Women’s Bodies & Sexuality

Women’s bodies 1:
A few general observations

Men’s bodies and women’s bodies are obviously different as far as their sexual equipment is concerned, but the differences go way beyond this.

The basic gender difference between men and women comes from a difference in their genes. Women have two sets of X chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y chromosome.

Developmentally, all babies would develop a feminine body, were it not for the presence of the Y chromosome in some – this causes a baby to develop into a boy. 

However, there are developmental possibilities which lie between the two genders of male and female: for example, a person may end up with two X chromosomes and one Y, or a person may have a Y and an X chromosome but with a genetic insensitivity to testosterone, which results in the development of a female body. 

At birth, the sex organs and glands are already different in girls and boys. There are also some differences in the way the brain is “wired” in the two sexes.

But nothing much happens physically in our sexual development until puberty, which starts between the ages of 11 and 15, with girls generally starting puberty a year earlier than boys.

At this point, the female sex hormone, estrogen, is produced in young women, which brings on menstruation, and later causes ovulation. The first menstruation is called menarche, and the menstrual cycle is often quite irregular in the beginning.

Ovulation becomes established one to two years after the first menstruation occurs. Additionally,  changes in the shape of the girl’s body start to happen.  A girl will grow taller, with her hips and thighs becoming more curvy due to fat being laid down. Her pubic hair starts to grow, as well as axillary hair in her armpits. 

We are fortunate that gender differences give rise to sexual attraction
We are fortunate that gender differences give rise to sexual attraction

Her breasts will start to swell and follow her monthly hormonal cycle in terms of sensitivity and fullness. Breasts (scientifically known as “mammary glands”) were originally sweat glands, which have been adapted during evolution to secrete milk for infants.

Each breast is unique in its shape and size; they vary greatly between women and indeed for the same woman over the course of her life. Each breast has a central ring of pigmented skin called the areola, with a nipple in the middle. Quite often, women’s breasts don’t match up exactly, just like the two sides of your face are not exactly the same.

As puberty progresses, the internal and external sex organs grow and the vaginal wall thickens. Vaginal secretions may start to appear. Again, each women’s genitals are unique in shape, size, color and texture.

There are other differences between female bodies and male bodies in the skeleton, muscles and bodily fat. Women have a wider pelvis than men to accommodate a growing baby and give birth, whereas a man’s greater body weight requires a heavier and larger pelvis.

Women have a higher percentage of body fat (20 – 25% by weight) to carry us through the bad times and help us stay wonderfully curvy, compared to men, whose bodies are 10- 20% fat by weight. Obviously, there is a lot to say about body image and fat for women, which I will talk more about later.

Men end up developing more muscles, which in general makes them stronger than women. However, they do not necessarily have greater stamina than women. Additionally, their voices change to a lower pitch during puberty.

How to please a woman in bed
We are all familiar with male – female bodily differences

Around the mid-forties, women’s bodies change again as their estrogen and progesterone production falls. The menopause starts to set in with a loss of fertility, a thinning of vaginal walls and sometimes changes in the bones.

However, the menopause is not automatically the end of a woman’s sex life, her sexual desire or her physical attractiveness. Today, women want to live their lives fully beyond their mid-life changes – and we’re getting this, with some excellent role models to prove it. 

For a male view of what it’s like to live in a male body, go here.

Source for the facts cited in this page: ABC of Sexual Health (2005) Second edition edited by John M Tomlinson, British Medical Journal Books and Blackwell Publishing.

Women’s bodies 2:
What’s it like to live in one?

It’s one of those really interesting thoughts about life. What would it be like to live in the body of the opposite sex?

Even if your personality and relationships could somehow remain unchanged, I believe it would have a big impact on your life.

It’s no wonder men and women find it so hard to understand each other given that even their physical frames of reference, i.e. their bodies, are so different. So here is my view on what it can means to live in a woman’s body.

 Fact 1: Women are physically weaker than men (generally speaking) .

Have you ever thought about what this might mean for a woman?

Men are, on average, stronger than women
Men are, on average, stronger than women

If you are a man, imagine that all your male friends, the ones with whom you hang out with all the time, were a head taller than you and a lot stronger than you could ever be, even if you used all your energy.

Even if your friends were all nice people, you’d end up feeling pretty vulnerable. I believe living as a woman can mean one is only too aware of one’s physical vulnerability in the world.

Also, brute force isn’t an option to settle conflicts. And knowing you can’t really win a physical confrontation (unless you really go all out to hurt the other person) might mean you develop other ways of handling confrontations, like talking about things.

Psychologically, you also need to be able to tolerate and cope with your increased vulnerability in the world by developing a sense of acceptance of your own physical limitations.

 Fact 2: Most adult women go through menstruation every month.

The monthly cycle becomes part of your adult life as a woman. Some women really like it as they feel in touch with nature’s rhythms and the possibility of their becoming a mother.

However, I think women much more commonly experience menstruation as a real drawback in their lives. Imagine what it means: every single month you may end up feeling emotional and unsettled for 3-4 days before menstruation even starts.

Your body retains more water and your breasts become uncomfortable – as can the rest of your body. Then the blood starts to flow, which is a messy thing in itself.

You may experience intense cramps in your lower abdomen to the point were the pain becomes excruciating.

You may feel sick, drained of all your energy, depressed and potentially stressed out, because your life doesn’t stop being demanding just because it’s this time of the month.

On top of that, many societies have developed a lot of shame and many taboos about menstruation. You may feel very embarrassed and unsure of yourself. Often,  couples don’t have sex during this time, so you might also feel less loved.

And all this happens every month, regardless of whether you want it or not. What’s more, on average it takes a week to run its course, which means a quarter of your adult life might be spent in this state. Well, any man willing to volunteer for this? 

Of course there’s also at least one good thing about it: you could perhaps have a baby if you wanted to. Also, with the advent of good, over-the-counter painkillers, most women (at least in the western world) can take the edge off the discomfort.

The pill can be great in easing the discomfort, too. The normal contraceptive pill is taken for three weeks and one week break.

During the break a “withdrawal bleed” occurs, which is a bit like a normal period, just much less hassle: less pain, less blood, less energy drain and shorter duration. The pill can therefore be a good way to avoid painful periods.

How would you  deal with menstruation?

Psychologically, I believe it increases one’s sense of vulnerability, and not just at the times when it’s happening.

Also, your body might feel at times more like an enemy than a trusted friend (or tool). You may not wish to go through any of this, but your body has its own agenda regardless of what you want.

Short of mutilating yourself (with a voluntary hysterectomy) there is not much you can do about it. Therefore, I believe living with a woman’s body really challenges one’s need or wish to be in control. You just have to go with what is, rather than feeling you can do what you want.

Fact 3: Sex with a man can get you pregnant.

Having one or two babies might be your dearest wish or the best thing you ever do in your life.

Even if that is the case, having many children probably wouldn’t be desirable in this day and age. Certainly looking after, say, 10 children seems like a recipe for misery for everybody involved, children and parents alike, when you think of feeding, clothing, housing and supporting them emotionally.

So, being able to regulate one’s own fertility has been one of the great quests for mankind from the time of the Ancient Egyptians onward.

Today, we have efficient contraception, but that doesn’t mean everyone has access to it, knows how to use it, or is disciplined enough to use it. And some people don’t think they have a moral right to use contraception because of their religious beliefs. 

Imagine what it would be like to want sex while wondering whether this would be the time you’d be signing yourself up for twenty years of parenthood, which happens to be the last thing you want right now!

This doesn’t sound like a turn-on to me! If you’re educated enough and have access to the pill, you could deal with it beforehand, or you could try and deal with it during sex, which is very hard for lots of women to do (“I must tell him to stop and use a condom”), or you could forget about it and hope for the best (or worst) while you try to relax and enjoy the experience.

It certainly doesn’t help that there is both misinformation and a lack of information about contraception around: women are often left to bear the cost in their personal lives, both emotionally and practically.

What’s more, if you don’t want to become pregnant, you might feel like your body has the capacity to let you down in a big way.

It/She has its own agenda on reproduction, no matter what you think or feel about the idea. This also means that you’re the one who ultimately has to deal with the potential of a pregnancy, because it’s your future on the line. (And, in past centuries, where there was a high rate of fatality while giving birth, it could quite literally be your life on the line, too.)

Fact 4: You can give birth to a new life.

Many men would give all they have to have the ability to give life to a new human being. As a woman this potential usually comes with the package. It’s certainly a powerful thing to feel one is able to create a miracle. And even if one doesn’t really ever take up the option it’s still quite nice to have the choice. 

Summary

I hope these thoughts have given you some insights into what it’s like to live in a female body.

It may sound quite negative, but I guess there is more: a potential spiritual connection to the world and even life itself, past and present. The delightfully smooth and round curves, the graciousness with which one can move…it’s pretty good really, and I wouldn’t swap mine for anything!

And, by the way, I’m sure a man can enjoy being in his body as much as a woman can!

More information on relationships can be here, from a site about love, sexuality and gender.

For a man’s view of living in a male body, click here.

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