Do Men Think With Their D*cks? The Science Behind The Other Head

by Alexia LaFata

Every angsty Millennial female knows the old adage all too well: "God gave man a brain and a d*ck, but only enough blood to run one at a time."

Gabbing together at 2 am over a bottle of wine, jaded women would agree that all men want is sex, sex, sex -- and then, more sex. He doesn't want any kind of emotional intimacy. He couldn't care less about dating you. Instead, he simply wants to use you for your vagina.

But how valid is it? Are men really the sex-and-red-lingerie-obsessed maniacs media outlets portray them to be? Or can we give them more credit than that? The short answer is that yes, we can.

After all, while it's insulting to a woman to say that her only purpose in a man's life is someone with whom to have sex, it's also insulting to a man to boil his identity down to his animalistic sexual desires and attribute it to his inability to control himself. Women are not sexual objects, and men are not powerless to their bumbling sexual needs.

It's true that men are indeed affected, to some degree, when women are around. A Wall Street Journal article cited a 2008 survey that suggests that in the mere presence of women, men are more likely to Jaywalk and to wait until the last second to board a bus.

Another 2009 study suggests that when men interact with women, whether in person, on the phone, or online, men lose some basic cognitive functioning abilities: they forget their address, they stumble on their words and more. The same happens, proposes another study, when men even think about interacting with women.

All of this can be attributed to how men interpret mixed-sex interactions. It appears that, "men are more likely [than women] to consider mixed-sex interactions in terms of a mating game."

This means that when interacting with women, men's mating goals become activated: Men look for indicators of sexual interest, engage in cognitively demanding attempts to impress and may overestimate women's sexual interest in them. On the other hand, women don't necessarily interpret a mixed-sex interaction as possibly leading to something more.

Traditional gender roles might place expectations on men to take the initiative in these mixed-sex interactions, putting more pressure on them to impress women. Previous research has shown that the more you care about making an impression, the harder your brain has to work.

This may make it seem like men truly think with their other head more frequently, but it's more important to question the outcome to which this alleged penis-thinking leads: Are men just trying to get sex out of this interaction, or is it a relationship they're after?

In 2010, a massive, 1,200-participant study conducted by Seventeen and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy suggested that an overwhelming majority of boys aged 15-22 want relationships. In fact, 66 percent would rather be in a relationship with no sex, compared to only 34 percent who would rather have sex but no girlfriend.

Another study, conducted by author and columnist Amber Madison in her book "Are All Guys Assholes?" demonstrated that out of 1,000 twenty-something men in 10 cities -- New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Atlanta and Washington, DC -- 73 percent reported that their main interest in women is someone with whom to have a relationship. Eighteen percent were looking for companionship or short-term dating, while just eight percent were looking solely for sex.

Consider the fact that the average age of a guy's first marriage is 29 years old. It's likely that the girl they chose to date at 17, 19, or 21 isn't going to be "The One," yet despite this, they still get into relationships. Guys that young could easily choose to just hook up -- or, I mean, spend money on a prostitute -- but statistics show that they are indeed dating.

Wake Forest University psychology professor Andrew Smiler, author of "Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male," supports all of this.

Smiler told Salon that the idea that men want to just f*ck anything that moves is far less rooted in science than it is in myth. Men are not inept robots whose groins magnetize them in the direction of the nearest ladyhole.

According to Smiler, the majority of men really do want a relationship with a single partner. All existing research shows that only a small percentage of guys have multiple short-term partners and an even smaller percentage continually want them:

About 15 percent of guys have three or more partners in any given 12-month span. If you follow those guys over time, the number of guys who have three or more partners a year for as long as three years... drops to about five percent. So there are definitely some guys out there who are doing it — but it’s really a small percentage of guys.

The "scientific" idea that men want to spread their seed to as many women as possible, for example, is flawed, only sticking around for so long because it's a simple answer to a complex question. Smiler told Salon:

The evolutionary argument basically goes that guys have the ability, theoretically, to produce hundreds of children per year, and they can never quite be 100 percent sure that any child is theirs, so they should spread their seed widely. But what gets left out of that is the fact that if you want your genes to go beyond that next generation — beyond your children to your grandchildren, then your odds are better if you actually stick around and help raise that kid until that kid is old enough to pass on his or her genes.

What's changed over the past generation or so is the dismantling of the "structured" dating process. Thirty or 40 years ago, people followed more of a dating script: you meet someone, you ask that person on a first date and then a second and then there's a clear understanding of the physical behavior that's supposed to happen during each step.

All of this is reflected in the famous 1995 book, "The Rules," which proposes advice like "Don't Talk to a Man First (and Don't Ask Him to Dance)," and, hell, "Don't Talk Too Much" as successful dating tactics.

Yikes. I'm so glad chivalry is dead.

We've come a long way from that script, suggests Smiler. This is in part because, today, it's far more common for women and men to be friends, compared to several decades ago when it was rare for men and women to interact platonically.

Thanks to mixed-sex friendships, you don't really need to "date" to get to know members of the opposite sex the way you would have had to so many years ago.

Nowadays, what used to happen on first, second, or third dates -- like that first kiss or the first time having sex -- is occurring in "less structured spaces of hanging out," says Smiler.

There is a more vague definition of the beginning of couplehood. After a couple has been hanging out or hooking up for awhile, the "What are we?" conversation will arise, after which you two will decide: Are you or are you not?

Smiler says that men becoming friends with women has definitely changed how men view relationships -- and for the better. Men get into relationships, enjoy relationships and do lots of things in relationships that aren't about trying to get sex. All in all, men are more open about their romantic feelings than ever before.

Just like women are not always looking to get married right this second, men are not always crazy sex addicts. Both men and women want both sex and emotional intimacy; wanting one does not mutually exclude you from wanting the other. And at the end of the day, what a man does sexually is always a choice.

Those previously mentioned cognitive issues that arise when interacting with a woman are not enough to, say, make a man incapable of putting his penis away if it's unwanted. No biological science is stopping a man from doing that.

As far as relationships are concerned, I'd argue that there are many other factors that occur between both genders -- vagueness in communication, fears of being vulnerable and the "whoever cares less" dynamic, for example -- that lead to more failed relationships than the myth of a man's unmanageable member.

While plenty of bestselling self-help books try to perpetuate old stereotypes of What Men Really Want, their ideas are consistently debunked by studies that give men the chance to actually articulate their desires: Yes, men want to get physical, but they want to get emotional, too.

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