Chapter 16: When you have musk, you will automatically have fragrance

Good wine needs no bush

yǒu shè zìrán xiāng

After a few chapters describing sexual selection in men, we shall now devote our attention to the sexual psychology of females. In particular, the object of the following section is to illustrate how women’s mating desire (and therefore the distinguishing features they find appealing in men) is the result of an evolutionary process driven by their ancestral mothers to make judicious choices concerning their short- and long-term mates.

In this regard, it shall be noticed that such psychological adaptations are not only about bio­lo­gical procedures such as reproduction, but also affect aspects such as patterns of sexual attraction, mate preferences, sexual desires, the development of emotions (including affec­tion or love), and others. In fact, evolved psychological mechanisms are the mere mani­fes­tation of a solution to an adaptive problem faced by our ancestors. Accordingly, each major element of a female’s sexual psychology can be interpreted as a device contemporary women inherited as a gift and meant to support them, for example in the assessment of a potential partner’s health, the detection of deceptive behaviour by non-committed fellows, or the elaboration of plans to counter the moves of other females trying to seduce or “steal” their mates. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to view these human psychological adaptations as fixed, automatic or as overly mechanical instincts triggered in behaviour irrespective of the environment or the prevailing conditions. On the contrary, each response is only activated in specific situations, remaining highly flexible and excee­dingly sensi­tive to circumstance.[1]

One may ask what musk and fragrance have to do with all this.[2] Interestingly, it has been shown that women perceive odours significantly better than men do and that they subcons­ciously use these olfactory perceptions to evaluate the value of men, for example in terms of quality of their immune system or their genetic fit. Consequently, a male only has to smell “good”, or at least suitably, in order to be attractive and taken into consideration as a valid prospect for marriage (or coitus). Hence, the candidate has nothing to do but to be himself, in line with the adage that “good stuff need not be advertised, they advertise themselves”. In addition, the connection to wine is also quickly established, as, over the years, women have obviously become seasoned connoisseurs of male sweat.

According to research, the human body produces a personal “odour print” that differs from person to the other. It is just as distinctive as our iris, our voice, or fingerprint. For instance, new-borns use it to spot and tell apart their mothers. As briefly mentioned above, a study carried out at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia showed that women have a significantly superior sense of smell compared to men, which impacts not only on their daily but also on their love life. Indeed, another research investigated whether the fragrance of a man had any positive influence on their attractiveness, appeal or sympathetic aura as perceived by women. The results were unequivocal: If she likes his smell, she will automatically assume him as more confident, sensing a positive nature in him.[3] At the same time, olfactory sensations convey all kinds of psychological associations – from the fra­grance of a drink reminding someone of a specific place or point in time to the sniff of a lover’s habitual perfume triggering romantic images and tender memories in one’s brain. Together with women’s sharp sense of smell, this intense link between scents and emotions, memory, and sexual behaviour[4], turns odours into one of the strongest ingredients in sex appeal. Many women seem to be aware of the importance of the olfaction anyway. Accor­ding to research conducted at Brown University, how someone smells is the most critical of the senses for women selecting a partner, ahead of sight, sound and touch. In other words, it is more important how her lover smells than how he (or she) looks! For men, on the other hand, the scent of a woman is far less fundamental when it comes to what turns them on (except perhaps for blind men). The reasons for this discrepancy are quite straightforward. Not only have males inherited a weaker sense of smell from their forefathers than women; what arguably matters even more is the overwhelming weight of visual cues (i.e., what men can see) in their sexual stimulation.[5],[6] Likewise, what is true for good body odours, applies to bad ones as well, namely that any form of human stench is a lethal love killer, spoi­ling both emotional attraction and sexual arousal. This phenomenon may explain the exis­tence of the locution “he really gets up my nose” (signifying “he really annoys me”)[7], which provides additional evidence of the subliminal influence the sense of smell exerts in our lives.


[1]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. xvii

[2]    Notice that this proverb is typically used to describe a person’s qualities and talent, implying that gifted people tend to be discovered sooner or later. Although its source remains unclear, the original expression (有麝自然香,何必当风立, yǒu shè zì rán xiāng hé bì dāng fēng lì) is mentioned in Ming dynasty gù Qǐyuán’s (顾起元) The Story of Jingling (客座赘语, kè zuò zhuì yǔ), as well as in Traditional Chinese Ballads and Proverbs (古谣谚, gǔ yáo yàn) a collection of ballads and proverbs compiled and annotated by Qing dynasty’s dù Wénlán’s (杜文澜).

[3]    Both studies cited in: Fischer (2008), p. 38

[4]    Brizendine (2006), p. 86

[5]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. 6

[6]    See chapters 3 “Men like, women love” and 14 “Fair lady is what gentleman seeks”.

[7]    Similar expressions are also found in French (“Je ne peux pas le sentir”) and German (“Ich kann ihn nicht riechen”), both signifying “I cannot stand him” or “I hate his guts”.

Chapter 11: A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty – Part 2

Thus, limerence carries all the symptoms of love sickness and, as such, is best defined as the “the agony and ecstasy of the individual experience of being ‘in love’.”[1] In this con­nection, it shall be noticed that “being in love” (or “falling in love”) is quite different from “loving”. While the former reflects an altered state that one can fall “into” (e.g., due to an initial impres­­sion) as easily as “out of”, the latter is based on aspects such as compassion, trust, depen­dability, respect and compromise, denoting a certain permanence. Journalist and pro­fessor of sociology Francesco Alberoni likens falling in love to taking off or flying (i.e., being high above the clouds) and love to landing (i.e., standing firmly on the ground). Simi­larly, falling in love is like a flower, whereas love is like a fruit. Although the fruit comes from the flower, both products are two different things. On that score, the question which of both, the flower or the fruit, is superior or nobler, remains irrelevant – none can exist without the other.[2]

Nevertheless, it is widely recognised that passion may disappear just as suddenly as it came. Like in dreams, infatuation only feels real while one is in them. It is only after waking up, about six to eight months later[3], that passionate lovers realise something was actually strange. In the best case, fire and ardour are superseded by a “superior” or more genuine form of love, one that is based on support, care, and concern.[4] For infatuated love to convert into romantic love, it requires several ingredients that take time to develop, e.g., inti­macy, commitment, as well as quite a bit of luck (or destiny, 缘分 yuán fèn) to develop. With­out these, the initial interest, affection and chemistry between a man and a woman may quickly dissipate. In the wake of what is called the “morning-after syndrome”, a female who looked gorgeous one day, could have a dozen of critical flaws the next. Similarly, once she gets to know Prince Charming better, her attraction to him dissolves as she finds something wrong with him or just realises that he is not the right partner for her. A common mistake women make in this regard is that they assume that if males are attracted to them physically, it means that there must be emotional affinity as well. This, however, is not automatically the case. More often than not, a man’s fascination or interest for a woman remains fugitive, as he mentally considers her as a mere potential sexual partner. The next moment, he may well draw his attention and feelings to another object who triggered exactly the same instant veneration and desires as the previous one.[5] As noticed in a different chapter, this has not necessarily to do with deception nor superficiality – it just lies in the nature of things that men are first attracted by the physical and then by the mental, and that this physical attrac­tion can be extremely short lived.[6]

Judging by the words of some of the brightest people in history, no one seems to be immune against the experience of infatuation and the rabidity, craziness, or sometimes insanity it comes along with:

The madness of love is the greatest of heaven’s blessings.

Plato, Phaedrus

Is not general incivility the very essence of love?

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.

Sigmund Freud (in a letter to his fiancée Martha Bernays)

Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do

— but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.

Albert Einstein[7]

As implied by the quotations above, the madness experienced by new lovers can certainly also encompass positive facets. The term NRE, already mentioned above, captures very well this idea of falling in love as a positive, energising process that can help people build up self-confidence, expand emotionally and acquire more expansive persona­lities.[8] Like­wise, it has been shown that love-struck adolescents slept less and at the same time enjoyed an increase in creativity.[9] Moreover, a 2010 study established that the intense feelings of eupho­ria and well-being characteristic of new romantic relationships are also directly res­pon­sible for reducing physical pain.[10]


[1]    Regan (1998), p. 96

[2]    Cited in: Pines (2005), p. 78

[3]    Brizendine (2006), p. 67

[4]    Regan (1998), p. 96

[5]    Gray (2009), pp. 156/157

[6]    See chapter 3 “Men like, women love”.

[7]    Einstein apparently scribbled these words on a letter he received from a man who suggested that the disorientation due to gravity explained why people do “foolish things like falling in love”.

[8]    Pines (2005), pp. 78/79

[9]    Cited in: Khamsi (2007)

[10]  Younger / Aron / Parke / Chatterjee / Mackey (2010)

Chapter 11: A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty

Love is blind

qíng rén yăn lĭ chū xī shī

Taken literally, this proverb[1] means that in the eye of the admirer, one’s owns dearest is always a beauty of the same category as 西施 (Xī Shī, one of the renowned Four Beauties of ancient China[2]). Given the illustrious resplendence of the latter, the comparison is a little bit far­fetched for most mortals. Hence, the adage can also be interpreted as “love sees no fault” or “love blinds a man to imperfections”. What makes this adage so remarkable is that although it must have originated from a simple observation thousands of years ago, advan­ces in medicine and psychology have recently validated it scientifically. As neuro­psy­chiatrist Louann Brizendine confirms, “falling in love is one of the most irrational beha­viors or brain states imaginable for both men and women. The brain becomes ‘illogical’ in the throes of new romance, literally blind to the shortcomings of the lover. It is an invo­lun­tary state.”[3] When examining females, she also found out that in hugging and cuddling situations, these had the tendency to (blindly) trust the hugger, which in turn induced them to “believe everything and anything” he had told them.[4]

Yet not every form of love has such dazzling power. Whoever discovered this connection first probably had “infatuated love” in mind or in memory. Under this mental state, or let’s say at this stage of a relationship, lovers are completely carried away by infantile passion, hungering for the feeling of being together, daydreaming of the joy of being adored by their darling. They cannot get enough of each other, and all their thoughts are focused on their romance. As their consciousness is permanently preoccupied with delightful thoughts about their sweetheart, they develop an intense need for daily contact with the beloved, becoming helplessly dependent on each other. As such heightened emotional and sexual receptivity and excitement are the most evident at the beginning of a love affair, they are commonly denominated “new relationship energy” (NRE), i.e., the surge of emotional and erotic bon­ding energies that characterise new (as opposed to ongoing) relationships[5]. Since the idea of infatuation is generally associated with unreality and transience, it carries the same negative connotation as terms like “crush”, “puppy love” (which are felt by young people during their childhood and or adolescence, and which denounce a certain level of imma­turity and superficiality) or the “honeymoon phase” (which occurs subsequent to some form of advanced commitment, such as marriage, whereas new relationship energy takes place much before that)[6].

Another expression signifying a rather unpromising view of passion is limerence, i.e., an involuntary state of intense romantic desire that results from the emotional attraction to another person. As an essentially unilateral feeling stimulated by uncertainty and secrecy, it comes with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s own feelings returned. Due to its intoxicating character, which can lead to severe mood fluctuations oscillating from des­pair through intense joy back to abysmal misery, sufferers experience it as a rather unplea­sant sensation.[7] Psychologist Dorothy Tennov, the originator of the term, lists a number of attributes that can be directly imputed to limerence, including: Persistent and intrusive thin­king about the beloved (or limerent object, LO), idealisation of the LO’s positive qualities, avoi­dance of considering the negative, intense awareness and dependency of mood on the LO’s actions, general intensity of feelings that leaves other concerns in the back­ground, acute longing for reciprocation, shyness, fear of rejection, intensification through adver­sity, heartache, acute sensitivity to any act, thought or condition that can be interpreted favou­rably, buoyancy (that is, a feeling of walking on air) when reciprocation seems evi­dent, inabi­lity to react limerently to more than one person at a time, etc.[8],[9]


[1]    This origin of this locution is commonly thought to be the chapter about Women (妇女, fù nǚ) in the book Néng Rén Biān (能人编) by Qing dynasty (1644–1912 AD) official Zhái Hào (翟灏).

[2]    See chapter 15 “Flowers look different through different eyes”.

[3]    Brizendine (2006), p. 66

[4]    Ibid., pp. 67-68




[8]    Tennov (1998), p. 78

[9]    Regan (1998), p. 96

Chapter 8: A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean – Part 3

These negative feelings towards women are reinforced by the ostensible volatility of their emo­tions. Their everyday experience is heavily influenced by their sensations, which they also use for decision making. Their current disposition dominates their actions to a far grea­ter extent than it does for men. Thus, a woman is and acts as she feels, and more often than not, she will also inform her fellow human beings about her state of mind and let them expe­rience how and what she feels – be it by laughing, crying, or with a nasty comment. In res­pect thereof, it appears only as normal that her deeds and interactions are characterised by ups and downs. In the 1993 guidebook Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, author John Gray likens a woman to a wave, describing the process of her feelings regularly rising and falling. For several weeks, she may feel very happy and loving. Then, suddenly, after her mood reaches its peak, she begins to have negative stimuli (accompanied by sentiments of emptiness, worry, unfulfilled needs, hopelessness, loneliness, etc.). While she sinks into darkness and a diffused mood, she partly loses her compassion for others as well as her ability to give love. Once she has hit rock bottom, her condition automatically shifts again and she feels good about herself again.[1]

Whether women like it or not, it is particularly easy for men to blame these mood swings on the strong hormonal fluctuations within the bodies and brains of the former. The ebb and flow take place according to a biologically predefined sequence of phases: The menstrual cycle. Each monthly[2] series can be divided into four distinct epi­sodes:

  • Episode I – A New Soak: This (or the) period (called the follicular phase), which by definition coincides with the beginning of the menstrual cycle, starts on the first day of the menstrual bleeding. It usually lasts 3 to 5 days, during which the vagina releases between 10 and 80 millilitres (i.e., 4 to 6 tablespoons) of menstrual fluid, a reddish-brown liquid containing blood, vaginal secretions, as well as other tissues.[3] As most women notice the breaking down and shedding of the uterine lining during menstruation, they have to live with a permanent sensation of wetness. This may provoke a certain feeling of unease and incon­venience around that time, although modern-day sanitary pads or tampons are already doing a good job at alleviating such malaise. With progesterone and oestrogen levels at their lowest, the female mood can be regarded as quite negative, but at least relatively stable.
  • Episode II – The Desire Strikes Back: The second part of the follicular phase kicks in as soon as the bleeding has stopped. It is also known as the “proli­fe­rative” phase, indicating the point when the lining of the uterus is growing and thickening (or proli­ferating) again, in preparation for a possible pregnancy. Follicles in the ovaries begin to ripen, oozing more and more oestrogens into the woman’s bloodstream. As this hor­mone is in charge of emotional receptiveness, these increasing doses of oestrogen contribute to the improvement of her well-being, mood and to the acceleration of her sex drive[4]. Not only is she more happy and positive; it is also around this time that she attains maximum fertility. She is more likely to dress provocatively, initiate sex, commit adultery, or have sexual fantasies than in any other stage of her menstrual cycle.[5]
  • Episode III – Attack of the Hormones: The proliferative phase ends with the sharp surge of luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) [6] The former causes the most mature follicle to burst open, relea­sing an egg into one of the fallopian tubes (ovulation). From there, the ovum tra­vels down to the uterus. For women with a 28-day cycle, this phase should take place on day 14, i.e., exactly at mid-cycle, and typically lasts 16 to 32 hours. Fer­ti­lisation of the egg may happen up to 12 hours after its release. Right after ovu­lation, basal body temperature rises and stays higher by about .2 to .3 degrees Cel­sius until a few days before the next menstruation.[7] Around the time of ovu­lation, some women may experience a dull pain in their lower abdomen, spe­ci­fi­cally on the same side as the ovary that just provided the egg. This sen­sation, medi­cally termed as “mittelschmerz” (literally: middle pain), may last for a few minutes to a few hours.[8] It can be accompanied by cramps, bloating or other forms of irritation. Yet, thanks to the soup of oestrogen the female hypothalamus is swimming in at that moment, women are generally quite cheerful and amiable, displaying jolliness and good temper.
  • Episode IV – The Random Menace: Ovulation marks the beginning of the last part of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase. While LH and FSH levels decrease, the closing of the ruptured follicle induces the formation of a temporary structure, the corpus luteum that has the function to prepare the uterus should impregnation occur. The presence of the corpus luteum induces the production of progesterone (the gestation hormone), which combined with the high level of oestrogen causes the uterine lining to thicken even more, ballooning with fluids and other substan­ces to nourish a poten­tial foetus. In case the egg is fecundated, a new hormone (human chorionic gonado­tropin) is added to the cocktail, whose role it is to maintain the corpus luteum.[9] Or else, i.e., if fertilisation has not taken place, the corpus luteum degene­rates, no longer producing progesterone, and after another 14 days (normally), the new menstrual cycle can begin. While progesterone is still squirting from the ovaries, brains are functioning in a sedated mode, while women grow gradually more irritable and slow, losing part of their alertness and focus. However, “in the last few days of the men­strual cycle, when progesterone collapses, this calming effect is abruptly withdrawn, leaving the brain momen­tarily upset, stressed, and irritable. […] Many women say they cry more easily and often feel out of sorts, stressed, aggressive, negative, hos­tile, or even hopeless and depressed right before their periods begin.”[10] This collec­tion of physical and emotional symptoms are commonly summa­rised under the acro­nyms PMS (pre­menstrual syndrome) and PMT (premenstrual tension). In more se­vere cases, the brutal withdrawal of the female hormones progesterone and oestro­gen may lead to even more discomforting sensations or pains, including the follo­wing: Breast tenderness or swelling, heart palpitations, headaches, joint or muscle pain, swol­len face, chronic fatigue, apathy, insomnia, hypersomnia, difficulty con­centrating, sadness, despair, tension, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, bouts of uncon­trollable crying, increased intense sensitivity to rejection or criticism, increased need for emotional closeness, feelings of being out of control, binge eating, food cravings, etc.[11]

Although the idea of mood swings and the regular discharge of a bloody substance may inspire contempt and repulsion among many men, they should be aware of the inconvenience that females have to endure month after month. The menstrual cycle is no cakewalk. Having one’s period – that’s one small leak for women, one giant schlep for womankind.

Related proverbs and citations:

女心と秋の空 (Japanese proverb)

Onna-gokoro to aki no sora

A woman’s heart and the autumn sky.

A woman’s heart is as changeable as the weather in autumn.


[1]    Gray (1993), chapter 7

[2]    Though the length and regularity of a menstrual cycle may vary, the average duration of a complete menstrual cycle is 28 days. Healthy cycles usually run from 25 to 36 days.


[4]    See chapters 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water” and 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”.

[5]    Campbell (2002), p. 48

[6]    Many contraceptive pills work by preventing this LH upsurge, thus impeding the egg’s release.

[7]    Checking the increase in temperature is a common test to estimate whether or not ovulation has occurred.

[8] menstrual_cycle.html

[9]    By the way, the most modern pregnancy tests are designed to detect an increase in the human chorionic gonadotropin level.

[10]  Brizendine (2006), p. 45


Chapter 8: A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean

nǚrén xīn hǎi dǐ zhēn

If one single proverb was to summarise or to excuse the problems men have understanding women, it would probably be this one. The seemingly elusive, impenetrable character of the female has preoccupied people for several centuries, frustrating some of history’s greatest thinkers, as the following quotes testify:

 O most delicate fiend!

Who is’t can read a woman?

William Shakespeare, Cymbeline

Everything in woman is a riddle[1]

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra


Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx Without a Secret


The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’[2]

Sigmund Freud (in a letter to Marie Bonaparte)

Women. They are a complete mystery.

Stephen Hawking, in reply to the question:

“What do you think most about during the day?”[3]

They are not alone. Poets, novelists, and philosophers have always described the mystery of women and the challenge of understanding the female psyche. Bemused by women’s beha­viour, they find themselves at sea when it comes to figuring out what they want. For most men, a woman’s heart is, as the proverb implies, like a needle at the bottom of the ocean – a place infinitely vaster than a haystack and that is affected by all kinds of internal and external forces. Not only can it be a challenging task to pinpoint their exact physical or emo­tional state (“Is she really all right? Didn’t she exaggerate her pain this time?”). Some­times, their condition also depends heavily on their mood and sentiments at that very moment (“What happened today? She would not react like that usually”), which can be dif­ficult to apprehend. Such male perplexity occurs under circumstantial conditions (e.g., when quarrelling, or during discussions about where to spend the next summer holidays) as well as in situations where oppositions between the sexes are more fundamental and critical issues are at stake, such as courtship or mating strategies (“Does she prefer her husband to be a tough and successful business executive or a soft family man? Should he passionately ravish and masterfully dominate her or stick with the tender cuddling and remain caring and loving? Does she expect him to take the initiative or is she going to consider his move as too aggressive or even rude?”).


[1]    Original: “Alles am Weibe ist ein Rätsel.”

[2]    Original: “Die grosse Frage, die nie beantwortet worden ist und die ich trotz dreißig Jahre langem Forschen in der weiblichen Seele nie habe beantworten können, ist die: Was will das Weib?”

[3]    Hawking (2012)

Chapter 3: Men like, women love – Part 3

One direct consequence of men’s susceptibility to visual materials and faculty to diffe­rentiate love and sex is their inclination or hope to have as many sexual partners as pos­sible. While women prefer sex within an emotional, stable, monogamous relationships, men effectively have the disposition to seek a variety of mates, just for the sake of variety. In a survey conducted among unmarried American men and women between the ages of eighteen and thirty, for instance, it was established that males wanted to have eighteen part­ners over their entire lifetime, while women were satisfied with only four partners, i.e., more than four times less. Within the next three years, men stated that ten would be good, ver­sus two for women. And for the next year, men wanted six partners – that’s one every two months – whereas women only desired one.[1] Other researchers found out that men fan­tasise not less than twice as often as women during sex, and that 88 percent of men admitted mentally switching partners or imagining multiple partners during the course of a single fan­tasy session (compared to 57 percent for women)[2].

Yet evolutionary psychology and the natural urge to procreate justifies much more than intrinsic promiscuity of males[3]. They both play an eminent role and provide particularly persuasive arguments in the explanation of mating behaviour and of gender differences in human sexuality. For a man, sex usually carries an extremely high priority, as it represents his only alternative for reproduction. In order to achieve this innate goal of passing down his chromosomes to the next generation, he chooses to have sex with a large number of women. Although he might not carry through on this instinct, he certainly has the drive to attempt to inseminate legions of females. For him, having twenty partners means that he can poten­tially yield at least as many babies per year. Therefore, he has a lot to gain by being easily aroused and by attempting to procreate. For a woman, on the other hand, it makes no evo­lutionary sense to have 20 lovers, as she can only bear one child every nine months. For her, more sex does not necessarily mean a higher fertility.

Powerful sex drive, easy arousal, quick on the draw, visual stimulation, ability to separate love from sex, preference for partner diversity, capacity to breed at practically any time, any place, and under almost any circumstances, etc. – all these facets of apparent male promiscuity often lead women to think and openly deplore that men are “dick driven”. The late comedian Robin Williams (a man) recognised and circumscribed this problem in a rather humorous way, declaring that God gave men a brain and a penis, but only enough blood to run one at a time… And that’s not too far from the truth. In many occasions, sex does actually supersede male brain activity. This explains why sometimes a man can find his rational thought overwhelmed instantly when he is strongly attracted to a woman. This phenomenon does not occur by accident but can be proven scientifically. According to neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, the space allo­cated to sexual drive in male brains is two and a half times larger than in female brains.[4]

Considering that a man’s body produces about ten times more testosterone than a woman’s body on average, it should not come as a surprise that the male sex drive is so powerful and urgent, at least from a female perspective. This hormone does not only make men hairier (yet paradoxically provoking baldness), bigger, stronger, and more aggressive than women but also much hornier. In this regard, it may be interesting to notice that testosterone levels in single males (who have not yet succeeded in passing on their genes and are therefore still on the chase) are significantly higher than in married men and fathers (who have moved onto a more nurturing, less aggressive, role).[5] Similarly, human ethnicities with males showing relatively lower testosterone readings (e.g., Asians) have less sex than others (Cau­casians, black men), but are also less prone to violent crimes and rape. Reciprocally, the only women who have sex drives resembling men’s – i.e., frequent sexual arousal; sparked off by visual stimuli like pictures or the sight of strangers; in certain cases leading to a pres­sing need to masturbate; recurring desire; to have casual intercourse; with random people; for bodily gratification – are those with abnormally high blood levels of male sex hormones. This phenomenon, however, applies to less than 20 percent of all women.[6]

What is more, men also have a larger hypothalamus, the portion of the brain that controls functions like blood pressure or heart rate, as well as primordial drives such as thirst and hunger. Together with the amygdala, which is in charge of processing and memory of emotional reactions, they constitute the lust centres in our brain. During arousal, both parts become active, initiating the secretion of dopamine, a neurotransmitter[7] responsible for the feeling of well-being. This, in turn, triggers the release of a cocktail of hormones[8], including oestrogen and testosterone. The latter is the chemical fuel that sets the brain’s sexual engine in motion, and as such is a key catalyst in the induction of sex drive. When there is enough juice, the hypothalamus gives the signal to fire up the rocket, igniting red-hot feelings, physical excitement and sensual friction fantasies. At that very moment, the whole system is just a few moments away from lift off, and the thruster ready to be drained.


Related proverbs and citations:


shuí dòng xīn shuí xiān sĭ

He who is touched dies first.

In love, there is no equal. The person who loves more will always be the one to suffer.


[1]    Buss (2003), p. 77

[2]    Ellis / Symons (1990)

[3]    See chapter 35 “No cat can resist snatching fish”.

[4]    Brizendine (2006), p. 5

[5]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 14

[6]    Ibid.

[7]    A neurotransmitter is a chemical that is released from a nerve cell which thereby transmits an impulse from a nerve cell to another nerve, muscle, organ, or other tissue. A neurotransmitter is a messenger of neurologic information from one cell to another. (Source:

[8]    A hormone is a chemical messenger that carries a signal from one cell (or group of cells) to another. Hormones are essential for every activity of daily living, including the processes of digestion, metabolism, growth, reproduction, and mood control. (Source:

Chapter 1: Men are like mud, women are like water

nán ní nǚ shuǐ

Incidentally, the first expression in the series is not a proverb in the truest sense of the term but a quote from Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦, hóng lóu mèng) by Cáo Xuěqín[1] (曹雪芹), arguably one of the greatest masterpieces of Chinese literature.[2] The words are uttered by the male protagonist, Jiǎ Bǎoyù (贾宝玉). A tactful, compassionate and sensi­tive young man, Bǎoyù asserts that women are made of water, or, at the very least, remain as pure as water, whereas men are mere chunks of clay or mud, unformed and soiled. He shuns the latter for their moral and spiritual inferiority, quite in the image of his own cousin, a disso­lute rake known for his amorous exploits with both men and women. Indeed, Xuē Pán (薛蟠) embo­dies all the possible deplorable and disgusting charac­teristics of a male, inclu­ding indolence, uncouthness, inconsideration, and so on. A local bully, he even kills some­one over a slave girl and has his case covered up with money, demonstrat­ing how far cor­ruption can go. Although not all men reach this level of tastelessness or de­pravity, they undoubtedly repre­sent the gender with the lesser grace, mildness and vir­tue. Men’s pilosity, deeper voices, crime statistics, the volume of body noises emitted, or their greater incli­nation to con­sume sti­­mu­lants (alcohol, tobacco, etc.) are but a few examples to under­line this state­ment.

Yet, if men’s physiques are rough and angular, their temperaments pugnacious and impul­sive, and their manners vulgar and selfish, it is only because it has been made possible by evolution. Their bodies and minds were originally fashioned for strength, agility and speed, as their pur­pose was to run, to seek, to capture, and to kill in order to provide for their community. Testosterone gushing through their blood vessels plays an instrumental role in the process. Not only does it drive the fabrication of male reproductive tissues (in parti­cular the testis and the prostate) and the maturation of sex organs; it also fosters the growth of body hair, the building up of muscle mass and strength, the increase of bone density, etc., giving men their muscular and robust, i.e., virile, shape. Since men have about ten times more testosterone in their blood than women, it is impossible that the human anatomy stays unaffected by this sexual differentiation. The brain itself constitutes no exception and is heavily influenced by the amount and magnitude of hormonal fluxes. Consequently, testo­sterone levels play a major role in the explanation of gender discre­pancies in the develop­ment of essential cognitive and sensorial functions, such as attention, memory, spa­tial abi­lity, attachment, caring, risk tolerance, aggressiveness, the tendency toward vio­lence or sui­cide, and so forth.[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

Inversely, the female body is much curvier, fuller, and softer. Just by looking at it, one understands immediately that it has been designed for protection, cosiness and nourishment. The key biological ingredients in the formation of that source (others may also worship it as a temple) of comfort and well-being are oestrogens. While they are part of both males’ and females’ blood chemistries, they are usually present at significantly higher levels in women of reproductive age, dominating their hormonal balance. Oestrogens are involved in the shaping of female secondary sexual chara­cteristics (for example, breasts, larger fat stores, redu­ced muscle mass), are partly respon­sible for regulating the menstrual cycle, and contri­bute to other cardinal functions of the repro­duction system (e.g., the increase of uterine growth, acceleration of vaginal lubri­cation, thickening of the vaginal wall). Finally, they are also connected to mental health, as a fluctuation, persisting low levels, or a sudden with­drawal of oestrogen may cause a woman’s mood to decline.[8],[9],[10],[11],[12]


[1]    Following the local convention, all Chinese names throughout the text are written with the family name first (in cap­ital letters) and the given name next. In the present example, Cáo is the family name, while Xuěqín is the given name.

[2]   Dream of the Red Chamber (also known as The Story of the Stone) is arguably the most famous of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese (四大名著, sì dà míng zhù, literally “Four Great Masterpieces”), the other three being Water Margin (水浒传, shuǐ hǔ zhuàn), Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义, sān guó yǎn yì), and Journey to the West (西游记, xī yóu jì).


[4]    Ridley (1993), pp. 254-258

[5]    Pease / Pease (1999), pp. 187-189

[6]    Campbell (2002), pp. 35, 290

[7]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 15


[9]    Pease / Pease (1999), p. 182

[10]  Brizendine (2006), pp. 33-35

[11]  Pease / Pease (2009), p. 188

[12]  See chapter 8 “A woman’s heart is as deep as the ocean”.