Men and Women: Different but Complimentary
These words from Sacred Scripture shed divine light on an important point related to why man and women are different.
Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being… The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him… So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. (Gen 2:7; 18; 22).
Have you ever noticed that men tend to be exteriorly oriented while women incline to be oriented interiorly? For example, men tend to struggle with sins of the flesh to a greater degree than women. Men more readily objectify, reduce others to objects, and focusing on the exterior. You will find more shallow men than women. Women, conversely, are more apt to fall into the sin of gossip than their fellow men. Men talk about things, but women talk about people.
That man has an exterior orientation and women the opposite also brings to light other differences between the biological sexes. These differences were expressed well by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen in “The World’s First Love.” Let’s consider four of the differences.
One might say that man is more rational, but woman is more intelligent. Reason has to do with taking logical steps to reach a conclusion, but intelligence relates to grasping immediately. The angels have intelligence but not reason, they “see” automatically without recourse to the successive reasoning process. Men break down and analyze, women understand with an immediacy (sometimes called “women’s intuition”). This difference causes stress in the relationship because men need reasons for everything, but women somehow know.
Man also governs but it is the woman who reigns. Governing is related to justice while reigning is related to love. Men have an easier time making laws and rules sometimes without consideration of the people affected; women more readily sense the need of the individual. Man shows his love by doing things; woman shows her love by bringing in toward herself.
Because men have an exterior orientation, they are also more likely to be mediocre. Less aware of the interior truths, men can become wrapped up in the practical and carnal. Women, conversely, become disillusioned easier by things as they have an interior disposition towards values. For this reason, women are more disposed by their nature towards religiosity; they grasp eternal truths more readily. Where men and women commit the same sin, there is more horror by the woman’s failure. This is not a sexist view of womanhood, rather, it is an exalted one. What’s more disturbing: dropping a paper plate in the mud or dropping fine china in the mud? Women are the preserver of ideals which makes it more offensive when they commit sins.
Finally, men are usually the giver while women are the gift. Men shower their girlfriends or spouses with gifts; women give themselves. Men are more apt to give of themselves for a moment like running into a burning building, but women are more apt to give themselves every day for a long period of time like the rearing of children.
These differences illustrate that even though man and women are different, they are still complimentary. One is not better than other; rather, each completes what is lacking in the other. Now, we can return to the opening passage from Sacred Scripture which gives the reason for these differences. Man was made from the dust, and so he is oriented towards things, towards externals. Woman was made from the rib of man; hence, she is oriented toward persons, towards the interior life.
The Impact on the Biological Sexes
These important differences explain why certain sins affect men or women more easily. For example, because women have a greater capacity for love and persons, sins of the flesh have a much greater negative impact on them. With that being said, if men truly love women then every man should stop doing these three things immediately.
Number 1: Hooking-up
In today’s culture, hooking up has become the norm. Hooking up involves a wide range of physically intimate behavior usually with minimal commitment (if any). In one psychological study of hooking up on college campuses, it was found that women are significantly more at risk for having a negative and damaging experience than men (“Hooking Up Among College Students: Demographic and Psychosocial Correlates,” Owen, Rhodes, Stanley, Fincham). 48.7% of women reported a negative reaction to hooking up compared to only 26% of men. Studies continue to show that hooking up is not an experience that women tend to feel positive about and are substantially more at risk for feeling hurt and confused afterward. This feeling of regret experienced by many women is also related to depressive symptoms.
Not convinced? Here are some more statistics. One study in 2000 titled “You Don’t Bring Me Anything But Down: Adolescent Romance and Depression,” analyzed data of 8,000 teens and showed that “females experience a larger increase in depression than males in response to romantic involvement” and “females greater vulnerability to romantic involvement may explain the higher rates of depression in female teens” (Joyner and Udry). Another study found that sexually active teenage girls were more than three times more likely to be depressed, and nearly three times more likely to have had a suicide attempt, than girls who were not sexually active (Unprotected, Grossman, 2007).
These studies should make every man sick to his stomach because the man’s failure in chastity hurts the woman far greater than the man. Yes, these studies do primarily focus on adolescent and college-aged women, but from a philosophical perspective since all women are interiorly oriented there isn’t a reason to suggest that women of different age gaps would feel any different.
But, do women actually have an interior orientation toward love and persons or is this Theological “mumbo-jumbo”? Yes, in fact, it’s called oxytocin. Oxytocin is a bonding hormone within women that is released during sexual activity (Unprotected, Grossman, 2007). Not only does it naturally bond the woman to the man, but it creates trust. For this biological reason, women experience hooking up negatively – their body tells them one thing while the man promises nothing of the sort.
Number 2: Cohabitating
It’s estimated that over 70% of couples cohabitate (that is, live together before marriage). Dear fellow men, if you value your relationship, stop cohabitating right now, here’s why.
I’ve never been good at doing impersonations. Over the years, I have been made fun of so much while I am trying to make fun of someone else that I don’t do impersonations anymore. The Church has always been opposed to cohabitating precisely for that reason: cohabitating is a bad impersonator. Cohabitation impersonates marriage minus the actual commitment. Pope St. John Paul II made clear the destructive consequences which inevitably follow from cohabitation: (1) the loss of the religious sense of marriage seen in the light of the Covenant of God with His people; (2) deprivation of the grace of the sacrament; (3) grave scandal; (4) the destruction of the concept of the family; (5) the weakening of the sense of fidelity; (6) possible psychological damage to the children; (7) the strengthening of selfishness (Familiaris Consortio, para. 81).
But what do the psychologic and empirical scientists say? Psychologists have found evidence that premarital cohabitation is a risk factor for subsequent divorce as well as lower marital stability and quality (“The Pre-Engagement Cohabitation Effect: A Replication and Extension of Previous Findings,” Rhoades, Stanley, Markman, 2009). In the United States, the risk of divorce is 50% higher for cohabiters than non-cohabiters. In some western European countries, it is estimated to be 80% higher (“Marriage Preparation and Cohabitating Couples,” USCCB, 1999). Furthermore, research has found that cohabitating individuals have lower sexual satisfaction than married individuals. This phenomenon has been termed the “cohabitation effect.”
One of the explanations for these statistics is that cohabitation keeps relationships together that would otherwise fall apart. Since cohabitation involves the co-mingling of lives (finances, housing, pregnancy, pressure), couples are forced to stay together who would end up separating if they didn’t live together.
How about the effect of cohabitation on women themselves? Mothers who cohabitated reported having more depressive symptoms as well as less compassion and concern for their children (“Building Stronger Families and Friends – Part 2: The Research on Cohabitation,” Institute for the Psychological Sciences, 2014).
Number 3: Viewing Pornography
The Church rejects pornography because it reduces people to objects. Though one might say that hate is the opposite of love, it would be more accurate to say that “use” is the opposite of love because love involves the self-emptying of oneself. Pornography is so diabolical because it teaches people to use that which should be cherished.
It’s not only people, however, that are reduced in pornography but the great gift of sexuality itself. Sex, within the context of marriage, becomes the place where the wedding vows come alive. The man and the women promise to love each other freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully. This is a symbol of how Christ loves the Church, a bond that is renewed at every Mass in the Eucharist. Therefore, a wedding Mass has both a minor and a major consecration. First, the spouses consecrate themselves to the other (minor), then Christ and the Church consecrate themselves to the other in the Eucharist (major). This is the basis of why sexual activity outside of marriage is unlawful; the actions of the body do not match the meaning of the actions.
You don’t need religious reasons to stop viewing porn; there is increasing secular evidence that it is an extremely harmful behavior. Since we have been focusing on how these behaviors affect women, consider the results of many neurological studies which found that pornography renders men unable to love their wives without the use of sexual fantasy (The Porn Myth, Fradd, 2017). Pornography literally changes what one considers beautiful. Women who have discovered their spouses using pornography report being completely demoralized. It devastates her sense of self as a woman, and her sense of trust (The Porn Myth, Fradd, 2017)
We come again to the same conclusion: women’s capacity for interior depth facilities greater hurt in the face of sins of the flesh.
Where do we go from here?… Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times
What we’ve uncovered is that three common sins of the flesh (hooking up, cohabitating, and viewing pornography) can have devastating effects on women. The theological basis for this fact is the inherent and beautiful capacity of the woman to love deeply. Every man out there should be upset to learn about how these activities truly harm woman. True men are protectors, not users.
Barry Schwartz, an American Psychologist who studies freedom, argues that “freedom, autonomy, and self-determination can become excessive, and that when that happens, freedom can be experienced as a kind of tyranny” (“The Tyranny of Freedom,” Schwartz, 2000). Furthermore, “modern American society has created an excess of freedom, with resulting increases in people’s dissatisfaction with their lives and in clinical depression.” Unhindered freedom has not worked, but ancient wisdom has long had the answer: self-control in the form of chastity.
Chastity is difficult because it seems like it is the virtue of “no.” No, you cannot hook up…No, you cannot cohabitate…No, you cannot have pre-marital sex…No, you cannot view pornography. This is a false characterization of this virtue. Actually, chastity is the virtue of “yes.” Yes, you can think all women are beautiful…Yes, you can love your wife deeply…Yes, you can respect all women and have deep, meaningful relationships…Yes, you can be in control of your passions. Chastity makes all these “yes’s” possible.
No matter our struggles, no matter our failures, no matter the bad habits we may have developed, we can always start new. It is a lie to think that our past defines our future. All we need to do is to develop a new orientation. When one has their back to the sun, their long shadow is cast in front of them. When one has their eyes set on the sun, however, their shadow is cast behind them. Having a new orientation means having one’s vision set on the Son, Jesus Christ, who will cast our sinful past behind us where it belongs. No matter the sin, God makes all things new.
So here is a simple five-step action plan based on Theology and Psychology to help overcome sins of the flesh:
First – orient yourself towards Christ through prayer and Sacrament (this step prevents our past from determining our future).
Second – foster a sense of hope (Psychological studies have found that hope is essential in making progress over vicious habits).
Third – destroy exposure to sin (“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off”).
Fourth – find spiritual or psychological help (suffering tends to be cut in half when shared with others).
Fifth – be patient with yourself and don’t expect immediate progress (set realistic goals otherwise we run the risk of discouragement when we don’t meet impossible expectations)
Fellow men, let’s be the people that God has made us to be and cherish those women closest to us. Our failings in the area of the flesh have devastating effects on women. Don’t think God can make you clean after years of sin? Consider the story of the leper and have faith.
“Now there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where he was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, ‘Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.’
Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do, will it. Be made clean.’ And the leprosy left him immediately” (Lk 5:12-13).