Male and Female: Biology Matters

man touching is wife's baby bump

“In the mystery of creation, man and woman were ‘given’ in a special way to each other by the Creator. …. The fundamental fact of human existence at every stage of its history is that God ‘created them male and female.’” — John Paul IIPope John Paul II, “Original Innocence and Man’s Historical State,” General Audience, Wednesday, 13 February, 1980, https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb17.htm (06 October 2015).


In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed the recommended dosage of Ambien — but for women only — cutting the dosage in half. It turns out men and women metabolize the drug differently, reaching maximum blood levels that are much higher in women. New studies showed, at the originally prescribed dosage, Ambien remained in women’s bloodstream longer and could make driving dangerous. The drug had been on the market more than 20 years.Larry Cahill, Ph.D., Cerebrum, Mar-Apr 2014: 5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4087190/

Here’s how the television news program “60 Minutes” reported on the change:

“Larry Cahill, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, admits that like many fellow scientists, he used to think men and women were fundamentally the same, outside the obvious areas of reproduction and sex hormones. But he and many others have changed their minds. He says Ambien, (known generically as zolpidem) which was approved back in 1992, is a case in point. ‘That is a textbook example of what is wrong. How did it happen that for 20 some years, women, millions of them, were essentially overdosing on Ambien?’"CBS News, “Drugs Can Affect Men and Women Differently,” Feb. 7 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/drugs-can-affect-men-and-women-differently/ (6 October 2015)

In his article, “Equal ≠ The Same: Sex Differences in the Human Brain,” Cahill answers his own question by saying, “the biomedical community has long operated on what is increasingly being viewed as a false assumption: That biological sex matters little, if at all, in most areas of medicine.” He also notes studying the differences between men and women is frowned upon in the academic and research communities. One colleague warned Cahill that doing so could kill his career.Cahill, ibid.

Distinct Differences

One reason we acknowledge male and female differences is simply because sexual differences are objectively real. Physical reality matters. Try ignoring the physical reality of gravity for a while. Or next time you approach a stoplight, ignore Newton’s law that a body in motion will tend to stay in motion. Men and women really are different. Physical reality isn’t all there is, of course, but to deny this is to live in an illusion. Our male and female differences are rooted in our bodies.Jason Evert, Theology of the Body for Teens—Parent’s Guide, (West Chester PA, Ascension Press 2008), p. 5.

Aside from the more obvious differences of reproduction and hormones, science is finding many ways in which men and women differ. Those little chromosomes that determine if we are male or female affect everything from brains to retinas, from jawbones to blood cells. Here are just a few of the physiological differences between men and women that scientists have found:

  • “As a rule, a male brain is about 10 percent heavier than a female brain, reflecting general difference in body size.”Carol Ann Rinzler, Why Eve Doesn’t Have an Adam’s Apple: A Dictionary of Sex Differences, (Facts on File: NY, 1996), p. 4.
  • Women’s brains show “significantly stronger patterns of interconnectivity across brain regions — including across the hemispheres.”Cahill, ibid.
  • Men’s brains show “significantly greater connectivity within local brain regions.”Ibid.
  • “Male skin is microscopically thicker than female skin. Because thinner skin is damaged more easily by sunlight, physical injury, and mechanical stress, and because an older woman’s sebaceous glands produce less lubricating sebum, a woman’s face wrinkles earlier than a man’s.”Rinzler, ibid., p. 126.
  • “Women tend to do better on tests measuring sensitivity to odors.” A woman’s sense of smell is also linked to “her monthly production of hormones, reaching a peak at ovulation.”Rinzler, ibid., p. 126.
  • “Although some women are stronger than some men, the average man’s heavier bones, bulkier muscles, broader shoulders and larger heart and lungs make him physically stronger than the average woman.”Ibid., p. 129.
  • On average, the areas of the brain involving language and fine-motor skills mature earlier in girls, while the parts of the brain involved in targeting and spatial memory mature earlier in boys.Ibid., p. 108.
  • During adolescence in girls, “a larger fraction of the brain activity associated with negative emotion moves up to the cerebral cortex. … So, the seventeen-year old is able to explain why she is feeling sad in great detail and without much difficulty (if she wants to). But that change occurs only in girls. In boys, the locus of brain activity associated with negative emotion remains stuck in the amygdala.”Leonard Sax, Why Gender Matters, (New York: Doubleday, 2005), p. 93.
  • “Studies in the United States and around the world universally find that boys are more likely to engage in physically risky activities.”Ibid., p. 29.

There are literally hundreds more differences between men and women. Some may be relatively unimportant, while others affect behavior, relationships, thinking and feeling. Some are average or relative differences, while others are absolute. And these differences aren’t just caused by “nurture” or “human culture.” They are real physical differences, differences that impact individuals, families and cultures.  

One response, common in our Western culture, is to ignore such differences and treat men and women as identical, virtually interchangeable.

This is common in academic and media circles. Reporter and author John Stossel has aired television specials about the differences between men and women and how scientists are discovering more all the time. Astoundingly, feminist icon Gloria Steinem told Stossell that differences between men and women shouldn’t even be studied; such research must be stopped.

And Steinem wasn’t alone. Feminist lawyer Gloria Allred argued Stossel shouldn’t even be recording and airing a program about male-female distinctions. She said, “We take attacks from the media on our skills and our abilities and our talents and our dreams very seriously. This is not just entertainment. This is harmful and damaging to our daughters' lives and to our mothers' lives, and I'm very angry about it.”ABC News, Boys & Girls Are Different: Men, Women & the Sex Difference, 1994; see also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T20R_bf-B4s (6 October 2015)

Another possible response to this information is to use it to demean or abuse one sex or the other. We regret and grieve over the fact that, historically, men have more frequently used their greater size and physical strength to damage and harm women — as Gloria Allred noted. However, the abuse wasn’t caused by the differences between the sexes — it was brought about by sin and sinful choices.

 The good news is Christ provides an answer for sin, as we repent and turn to Him. Where such abuse has happened, we must acknowledge it and extend forgiveness, healing and compassion.

Our response, informed by God’s grace and truth, should be one where we recognize these differences, but also celebrate and enjoy them. Women uniquely reflect something of God’s character and who He is — in a way men can’t. Likewise, men uniquely reflect God’s image and likeness.

Let’s continue to explore and enjoy these differences with gratitude, joy and thanksgiving


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