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'Gender Wars': Men and women in the bedroom

In part three of a special series, "Gender Wars: Can Women Win?", two sex experts give their he-said, she-said take on relationships.

In the third installment of a special “Today” series called "Gender Wars," we tackle sex and love. It's a very “hot” topic, of course, and one where common ground is often hard to find. To get some insights, the “Today” show asked author and sex therapist Ian Kerner and Elle magazine contributing writer E. Jean Carroll to weigh in on the subject. Here are their thoughts:


Ian Kerner’s pet peeves:

Women get too wrapped up in romance and miss what's important to men.
Romance is fine and dandy, but doesn't really matter one iota to a guy. We do it for women. It doesn't mean we're callous brutes. It's just that holding hands and talking over a candle-lit dinner doesn't necessarily ring our bell. It's the low-cut dress that does it.

Women beat us up when we stare at other women!
If a beautiful woman walks past us and we stare, don't beat us up about it. We can't help it. We're biologically programmed to stare. It doesn't mean we love you less or want to have an affair; it's a reflex. We see and we ogle.

Give us a break with all the snuggling.
It doesn't mean we're insensitive if we don't want to snuggle. After sex, don't beat us up if we want to roll over and go to sleep. We can't help it. Our bodies are depleted and exhausted. If anything, we're the ones that need to be snuggled, not vice versa.

Women often think too much into things.
Leave the big relationship issues outside the bedroom. Sometimes just having sex purely for its own sake is OK.

If something's on your mind, tell us.
We don't get subtext. We're not good with grudges. And please don't cry. Just tell us what's wrong in a reasonable manner.

Women, men and sex:

We may think we know everything about women and what they want, but we often don't have a clue. Don't drop subtle clues; tell us what turns you on and off. Don't expect us to notice subtle changes in hair color and style; tell us what's changed and then let us appreciate it. If we've learned anything, it's to make a big deal about those sorts of things even if they really don't matter.

Do men like to ignore women?
A "space-time gap" exists between men and women. Even though we may appear to be in the same room, we're actually in two separate time zones. Men are almost always in the future, fretting over some long-term issue -- their job, financial security, the never-ending quest for immortality -- while women are much more present-focused. Men might think they're effective time-travelers -- able to be in both the present and future at the same time -- but we often get snagged. Men could learn a lot from women about how to get in the present and appreciate the here and now.

Are women nags?
Again, the time-traveling, future-focused guy hates to be pulled back into the present: especially if it's to mow the lawn or take out the garbage. But without some good old-fashioned nagging to keep us connected, we'd be totally adrift.

Is the myth that married people have less sex true?In general, both married people and single people have sex far less often than those lucky people who are newly involved and find themselves in the "falling-in-love" stage of a relationship. When we're falling in love, the brain produces dopamine and norepinephrine — sex chemicals that give us those feelings of euphoria and exhilaration and obsession that compel us to jump into the sack with each other. Once we move out of the "falling-in-love" stage, these chemicals get produced in much smaller quantities, which is one of the main reasons people have affairs: not to have sex, but to experience the excitement and euphoria of falling in love again. Compulsive cheaters are often literally addicted to the chemical rush. The good thing is that these same chemicals are also produced when we're excited and scared and do new things together. The psychologist Elaine Hatfield said "adrenaline makes the heart grow fonder," and while we may not be inclined to go bungee jumping or skydiving together, the trick to keeping a relationship sexy (and sexual) is to do new, exciting things together. Numerous studies have shown that married people are far more likely to have happier sex lives than single people, but they're also just as likely to get into sex ruts. The difference is communication, imagination and commitment to growth as a couple.

Do women ask, "Why don't we talk?" too much?
Most guys would answer yes, but if they knew there was a direct relationship between communication and good sex they'd turn into regular motor mouths. Numerous studies have shown that women consider talk to be the most important part of foreplay and couples with the best communication also have the best, most contented sex lives. Talking more is the easiest thing a guy can do to improve his relationship and sex life. Talk is cheap: especially compared to the costs of diamonds, fancy clothes, expensive meals and all the things that can't compare to some good conversation. 

Do women cry too much? Are women too sappy about romance?
As clichéd as it may sound, men don't cry nearly enough. It's not that women cry too much, but women often cry without explaining effectively what's behind the tears. Women often break into tears to disarm a guy, and no guy likes to make a woman cry, but it can also be really frustrating if it's in lieu of talking reasonably. Many women resort to crying, rather than talking, and that's a poor communication strategy. Women have a right to be sappy about romance, because romance is something that most guys fundamentally don't understand.

Who initiates the romance more? Men or women?
Men usually initiate sex because desire and arousal are so closely interlinked in men, but it's definitely up to women to teach men the importance of romance. Romance is really a foreign concept to most guys. They know it's important, but they don't really get it; because frankly it's not important to them.

Are men clueless about sex and love? Out of touch with their feelings?
Let's differentiate between sex and love, which is something that men can do much more easily than women. If men are clueless about sex, it's because they get so many of their ideas about how to satisfy women from porn and porn just projects and reinforces a male fantasy of female sexuality, rather than a true version of what women desire. That's why I always tell men to make a mantra of Rhett Butler's infamous words to Scarlett O'Hara, "You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how."

Men aren't clueless about love. It's just that for men, sex and love are not one and the same.
As discussed earlier, women often need to love a man in order to experience genuine desire and move through the process of arousal. That's not to say that women don't have hearty libidos or experience lust. They're just less likely to act on those desires if they don't have genuine feelings for a guy. Many times a woman will confuse a guy's lustful desires with genuine feelings of emotional attachment and many men are all too happy to engender that confusion. Men have no problem separating lust from love. Men aren't out of touch with their feelings; they're out of touch with what women are feeling.

Are women too needy?
Not at all. Most of the women I counsel have resigned themselves to placing a man's needs above their own and accepting the situation: especially in the bedroom. In fact, many women come in with the attitude, "something's wrong with me," when in fact there's nothing wrong with them. They just aren't expressing their true needs or having those needs met. Women are definitely not too needy, but they need to express their needs to men in ways that make sense: getting angry at him because he doesn't like to snuggle, or holding a grudge, isn't a positive way of expressing a desire for more intimacy and affection. Unfortunately, neither men nor women are trained to express their desires and concerns in the form of positive reinforcement. So communication often leads to anger, resentment and a communication breakdown.

Studies by the Kinsey Institute show that women tend to talk more openly about sex than men.
Also, women are more likely to have qualitative, open discussions about sex, whereas men are more likely to boast and compare. Trust me, the inside of a men's locker room is not a bastion of accurate information or male vulnerability. Women will talk with each other about what's wrong in the bedroom and compare their experiences; men will rarely do that. The sad thing is that even if men and women are willing to talk publicly about sex to their peers, they're rarely willing to talk candidly about sex with each other. Lack of positive communication about sex and relationships is the number-one issue I deal with as a sex therapist.

Closing thoughts:
Men crave feedback and guidance in the bedroom, but don't know how to ask and are not socialized to ask. Women should take the lead in expressing their desires in positive, constructive terms. Men have lots of hang-ups and anxieties about sex and are generally mystified by female sexuality. If something works, we often don't know why. Women often bring all of the baggage of a relationship into the bedroom and sometimes the best way of fixing a relationship is to leave the baggage outside.


E. Jean Carroll's pet peeves:

Men nag women. Men are clueless about sex. Men talk too much. Men don't groom enough. Men don't find 50-year-old women as attractive as 25-year-old women. Men don't pay attention. Men don't listen. Sometimes women just need to tell a story and men just want them to get to a point. Women don't want to be rushed along. They just need to talk just for the sake of talking and men don't want to hear it.

Women, men and sex:
Let's begin with a few small details (and then work up to the glittering generalities). First: Men think women are morons; and women think men are idiots. 

The basic difference between men and women (besides just about everything) is that men want the things they can't have.
They live for the things they can't have — remote controls large as coffee tables, Dodge Vipers, Maxim vixens, $3,800 titanium golf clubs. In fact, I think the only reason a man has a brain is to whip out his Palm Pilot and make lists of the stuff he doesn't have. On the other hand, women want to keep what they have. (That's the big difference and it causes a lot of fights.)

I think happiness in marriage all comes down to luck.
You really have to be lucky. I know a million experts have been on the "Today" show telling us a zillion ways to get along with our spouses, but I'm telling you it's all luck — meeting the right person.

It's a miracle that any man and woman get together... ever.

Scientists at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge announced this year that human females have more in common with female chimpanzees than they do with human males. (We share 98.5 percent matching genomes with the chimps and only 98 percent with men.) Explains a lot, doesn't it? This means that a woman has a better chance of a beautiful friendship with Miss Chimpy Lips than she does with Orlando Bloom. Now we know why love affairs are so fraught with tension and why husbands and wives sometimes suffer the tortures of the dammed. We are very different species.

Luckily Mother Nature created love at first sight.
She loaded us up with these crazy dopamine circuits which start firing when we see a chap we like and boom! Four months later we're snapped in the Vera Wang and marching down the aisle. But... (big but) Though Mother Nature wants to get us together, she is not interested in keeping us together. You and your beau may start out wildly enamored, then discover you possess so little in common it's a torment to stay together. This is not to say a man and a woman can't enjoy a world-shattering, unnamed, untamed ever-lasting love. I'm just saying this 98-percent thing makes it difficult.