April 20, 2017

Your Boyfriend’s Brain

Gary Thomas — 


Single women, your boyfriend’s brain is very different than yours. If you try to evaluate him like you’d evaluate a girlfriend or sister, you’re going to fail. You’ll miss cues. The male brain and the female brain diverge immediately upon conception. So, if you want to make a wise marital match, spend a little time getting to understand a bit about the male brain.

Dr. Louann Brizendine studied at UC Berkeley, Yale, and Harvard and is now on the faculty of UCSF Medical Center. She states, “The vast new body of brain science together with the work I’ve done with my male patients has convinced me that through every phase of life, the unique brain structures and hormones of boys and men create a male reality that is fundamentally different from the female one and all too frequently oversimplified and misunderstood.”

Her book, The Male Brain, can help young (or middle-aged) women understand what’s going on in a suitor’s brain.

Let’s look at some highlights to help single women while they are dating. There are also many applications for within marriage.

  1. Some men’s brains are more neurologically inclined toward monogamous behavior than others.

A study of lizards provides a “three types of men” analogy. There are “orange throat” lizards who basically guard a harem of females and mate with all of them. The males with yellow throats are called “sneakers” because they hang around the orange throat’s harem and mate with any of the willing females when the orange throat lizard isn’t looking. The “blue throat” lizards mate with one lizard for life and guard her 24/7.

This activity is partly guided by the vasopression receptor in the male’s brain, which is true in the human brain as well as the lizard’s brain. The longer the receptor, the more likely he is to be a “mate with one for life” kind of guy (the “blue throat”). As Dr. Brizendine puts it, “When it comes to fidelity, the joke among female scientists is that ‘longer is better,’ at least when it comes to the length of the vasopression receptor gene.”

If you’re not a scientist this isn’t something you can observe, but you can observe behavior. If your boyfriend has cheated on others before, it’s more likely he’ll cheat on you. If he left his former girlfriend to cheat with you, the time will almost certainly come when he will leave you to cheat with someone else. You’ve got to let his actions demonstrate the way his brain is wired. If you forgive him once for cheating on you, it’s far more likely you’ll have to become a “serial forgiver” if you want to stay with him. Some guys are just more wired for monogamy than others.

This isn’t to say biology is destiny. When you date a man surrendering to the work of the Holy Spirit and submitting to the truth of Scripture, he won’t be a powerless victim to his natural urges. But it will be more difficult for an orange throat to act like a blue throat. If you want a faithful mate, look for a “blue throat.”

  1. Sex takes up a bigger part of the male brain and guys are more comfortable than are women about lying to get sex.

Dr. Brizendine’s research has found that “Men have two and a half times the brain space devoted to sexual drive in their hypothalamus. Sexual thoughts flicker in the background of a man’s visual cortex all day and night, making him always at the ready for seizing sexual opportunity.”

The ongoing level of interest in sex between a male brain and female brain are widely different. Dr. Brizendine explains, “Women are surprised that the penis can operate on autopilot and even more surprised that men don’t always know when they’re getting an erection. The autopilot penis is part of a man’s daily reality for most of his life, though it happens less as he gets older.”

Further complicating this increased interest, and making it more dangerous, is that deception can be a big part of a guy’s mating strategy. Dr. Brizendine says, “Researchers found that three out of four men said they were willing to lie or ‘modify the truth’ to persuade women to have sex with them…Men exaggerate their wealth, status, and business and social connections.”

I heard a man once speak about the trick of collecting ATM receipts at the bank, which are often left lying around. He said to find one that had a balance of over $20,000 on it. When a young woman asks for your phone number you casually take out the receipt from your wallet, acting as if it’s yours, and write your phone number on it.  You can bet she’ll turn it over. “When it comes to verbal deception, researchers have found that men are biologically more comfortable with it than women.”

Since women tend (not always, but tend) to be looking for a relationship, they may not understand why a guy would blatantly lie to get sex when he’ll inevitably be found out. The reason he’ll lie is because he may want a one-time sexual encounter more than he cares about a long-term relationship, so he’ll jeopardize the long-term for the short term.

If you’re looking for something long-term, be faithful to save sex for marriage. And don’t believe everything you hear. As they say in journalism school, if a guy says his mother loves him, look for a second source.

  1. Distinguish between a guy who is interested in you and a guy who is interested in having sex with you.

One thing that was universal about men and women was that in the first flush of infatuation followed by sexual activity, the relationship becomes literally intoxicating—but because men generally have lower levels of oxytocin, it can hit a male brain with more force. “In one study, men and women said they spent up to 85 percent of their waking moments daydreaming about their lover.”

As soon as the relationship becomes physical, you unleash neurological ingredients that are almost impossible to control. If the release comes during a honeymoon, you’re serving a lifelong love. If it comes before that, you risk becoming obsessed with someone who could make you very miserable as a spouse. You simply cannot properly evaluate someone you are infatuated with and sleeping with at the same time.

Women, this is so important: during this phase you may mistakenly think that he wants you, that he’s enthralled with you and intoxicated by you. In fact, it’s the sexual pursuit and the chemicals that come from such frequent sexual activity (which is also affecting your brain, by the way) that makes him seem so devoted. The frequency of sex will die down—it always does. And when it does, the chemicals making this man interested in you will evaporate because they are largely based on the sexual activity. In a very real sense, a boyfriend will “put up” with the romantic stuff to get to the sex. Once the sex goes, so goes the romance. Put this together with the male propensity to lie and the fact is that he is primed to promise you a lifetime just to buy another hour in bed.

According to Dr. Brizendine, “Researchers have reported that men want an average of fourteen sexual partners in their lifetime, while the women said they wanted an average of one or two.” This discrepancy alone tells you that when women and men are considering “dating” each other, they may have two wildly different agendas.

  1. Men are actually neurologically wired to misbehave more than women.

I am not calling sinful misbehavior a biological necessity; the only perfect person in the history of the world (Jesus) lived with a male brain. The apostle Paul, who also lived with a male brain, claimed to be “flawless” in terms of human righteousness and keeping the law. Maleness thus cannot be an excuse for sin.

But men are biologically less in tune with the consequences of bad behavior. The anterior cingulate cortex is “the “fear-of-punishment” area of the brain and is smaller in men than in women. Furthermore, “testosterone decreases worries about punishment.” The prefrontal cortex, which Dr. Brizendine calls the “CEO” of the brain, focuses on good judgments and “works as an inhibiting system to put the brakes on impulses” and is “larger in women and matures faster in females than in males.”

Put all this together and you are dating a person whose biological ability to process negative consequences arising from bad decisions is less than yours; whose fear of being punished is less than yours; whose processing area of the brain devoted to making good judgements is more limited than yours; and whose inhibitions are naturally less than yours.

Men are always accountable for not controlling their urges.  But an analogy may be helpful here. Your boyfriend is more likely to be able to bench-press 250 pounds than you are, but girlfriends are more likely to make better decisions based on consequences, punishments, and reasonable inhibitions. Now, a woman can lift a lot of weight and end up pressing much more weight than many men ever could. And in the same way, a man can surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit and fill his mind with Scripture and learn to walk with wisdom and discretion. But biologically, a case can be made that it actually is easier for women to “behave.” While dating, be prepared to be the one who wants to think through the possible negative consequences of becoming physical right away, getting married right away, or doing something romantic but foolish.

  1. Older men become more like women neurologically

Because older male brains produce less testosterone and vasopressin, the ratio of estrogen to testosterone increases in the male brain, which means “hormonally the mature male brain is becoming more like the mature female brain.”

A man is gradually growing into a person who will likely be more in tune with your emotions, more capable of making sound judgments, and more relational overall. If you divorce a man in his forties, you’ve likely lived with him through his most difficult relational years and may miss his most in-tuned empathetic years.

This isn’t a promise—again, biology isn’t destiny, and stereotypes tend to be true but aren’t absolutely true.

This explains in part, but of course doesn’t excuse, why older men are often able to date much younger women. It’s not just the money. A younger woman may well be tired of a twenty or thirty-something male brain with its hyper-competitive, territorial, and sexually predatory nature and find it refreshing to have an older man who is more relationally aware. God’s ideal plan is that this man’s new awareness should be a gift to his wife who has been with him for three or four decades. When a man leaves his wife at this stage it’s a double-hit: she suffered while putting up with him in his more insensitive years and then she misses out on what could be his most relational years.

The younger woman’s devotion may be confusing to the original wife. The ex-wife may remember what this man was and thus not understand the new wife’s affection, while the new wife appreciates what he is and not understand the ex-wife’s rejection. This is terribly sad and goes against God’s creational design.

For the married women still reading this, if you value relational connectedness and understand the slow evolution of the male brain, it really is true that things are “getting better all the time.” A gentler, kinder, more relationally aware husband may be on the way.

Christians can become uncomfortable focusing too much on biology, as if it undercuts moral responsibility. I think most of you know I would never do that. Understanding a little science, however, can help single women be more aware of the issues they need to watch out for while dating. Every one of these issues are best addressed by living life the way God calls us to. In this case, modern neuroscience simply proves what we’ve known all along: God’s way is always best.

If you’re new to this blog and want more insight on making a wise marital choice, check The Sacred Search: What if It’s Not About Who You Marry, but Why? Link….

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.


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31 responses to Your Boyfriend’s Brain

  1. If I had had read this as a young woman, I would never have married. I was already very close to that decision in my early twenties, having been thoroughly disgusted by the utter lack of character in the many men I worked with and dated. Thankfully, God brought my husband into my life and I took the risk. I recognized that he was different from almost every other man in his 20s. He had empathy. He chose the narrow path. He definitely messed up, to, and we had some very rough years early on but honesty and trying to the right thing by God and by each other always won out.

    Ladies, good men are out there. Don’t compromise. Look deeply and make sure he’s worthy of you. Marriage is a long road.

  2. I am a teen girl, and feel that I can relate to this article and apply it to my life. One of my friends is going through a tough situation with her boyfriend related to cheating and such, and so this really hit home with me. It’s disheartening to see her go through this situation, but I am reminded that even though men are wired this way, it’s not God choosing this. All the pain, temptation and consequences happen because of the fall in the Garden of Eden. God did not design relationships to be this way, but because of sin, our human brains got distorted, and what is wrong, suddenly, for some reason seems right. Thank you, Mr. Thomas for writing this article. Through reading this and discussing the content with my mom, who shared this with me, I have an even stronger desire to cling to Jesus, and let Him lead me to the man that is planned specifically for me.

  3. Do you have this article written in a version geared toward young teens? Want to forward to my niece who just made a huge mistake!

    • Ma’am, if it helps in anyway, I am a younger teen and feel that I was able to easily understand and make sense of all that was written by Mr. Thomas. I feel safe to say that this article is very understandable and comprehensible for teens as well, not just adults.

  4. I believe we are wired differently. My wife doesn’t agree.

  5. Darwinian Arminian April 21, 2017 at 8:27 pm

    4. Men are actually neurologically wired to misbehave more than women.

    This statement is an incredibly gross oversimplification of a biological reality, one that is being framed in a way to make men as a group look bad. You are correct in saying that the “fear-of-punishment” instinct is much lower in men than it is in women, and that higher levels of testosterone in men also works to greatly lower their inhibitions. But you left out that there are also strong positive connotations to this that have profited and advanced civilization throughout all of history. Studies have shown that even into recent times men have always been more likely than women to start a business. Or to file a patent for an invention. Or to serve in the nation’s military, and tackle other physical dangers to benefit the safety of others. One real-life display of the latter came during the 2012 theater shooting at Aurora, Colorado, when several women’s lives were spared after their boyfriends used their body to shield them from a hail of random bullets, and were killed in the process.

    Why do I bring these things up? Because all of the activities I just listed are going to involve strong elements of risk, and any society that wants to continue will rely on its members –and in particular, its men– to take those risks. Even in the church, many today like to claim that men dominate at the top levels of society only because of an unfair “patriarchy” or “old boys network” that promotes men over women. But this kind of view ignores the fact that great accomplishments have always involved the possibility of getting ridiculed, or hurt or even killed while attempting them. If men truly are inclined to have a built-in lack of fear when confronting these, why wouldn’t it also follow that they end up achieving some distinctions (as well as hitting some low points) that the women don’t?

    Looking at men’s greater propensity for risk as a matter of them being “wired to misbehave” is only telling half of the story. That quality can entail disobedience. But it can also include courage, and a willingness to take a difficult stand for the good. It also explains why using “coward” as an insult has always had more of a sting for men than for women. I mentioned the 2012 Aurora shooting above, where men died to save women’s lives. No reports were made of any women present acting in a similar manner to save a man. Should that count as a point for the men and a strike against the women? Or should we instead acknowledge the reality that men and women are made with different giftings, and that those get played out in different ways?

    I don’t say any of this to imply that men aren’t sinners, or that they are somehow more inherently righteous than women. But neither do I believe that women have an edge over men when it comes to obedience to God and His laws. The biological realities of men and women will be different, and because of that, their challenges will also be different. A statement like the one above seems to suggest that by virtue of being female, the women are naturally better at following Christ — and that’s to say nothing of Point #5, which went on to say that marriage improves as men age . . . because by then the men are in the process of becoming more like women.

    I’m in the millennial age bracket myself, and I get a frequent amount of interaction with other men my age, and younger. When I tell them I’m Christian, they tend to be respectful — but they almost never have any interest in hearing about it as an option for themselves. Their reasons why are pretty consistent: to a man, they almost all see the church as “a woman’s thing, designed for females.” I hate hearing them say this, but when I see a piece like this suggesting that there are biological factors that make women better believers . . . I have a hard time saying that they’re wrong.

    I hear quite a few in the church today give messages calling men to “lead their families and their wives.” Why? If an article like this is any indication, they seem to believe that the woman is biologically better suited to do the job.

    • Women haven’t started as many businesses, historically, because social and legal roadblocks have prevented it. The same with the military. Now that the roadblocks are being removed, the statistics are changing. Women have risked their lives throughout history to protect the weak. Women have started many crusades and societal reforms resulting in attacks on their character and person. But their names have been forgotten.. If you study the Reformation, for example, you’ll study the men even though many women were very involved and some even lost their lives. History has a gender bias, too.

  6. This begs the question for me as to why God would make men this way? If it is God’s plan for a man to have one woman for life, as I believe it is, why make it so DIFFICULT for them? Many men will read this as a “see, I can’ t help it” excuse.

    • Daisy, I hope not. We’ve got to trust God’s work as Creator. The interest in sex is one of God’s ways to get men to find a wife and to have children. If it’s focused and surrendered to the wisdom in God’s word, it fuels and serves society. It’s only when we stray outside God’s directions that it becomes a problem.

      As for the risk taking–there’s wisdom in that, too, as it has led to a lot of discoveries and many good things. Without it, would men try to fly to the moon? Would they have fought battles that needed to be fought? But, again, it’s when that brain doesn’t follow God’s directions in Scripture that it causes trouble instead of solving problems.

  7. Gee, I wish I had read this 20 years ago.

  8. Gary, you’ve made so great and valuable points here.

    Yes, there is a ‘however’. There are things which take precedence over sex in the male brain, and combat is one of them. As a currently non-deployed mercenary, I do claim a right to know.

    I suspect that many combat veterans are far closer to Benko, the medieval Japanese warrior-monk than they are to the “young male stereotype”. There is certainly an element of spirituality here, but I won’t go into that; what’s far more important is that combat is WAY more interesting than sex, and ballistics tables are more compelling than a girlfriend’s figure.

    Understanding ballistics can keep you alive. Female curves can’t.

    I’m married, and I don;t think my wife got a raw deal here; she simply got something she did not expect, and it did take her awhile to realize that I cared more about her competence and professionalism than I did about her physical appeal.

    This testimony (or whatever it is) is probably an outlier, but I do think that it’s important for young women to look at the whole picture. The killing fields really do change a dude, and sometimes for the better.

  9. Very interesting. Thanks. Fascinating. I am pondering on this and thinking about how God designed differences. Interesting. He had a reason, I believe, and knew what He was doing. I guess it would be like any propensity or inclination to something…which is what you are saying Pastor Gary…if not understood or directed appropriately, wisely, and in healthy ways…it could be destructive. Trusting in the Creator and praying people follow His guidance in wisdom.

  10. Old married guy April 20, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    Depressing post – from this (secular) perspective, a life long fulfilled marriage of two prideful, willful people with different relationship and sexual needs is doomed to failure. I want to hear about the Christian approach that knows that all things (even a happy marriage?) are possible with God, and all relationships require grace, sacrifice, forgiveness, obedience, perseverance, and understanding that does not come from the flesh. Our culture doesn’t emphasis that men and woman are typically fundamentally different in areas of relationship and sexual perspectives and that we are commanded to submit to each other by working really hard to overcome these differences (see Eph 5:25, 1 Cor 7:5, 1 Peter 3:7, etc). Otherwise, good luck finding that blue throated lizard.

  11. Thanks for this! Really good to know as I attempt to continue dating in my thirties and can now link logical research to why these men are acting the way they are. Although, I’d be lying if I didn’t say this research is quite discouraging as it now feels like the small pool of eligible men just got a whole lot smaller. Not only do I need to find a decent, Christian man who is at least within the vicinity of my generation whom I find somewhat attractive and then wait for infatuation to calm over so they can make a clear decision if I’m someone they want to marry, but also one with a “blue throat”. And “blue throats” seem like they are few and far between all on their own not including the other factors. Logic makes me now believe I should either remain single, marry a woman, or just wait until I’m 70, in which case, won’t exactly make me the excellent wife I feel called to currently be or give me children. This article just further proves that, because of sin, perhaps marriage shouldn’t happen for everyone who wants it; and if it does, then a good, solid, godly marriage is nothing short of a humanly illogical miracle only God Himself can produce.

  12. Very interesting post. It raises the question for me: Why would God purposely create men to have such a difficult time in these areas? It seems a set up for failure (or certainly an unrighteous life) rather than success. It also seems to set up women as the ones who end up being “responsible” for watching out for potential consequences and keeping themselves away from most men (sexually speaking because of what men are thinking/wanting) That doesn’t seem consistent with the character of God who loves us and wants good for us, nor how Jesus treated women. Hmm…

    • Could it be something to do with the curse that came when Adam and Eve sinned. Gen 3:16. On going conflict between husband and wife. I dont believe God’s original plan in creation and in Eden included this.

  13. Great article Gary, very informative. As a Christian and biologist, I’ve always believed that science just helps us understand God’s blueprints, though our understanding is still very limited. I plan on sharing this wealth of knowledge with my circle of friends, single and married alike. Thank you!!

    PS: I second the WhatsApp share button request.

  14. Wel, that’s just scientific proof that women are really shooting themselves in the foot by engaging in sex before marriage. If you are chaste nr 3 is a non-issue and nr 2 become significantly less of an issue. Although, of course if a guy is a lair, he’s a lair and you should get rid of him right away.

    Also scientific support to not date cheaters

  15. Thanks for a good chuckle. I think EVERY man wants to be the orange throated lizard!! The only reason they are forced to be a blue throated lizard is either out of pressure to hide their true desires or because they were lucky to get any girl. So once they do they control and guard her 24/7 because they are afraid of her finding someone better. That is why so many guys are turning to porn. Porn is their only “safe” way to have their harem and “mate” as many females as possible. I feel sorry for all the stary eyed girlfriends and new wives who think that they will be the only girl of his dreams. When the fact is she is probably the only girl that would put up with him. It is just a matter of time before he breaks her heart, just like all the one before us. Some how we think we will be different. It won’t happen to us. Hang in there- it is only a matter of time!! Good luck ladies!!!!

    • I’d like to respectfully disagree. I treasure the fact that I’ve been with my wife for over 30 years. If I could live my life over I wouldn’t do it any other way. God’s way is best. And I believe most guys who have done it God’s way would agree

    • My husband and I have talked about this concept. He doesn’t understand it. He’s always known that he’s a “one woman man.”

  16. I would love to see you turn this information into a blog directed at the guys. How would you advise the teens, young men, and middle-aged men in light of the biology they live with? I would guess Romans’ discussion of the flesh vs. spirit would apply—that a Spirit-filled man isn’t a slave to his physical propensities… anyway, consider coming at it from the other perspective. I will share this with my 16yo son, but the other would be even better!

  17. You know what’s crazy? Every man try’s to deny this and imply “craziness” on to the woman. What sucks more is giving up to soon. If you’re married ladies….HANG ON!

  18. Thank you, Gary! I am sending this to my adolescent daughters! 🙂

  19. This is great Gary,could we also have a WhatsApp share button?

  20. Kelly stonerock, Pastor’s Wife April 20, 2017 at 8:11 am

    I’m anxiously waiting for my 50 year old husband’s brain to catch up and develop empathy and sensitivity.

    • Biologically, he should be getting close! Spiritually, he can get there now…

      • My 70 yr old father in law still gawks at all the teen girls in their shorts and tanks. He still does porn. I’m thinking the grace will be the only cure for this preverted “dirty old man”. He has no shame. Yet he goes to church and prays at meals with his kids and 5 granddaughters. Kinda a double standard. I don’t think all men grow up. Sorry!