What is Sexual Dimorphism? | Part 1 of 2

Note: This article pertains to a typical heterosexual relationship. 

You may or may not have heard of the term “sexual dimorphism” but it is a concept that impacts all of us on a daily basis. For example, when a group of girls complain about a suspiciously looking guy who can’t stop staring at them, it is sexual dimorphism at play. Or when a guy gets quite offended that his wife asks a ton of other people about the bestmutual funds options available rather than taking his word for it, it is sexual dimorphism at play. 

The examples abound, but the principle is the same. Men and women fundamentally differ in the way they experience the world. 

And by experience I don’t mean the superficial, mundane, all encompassing, overly used word that describes everything. I am referring to all those seconds and minutes of existence that a 20 year old has spent since birth dealing with oneself and the environment, one’s own body, growth spurts, developmental stages, deficits and awe-inspiring strengths, hormones, social demands, parents, siblings, peers, coworkers, neighbors, rules and regulations, expectations of others and oneself.

The list goes on ad infinitum. All those seconds, minutes, and hours of “experiences” given our sexual foundation as a male or female on top of social roles, economy, politics, and seemingly mundane tasks such as what to wear to the job next day are surprisingly very different between men and women. 

And they are directly linked to how we as two different sexes perceive, interpret, and react to the world. That is sexual dimorphism and it manifests itself in the way people observe one another doing seemingly “strange” things when viewed from our own lense.

To review the examples above, the visual orientation of a man toward his environment can come off as “creepy” staring. And the relational orientation of a woman toward finding solutions can come off as preferring other people to one’s own mate.

Sexual dimorphism is subtle, subliminal, and under the radar for the layman. For the astute eye of a sociologist or psychologist, though, sexual dimorphism is rampant in all areas of our lives and everything we do. 

Just a few days ago, I heard a friend of mine express his interest in his wife dying her hair differently and openly shared with her that it would make him very excited if she started to wear colorful dresses again that would show some “skin”. In response to that, his wife got outraged and uttered: “it makes me sad that you can’t love me for who I am and it seems like you want me to be someone else. 

Why can’t you appreciate me for the things I do and the person I am?” 

That is a classic case of sexual dimorphic clash of needs and perspectives. Let us examine that a bit. 

On the surface, most men would sympathize with this fellow because they see the goodwill of a husband who is communicating what he needs from his wife instead of ignoring what he needs and seeking it outside of the marriage. And again, on the surface, most women would agree with the wife’s agony about her husbands insensitivity discussing this in the public, objectification of her body, and not paying attention to more deeper values in the relationship, as well as not loving her for who she is.

But those appraisals are quite superficial and short-sighted. On a deeper look, it would become clear what is really happening if we understood their dynamics from the perspective of sexual dimorphism. 

One aspect of sexual dimorphism that would help illuminate the source of the problem is what I call the window into intimacy. If intimacy is a sacred room of connectivity, appreciation, closeness, vulnarability, mutual trust, and sexual experience, men and women have different windows entering that room.

For men, the window of opportunity to feel good in a relationship does not start with an emotionally gratifying interaction. For men, that window starts with sensory, sexual experiences.

It is the attractive sight, the mystifying smell, taste, or touch that pulls him toward his mate. Yet, that is not enough. Once he has entered the room, he craves more of an emotional intimacy and connectedness that would make his experience worthwhile and really meaningful. 

For a woman, however, it is quite the opposite. The window for a woman opens first upon knowing that she is cared about, appreciated as a person, admired for her human qualities, stimulated intellectually, and intrigued by deeper values and traits such as trust, understanding, courage, reliability, responsibility, etc.

Only after this deeper cerebral, emotional connection has been established, can she open herself up for a sensory, sexual experience. In the above example of a clash, therefore, the pair’s communication could have led to a deeper understanding if both partners could take a step back, understand sexual dimorphism, accept each other’s differences, and approach their needs from a slightly different angle: that of allowing one another to enter the relationship from our respective windows.

The wife, for example, could try to understand that her husband is not just interested in her as an object but that he is entering the room of intimacy from the only window he knows, that of sensory attraction, but that in fact, ultimately he is interested in having a more gratifying relational connectedness with his wife. And on the other hand, the husband, could try to understand that his wife is rightfully upset as she has been rushed to a level of interaction (namely sensory, sexual experience) without allowing her to enter this level of intimacy from the window she is comfortable with, namely a caring, emotionally stimulating conversation. 

What could they do differently? That is simple. They have two options. If the conversation has already occurred and they realize they misunderstood one another, the solution would be this renewed understanding from the perspective of sexual dimorphism, forgive one another, and understand that both want the same thing but entered the situation from two different and quite opposite angles. 

Option two would call for a different conversation to have in the first place. For example, the husband could start with having an emotionally stimulating conversation about what he appreciates in his wife, highlight the meaningful values and contributions she brings to the relationship, and in addition ask her wife how she would feel about perhaps trying a different hair color.

Women are very intuitive by nature. All they need is a small hint and they can take it from there. That would solve his concern. And conversely, the wife could also be mindful of a different start of a conversation about a topic that would be of interest to her. 

But that will be the topic of my next article: how women can start conversations differently that would not put too much pressure on their mates.