We can rehash these often underhanded or overly glib points which follow party lines, or we can have a frank discussion about the biological differences between men and women. These distinctions go way beyond reproductive organs, though most of us are unaware of how much due to the prevailing discourse. Biological differences between women and men don’t start and stop at the reproductive system. From our backs to our hair to our stomachs, the physiology of both genders offers up fascinating insights into the variations which make us who we are.
The Digestive System
Your colon is an organ that is critical to the function of your digestive system. You might think that the colon for both women and men is pretty standard, given that we both need our digestive systems to process the food we eat, but there is one important distinction. The colon in the average female is 10 centimeters longer than a male’s, meaning that part of it has to lie in her pelvis, along with her bladder and reproductive organs.
A longer colon in women helps them retain fluid during pregnancy to nourish the amniotic sac. With a growing baby inside her, a woman needs much more fluid both to stay hydrated and to keep the sac filled, thereby creating the need for a longer colon compared to a man’s. Gastroenterologist Dr. Robynne Chutnik describes the difference as being between a “gentle horseshoe” and a “tangled up Slinky.”
The colon in the average female is 10 centimeters longer than a male’s.
Because of the longer colon, the digestive process for women is much slower as there’s more space to move through (sometimes taking an extra 14 hours), which makes us susceptible to digestive discomfort like bloating and constipation. If you’ve ever wondered why you seem to get more stomach aches than your husband, it’s just taking your colon longer to process the fuel.
It’s frustrating to say the least, but men always seem to be able to drop those few extra pounds (and keep them off) quicker than we can. In fact, women on average tend to have 6-11% more body fat than men. Men also have more muscle than women due to their higher amount of testosterone.
This biological conditioning goes back to prehistoric times. Men need to be lean and muscular to compete with one another, hunt, work, and provide, while women need more body fat for (you guessed it) pregnancy. The male metabolism works much faster than a female’s, enabling men to lose weight quicker in order to be lithe and lean hunters. Women are in fact biologically wired to store more fat, both for themselves and their children.
While you may have a 30-step skincare routine, your boyfriend still washes his face with a bar of soap that’s three years old (sigh). That’s probably because there are tons of differences between male and female skin.
A man’s dermis (the deeper, inner layer of skin) is 20% thicker than a woman’s. However, a man’s skin is also prone to more irritation, especially due to shaving, which can remove the surface of skin cells and expose the sensitive layer underneath to more debris and bacteria.
Men also have more oil-producing glands, or sebum, and make about twice as much as women do. They’re also more prone to acne and clogged pores, which are much more pronounced. When it comes to collagen, both men and women have it hard – but women have it harder. Men’s collagen is about 65% stronger than women’s, which is one reason why men don’t get cellulite. While men experience a steady decline of collagen throughout their lives, women lose theirs at a much faster pace once they’ve hit menopause.
The Lumbar Curve
The variations don’t begin and end with organs. The lumbar curve (which gives our spine its shape and curvature) is one vertebra longer in women than in men. Specifically, women have three wedged-shaped vertebrae in their lumbar region, and men have two.
The extra vertebra accommodates the shifted center of gravity during pregnancy.
This differentiation assisted early civilization when they began to walk on two feet, and women’s longer lumbar curve has helped accommodate their changing center of gravity during pregnancy. One scientist for The Harvard Gazette explains, “To accommodate this shifted center of gravity, women’s spines have evolved to help offset the additional weight in the abdomen during pregnancy, so that the back muscles are not taxed in counter-balancing the destabilizing effects of the baby’s weight.”
Another benefit of a curvier lumbar curve? Men find it very attractive.
Body and facial hair have long been a significant indication of maturity and high testosterone in men. The prevalence (or lack thereof) of hair on the body is due to the presence of androgens, a natural hormone that binds receptors together and aids in the production of sex hormones and developing physical characteristics during puberty.
Women have less androgens and less testosterone than men, limiting their body and facial hair. However, we now know that the presence of more hair on women on specific parts of the body, known as hirsutism, is a key marker of hormonal imbalances such as polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS is an endocrine and hormone disorder that results in increased acne, cysts on the ovaries, and irregular periods, along with other complications.
More facial and body hair in men is a high testosterone marker, but it has practical purposes as well. Once again, going back to the age of caves and the dawn of civilization, women knew the strength of their potential mate based on the prevalence of his facial hair. While this seems like an outdated concept nowadays, it really isn’t, given that we know women on hormonal birth control are predisposed to pick effeminate men with less traditional testosterone markers, due to the influence of artificial estrogen in their system.
It may seem like all of these biological differences benefited humans in a different age or a different time. Now, they simply exist within us without any real purpose. But that’s a pessimistic way to go about appreciating our differences. Our biology has worked to our advantage for thousands of years, and it’s only in a postmodern, egalitarian age that we view these benefits as drawbacks, or ignore them altogether. The biology of man and woman works for their survival and their procreation, which seem primitive and outdated to us now. But humans have always had these natural instincts – to create and provide – and the contrasting balance of our bodies is ideally designed for those fundamental means.
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