you’ve let familiarity creep in and ruin the romance... what, are we not supposed to do that because he’ll just think that means you love him even more, even if you don’t?”

Well, as ever, what you’re supposed to do is communicate.

That means talking; asking questions, listening for answers, and more than just once.

For if there is anything this study shows, it’s that you should never make assumptions about what your partner means based on what your partner does. And you should never make assumptions about love and sex based on gender alone. In short – you should never make assumptions about anything, ever.

But we do. We can’t seem to help it. At least we should be aware of the consequences.

Don’t you agree?

How do you show your partner you love them? Have gender stereotypes stood in the way of your relationship? Or do you think that men are men, and women are women, and that’s all there really is to it?

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178 comments so far

  • Men and women are different, what an amazing finding, or is it? But are they really different?, don’t know.
    For me the requirements of relationship are rather simple, love, trust, honesty, monogamous and physical attraction. Those are the cornerstones, and yes there are many more stones that make a relationship.
    In a long term relationship sex should never be the end target, love and appreciate the person from the inside out and allow sex to occur, more often than not it will.

    Victorious Painter
    Date and time
    June 27, 2012, 8:14AM
    • I love it when women are shocked by some revelation in the male psyche. It's like, come on honey, surely you know by now that we're different to your girlfriends?

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 10:15AM
    • Has anyone studied lesbian and gay relationships if they have the same communication problems?

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 12:36PM
    • Thats not what the article is saying. It is saying that we are not any different in this regard. There is plenty of evidence to confirm that there are far less differences between the sexes, sans our 'bits' than people think. Most nuerosientist have debuked that myth.

      Socialisation people. Thats all it is.

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 2:30PM
    • AT

      yes that's right, gender is a 'patriarchal construct'. just like women's ability to conceive and men's inability to conceive - just constructs.

      what utter tosh you speak.

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 7:03PM
    • @Blogster.

      I am only speaking what plenty of Neuroscientists will tell you, dopey. Besides our sexual differences there is not much difference. There is nothing in what you have said that changes my mind on that. I see you as being a bit dopey, regardless of gender. Not dopey for a man, as a man, or for all men, just dopey.

      So, how would you know what individual woman feels, thinks, or individual men feel or think?

      Simple people have to put others in neat boxes so they can simplify things for their own simple minds, blogster. Makes it easy for them. Kinda where things like racism and sexism comes from. Not so bright people trying to make sense of a world, or a sex, that downright scares them. :)

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 8:38PM
    • Pecan, I watch re-runs of "Sex in the city" and note the statements by the lesbian about her different-sex relationships, closely.

      I also review the statements by the blond in the context that her father lived at Lithgow.

      Date and time
      July 02, 2012, 1:14PM
  • G'day Kate

    Your article deals with 2 issues; stereotypes & communication.

    On stereotypes, we all try and 'typify' behaviour in order to make sense of the world. Sometimes we infer characteristics to better explain aspects of our stereotypes.

    Off topic, Marx presented society as a 2 class model. He was trying to explain the pressures on societal economy from the perspective of capitalists and workers. Many assumed his depiction was real. It wasn't, but in the context he presented it helped many understand.

    The Mars & Venus stereotype helps us understand some of the male/female perspectives towards love, etc.. But, like Marx's concept, it's a tool to understand NOT EXPLAIN!!!

    As for communication, your exemplar shows some people are poorly educated on the topic.

    She made her own judgement and took the initiative as she saw it. She would have been better to sit him down and explain in detail the thoughts / feelings she was experiencing. Only then could they together move forward.

    I note that humans in relationships tend to fight over the small things, and let the big things fester. And, often the small issues become surrogates for the bigger concerns. Doing this fails the communication test. Neither is actually revealing themself to the other!


    Date and time
    June 27, 2012, 8:27AM
    • With the exemplar I wondered too if it was going through the motions without the emotions. Talking may have helped but they seem so out of touch with each other. It is an essent of a relationship. The foundation.

      been trying to rediscover the love she had for him by making herself as sexually available as possible
      I thought the sex didn’t really ‘mean’ anything – that it was just something you did to keep him happy – or that you ‘should do’
      They tell you how you should ‘spice things up’ if you really want to save your marriage
      Rediscover. Sex didn’t really ‘mean’ anything.
      Seems totally devoid of any feelings. Was she capable of feelings? Why was she really wanting to salvage a marriage? Did she even want to? Did she even ever?

      At a basic level people just want to love and be loved. Seems that may have been one sided.
      That his love for her was greater than her's for him. Perhaps always was? That romance was a passing fun thing?

      Date and time
      June 27, 2012, 10:33AM
    • I find the best way to understand a man, or a women, is just by being open, asking them questions and hopefully they will be open enough for you to get to know each other better. I can do this in a one time conversation. I don't need to buy some stupid book to tell me what someone is about. Or narrow my view of what someone is about by basing my first impressions of them on some stupid narrow view based on what someone else says they, because of their gender thinks or feels. Just ask them. I have never met one man that was like another, or one woman that was like another.

      Date and time
      June 29, 2012, 9:53AM

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