Isn’t the Internet a wonderful thing? You can read something interesting, then click to something else quite interesting, which leads, hours later, to an utterly random yet extremely fascinating article, completely unrelated to what got you started.
Using just this circuitous method, I stumbled on an interview with researcher Beverly Whipple, recently named one of the world’s 50 most influential living scientists by New Scientist magazine. Whipple, professor emeritus at Rutgers University, began her career as a nurse and switched to sex research 44 years ago when a patient asked if a man who had suffered a heart attack could ever have sex again. In the course of her career, she has answered that question and many others.
One line from the interview really jumped out at me. When asked the difference between men and women in terms of sex, Whipple replied, “Men are goal oriented, and women are pleasure oriented.”
Well, now. That makes a ton of sense, doesn’t it?
Then I wondered if there were other areas of life where this is true. Sure, some men are keen to experience, not just rush to a goal. And women are known to set and meet goals. But in the aggregate, the idea that men have one definition of success and women have another has implications in the boardroom, as well as the bedroom. As I pondered, I realized there are plenty of examples of this, especially if you exchange the word “pleasure” for “experience”.
Think about shopping. A man goes into a Shopping Situation with a seek-and-destroy mindset: “I need two new shirts, a tie and boxers, then I’m out of here!” Women may have things they need to pick up, but also look at the possibilities. “Sharon would like this!” or “This might work for Tom.” Women often shop with a friend, and make a day of it. They pay attention to ambiance, texture, sounds.
He has a goal. She’s after an experience.
Another example? The NCAA Final Four bracket chart. Can you think of another more goal-oriented deal than that? A guy will completely fill in the bracket and track the progress of the teams to the ultimate goal – the #1 position. On the other hand, when I watch college basketball I am fascinated by the stories, “Brent, the power forward, Lucas Jones, certainly has faced adversity. He was raised by his loving, asthmatic grandmother in Waukegon’s gritty inner city after he tragically lost his parents to a freak Zamboni incident at age 8. He’s a mentor to little kids at the Girls and Boys Club, a ventriloquist and a straight A student.” Ahhwww. Women are suckers for that stuff. It’s all part of the experience.
Women are color commentators, men are play-by-play.
So, where else does it matter that men are goal oriented and women are experience oriented? Let’s get back to sex. Many men, and plenty of women, feel that orgasm is the goal of sex. Some men feel that there must be “something wrong” if their partner doesn’t climax. Yet, I was surprised to learn from Professor Whipple that over 70% of women report they do not have orgasm every time they have intercourse. Sadly, there are a lot of women, and men, who feel “less than” sexually when, in fact, they are quite normal. The average woman takes 20 minutes to become sexually aroused — and, how shall I say it, in the rush to make their goal, many men forget not only the time, but the day of the week [insert laugh track here].
Imagine the mutual satisfaction if a man was aware that the experience is what is important to a woman, rather than rating “success” on whether she did or didn’t have an orgasm. What if he fully supported her “pleasure for the sake of pleasure” and de-emphasized orgasm? With less pressure to perform for both parties, there would be better, and dare I say it, more sex.
I have to write a word about “male performance”. What a doofy phrase. As if the man performs and the woman applauds. As we’ve seen above, that’s not always true. Take it from me, it’s not a performance, gents. Writer Gary Zukav talks very eloquently about the power of the sexual connection in his book The Seat of The Soul. In that book, Zukav suggests that forgetting the spiritual aspect of sex strips it of its meaning. In that way, too, the idea of “male performance” strips sex of the mutuality of the moment.
Just understanding that he needs a goal and she needs an experience could transform a relationship. Rather than expecting him to love shopping, just like she does, a woman could say, “I am going to respect his need to seek-and-destroy when he’s shopping and not browbeat him to enjoy it as much as I do.” Or a man might plan an outing with a woman and say, “Rather than try to climb to the top of Mt. Baldy as fast as possible, I’m going to make sure Susan really enjoys the experience. We’ll move at a reasonable pace and stop halfway to have a picnic lunch.”
Wouldn’t it be great if a male manager could acknowledge that there is more to work than meeting and beating objectives – and reward women who focus on team-building and systems strengthening? And a woman manager could recognize that the guys on the team need the satisfaction of having something to strive toward, and create a process to measure and reward progress toward the goal?
There is so much to learn and appreciate from the differences between men and women. If a man can learn from a woman to slow down and enjoy the experience, while the woman learns the satisfaction of making and reaching goals, a kind of relational balance can be had – a balance which makes life for each of them that much more full.