When you look at the top reasons for marriages falling apart, 2 of the most common are ‘lack of communication’ and ‘differences in libido’.
There is also a common misconception that men want sex more than women.
This is completely untrue and I’ll explain the science behind why in this article (along with how to level the playing field when it comes to sex drive).
And with respect to ‘lack of communication’ – it’s NOT that there isn’t ENOUGH communication…
…it’s that men and women don’t understand HOW each of their brains work.
I’m going to simplify the neuroscience to give you an understanding how your brain works, how the opposite sex’s brain works, and how to use this understanding to enhance your relationships.
The Male Vs. Female Brain
My brain is the most beautiful part of my body – Shakira
One of the amazing things about our brain is the left and right sides of our brain function quite differently.
THE LEFT (MALE) BRAIN
The left side of our brain is very mechanistic, it is very task-oriented, very strategic, very mathematical, linear.
This is what is referred to as the “male” brain.
Of course I’m NOT saying that women can’t be strategic and mathematical and linear, but these attributes tend to be more male in nature.
The left brain is where a neurotransmitter called dopamine lives.
(Think of a neurotransmitter as a hormone in the brain).
Dopamine is where your motivation comes from.
Remember that feeling when you checked off that item on your to do list? Or when someone likes your post on Instagram? That’s dopamine in action.
In other words, when you engage in behaviour that raises your dopamine levels, you are more likely to engage in that activity again to get the same dopamine hit, and rush of good feelings in the brain.
When you have high motivation, you can stay engaged, passionate, and motivated to complete tasks.
What’s cool about Dopamine, is YOU can raise YOUR own levels of Dopamine.
THE RIGHT (FEMALE) BRAIN
When we move into the right brain, things get a little bit more interesting.
The right brain is more sensual.
It’s more creative. It’s emotional. It’s passion.
This tends to be more of what we call the “female” brain, and again, men can be sensual and passionate, but these are more feminine traits.
This is where serotonin lives, our happy hormone.
Serotonin is a right brain neurotransmitter, and the difference here and the key:
You can NOT raise your own levels of serotonin.
Serotonin is raised EXTERNALLY. It is elevated by positive feedback from our loved ones, our work, and our environment.
This is important to understand because Serotonin levels increase Dopamine levels
So, the more positive feedback we get from our external environment through praise and appreciation, the more motivated we are to continue engaging in the activity that produced the praise.
Your partner, in the context of your relationship, raises YOUR levels of serotonin.
So you receive positive feedback from your partner, that elevates your levels of serotonin, and in turn, that will raise your levels of dopamine.
NOW HERE’S THE MIND-BLOWING PART…
Even though females tend to be more right-brained in nature, men have 50% MORE serotonin receptors than women do.
So what does that mean in the context of relationships?
Women need twice as much love and affection to achieve similar levels of happiness as men.
Women need twice as much love and affection in order to have the same levels of serotonin and dopamine.
Women need twice as much positive reinforcement from our external environment than men do in order to drive the same amount of motivation in dopamine activity.
Women need more encouragement along the way to elicit the same neurochemical cascade.
.If she doesn’t get the positive reinforcement from her environment, her serotonin levels will drop, and eventually so will her dopamine.
The Female Stress Response
Women are far more susceptible to headaches, migraines, automimmune disorders, leaky gut, and sleep disorders than men.
Lets explore, working from the brain downwards, why that is:
As her stress response increases, her pupils will begin to dilate, her heart rate will increase, her posture will slump forward, and her sleep will be altered.
These are all signs of a weak frontal lobe.
One of the primary functions of the frontal lobe is inhibition of sympathetic function.
In other words, sympathetics are our stress response.
When sympathetics run wild, her arteries will vasoconstrict, her pupils will open up, and her breathing will become more shallow from recruitment of accessory muscle of respiration.
This is why she will begin to experience migraines, neck and shoulder tension, and sleep disturbances.
Her cervical spine is more likely to distort into a kyphotic, or S-shape curve, which will draw her head forward, increase her neck flexors (sternocleidomastoid and accessory respiratory muscles such as scalenes).
Her rib cage will then have a tendency to move up and down rather than out and in. This will further increase her flexed posture, and drive up her heart rate. Not to mention decrease her oxygen perfusion.
Her prefrontal cortex, where serotonin and dopamine typically live, will further be altered because of altered spinocerebellar and cerebellofrontal pathways. She is more at risk for anxiety, worry, and depression.
Her immune system will begin to get ramped up. Coupling an overactive immune system with sympathetics activity, she is far more likely to develop autoimmune diseases than her male partner. This is why we see Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autommune disease running far more common in women than men.
As her system depresses, her digestive system will become inefficient with low acid, and slowed gut motility. Food particles not moving through the digestive tract will rot, cause inflammation, and increase permeability of the gut lining.
This is commonly referred to as “leaky gut”.
The Serotonin Dopamine Dance
As I mentioned before, when serotonin levels go up, it will drive higher levels of dopamine.
A Positive Example of the Serotonin and Dopamine Dance:
I receive a lot of positive feedback (serotonin) from my clinical practice because patients constantly tell me what a difference I have made in their lives. I have athletes able to reach new PRs, dads are able to play with their kids again, women saying their headaches are gone and they’ve never been this energetic and happy.
I often say to myself, I can’t wait until tomorrow when I can do this all over again!
What is really happening in this positive feedback loop is I get a serotonergic boost from my external environment, which drives up my motivation (dopamine) so I am eager to continue to be a better doctor and to continue to serve.
In other words, when your serotonin is up, it drives your dopamine levels up, too.
This is neuro utopia because my efforts and the outcome are aligned.
A Negative Example of the Serotonin – Dopamine Dance:
A woman wants to show her male partner how much she loves and cares for him. She spends the day looking up recipes and cooking his favourite meal, the house gets cleaned, the works. She gets her hair did, nails did, everything did, she is perfumed up and ready to go.
Her partner comes home and is in a bad mood, or tired. He doesn’t want to engage with her and just wants to sit down in front of TV to relax.
What would happen to her serotonin (happiness) and consequently her dopamine (motivator)?
Simply, this would be neurochemically devastating because she is expecting an outcome that matches her efforts.
When she does not receive the feedback she is expecting, it will lower her motivation to do so next time.
The lowered serotonin leads to a decrease in dopamine.
And what does this do to her motivation (dopamine) the next time it happens? The tenth time? The hundredth time?
LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX, BABY.
This is where it gets a little fun.
The reason why I tell you all this is you can’t really have a talk about an epic, legendary relationship without talking about sex, right?
So you can see here what happens when somebody’s engaging in regular sexual activity.
The top graphic is a brain without regular sexual activity.
The bottom photo you can see lights up like a Christmas tree – aka regular sexual activity.
This is both the left and right side, so creativity and strategy and linearity and all these things light up, and you’re able to have more energy, more productivity, more everything when you are having a regular sex life.
So…what is a regular sex life?
Data suggests two to three times a week minimum.
So in the context of males and females, who needs the sex more?
(And don’t say the men).
Women REQUIRE positive feedback from our partner in order to increase those serotonergic pathways in the brain, and therefore increase our dopamine levels.
And isn’t sex the most raw, the most intimate way that we can communicate and connect with our partners?
This is where intimacy happens, connection, trust, bonding.
So I completely reject the idea that men only want sex and women prefer chocolate.
It is complete horseshit.
If a woman feels nourished and loved and cared for and honored, she is going to chase that sex like the animal that she is because she wants to get that serotonergic burst in her brain, and she’s going to be motivated to be the best partner.
Bringing Venus and Mars closer together
The manlier you are, the harder it is to understand what a female wants – Criss Jami
Now I know that may be difficult for some to digest, but recognizing health is an active process, and for the female, her health a direct reflection of her relationship with her partner.
A woman needs to feel loved, honoured, cherished and safe.
And women – our men, also need to feel appreciated and respected.
Men cannot grow a child or breastfeed, but they sure as hell want to help you out, ladies!
Thank them for taking out the trash, or fixing your computer, or for just being a great human who figures stuff out for you. This will also drive up his serotonin and dopamine pathways so he too will be more motivated to be the best partner he can for you.
Show them some respect and love for their unique geneius and what they are good at.
This is described by Emerson Eggerichs as the Love – Respect Cycle:
In a relationship, failing to recognize and show respect to your man, will result in him pulling away from you. He is not feeling his work, or contribution is being respected.
When you notice your man pulling away, you, as a woman, will begin to feel less encouraged, less loved, less motivated, and you will also start to fall away too.
And herein lies the vicious cycle.
A neurological explanation for the 70% divorce rate in our country, and probably the source of most conflicts in your life.
Turn your wounds into wisdom – Oprah Winfrey
Whether you are dating, in a relationship for a minute or a decade, remember the serotonin – dopamine relationship, and the differences between men and women.
The women around you – be it your partner or your co-worker require more positive reinforcement than the men around you do.
The men around you, while they may be not need as much positive reinforcement, still require appreciation so that they will continue to be motivated to serve you. The need to feel respected.
Want To Improve Your Relationship Right Now?
I’ve created a Serotonin Love Boosters cheat sheet that will give you 10 ways to connect with your partner, boost happiness, and deepen your relationship.