The One Thing Women Want More Than Love Is The One Thing Men Find It Hard to Give

We’ve all heard that Women need to feel loved to have sex. Men need to have sex to feel loved. There seems to be some truth to here, but what does it really mean? In my article, The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex Is The One Thing Women Find It Hard to Give, I asked if it was true that, for men, sex was the most important thing in their lives.

When I was 17 years old I was sure it was true. When I was 37 years old, I suspected it might not be true. And now that I’m 73 years old, I know it’s not true. Now don’t get me wrong, sex can be wonderful at any age, but there’s something that is more important than sex, but it’s something that men have difficulty admitting and women have difficulty giving.

In this article, I want to explore the other side of the question. Is there something that women want more than love? And a broader set of questions including these. Do women want sex as much as men? Do men want love as much as women? Are there differences between women’s desires and men’s desires? Is the battle of the sexes inevitable or can there be peace and harmony between men and women, without losing our passionate connections?

In order to answer these questions, it helps to know a little bit about the field of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology seeks to reconstruct problems that our ancestors faced in their primitive environments, and the problem-solving behaviors they created to meet those challenges. Understanding our evolutionary roots helps us better understand why men and women are the way they are.

Biologists have a very simple and useful definition of what is male and what is female, whether we are fish, ferns, or human beings making our way in our African homeland. An individual can either produce many small gametes (sex cells) or fewer but larger gametes. The individuals that produce smaller gametes are called “males,” and the ones that make larger gametes are called “females.”

These obvious biological facts have huge implications for our lives. It’s easier to move the smaller gametes to the larger ones, than vice versa. As a result, males compete with other males to have access to the females. Females choose the male that she fancies the most to mate with. Female mammals, including humans, carry the baby inside their bodies, and nurse the newborn child.

To understand what women want more than love, you have to place yourself in the shoes of our female ancestors. Imagine that you live in East Africa 100,000 years ago. You are born and raised in a closely knit family and when you come of age, you hope to have a man who will be a good hunter and provider and a good protector.

But you face dangers that men don’t have to face. In order for the species to survive human females had to become pregnant, but pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous activities. Remember, no birth control pills 100,000 years ago. So, if you got pregnant you were at greater risk from being killed by a lion or a leopard. Try running fast and climbing a tree to get out of harm’s way when you’re pregnant. If you survived the pregnancy, you had to worry about the risks of giving birth. Many women died in childbirth.

Let’s imagine all goes well and you have a beautiful, healthy baby. You’re still at greater risk because now you have to protect yourself and your baby. You may have to put your own life on the line to protect your child. But there’s another danger that is different for women than for men. When a woman gives birth there is no question whether the baby is her baby, that the little one carries her genes. This isn’t the case for males.

Biologically, one of the risks for men is that he would take care of a child that wasn’t his own. If the baby isn’t his, he spends years raising a child that doesn’t carry his genes. As a result, men are always worried about insuring their paternity. There’s a saying, “mother’s baby, daddy’s maybe.” As a result men can became aggressive, not only toward other men who might want to have sex with his partner, but towards their woman who might cheat. All women know the fear of dealing with an angry, jealous man who is accusing her of sexual infidelity.

If surviving wild animals, the risks of giving birth, rape from male strangers, and jealous husbands wasn’t enough, women had to worry about run-of-the-mill domestic violence. She might face assault from a mate who had a bad hunting day and took his anger out on her. It took me a long time to fully appreciate the fears that women live with every day. I’m sure, being a man, I’ll never fully understand the many fears that are at the core of women’s life experience, but empathizing can help.

But what I’ve learned has helped me understand what women want more than love. I believe that what women want more than love is a partner that they can feel safe with. They want a partner who understands the inherent dangers in being a woman and who is committed to playing his part in protecting her. We don’t have to worry so much about wild animals these days, but women still worry about other men and they worry even more about the man they are living with.

Why do men have a difficult time giving women the feelings of safety they need? First, because the aggression that is built into men that allows them to hunt and kill wild animals and to fend off male competitors can’t always be turned off when he is at home with his wife and family. Second, because he is vulnerable to rejection. If a woman turns him down or cuts him off, he may react with anger. Third, because men feel less needed today than ever before and their roles are unclear, they are much more reactive and their anger can be set off more easily.

So, there is a downward cycle that I’ve seen in my own marriage and in many others. From the man’s point of view, he gets angrier when a woman closes down and withdraws. From a woman’s perspective, she closes down in response to his anger. We each think we’re merely reacted to the other. I remember yelling at my wife, “Of course I get angry. Who wouldn’t get angry, when your wife closes you out?” She would quietly respond from her own wounded center. “Of course I shut down. Who wouldn’t shut down when you’re being assaulted by an angry man?”

So, what’s the solution? It helped me to be less angry when I understood that my anger was making my wife more fearful. It helped her to reconnect more quickly when she realized that her withdrawal contributed to my pain, loneliness, and anger. We must both understand the evolutionary challenges we face in finding a mate and having children. It’s confusing for us all and contributes to the anxiety, anger, or depression that is so prevalent in our world today.

Do men and women both want love? Of course they do. Do men and women both want sex? Yes, again. Yet, we faced different challenges 100,000 years ago and we face different challenges today. Women still carry the babies and men must still compete to be chosen. To have more sex and love in our lives, we both must learn to provide real safety—a safe harbor for men and a safe partner for women.

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  1. Rose Kaufman says:

    I realized after many times being rejected myself when trying to initiate sex, my husbands had/has a vitural girlfriend(s) and is caught in that web. So I’m assuming it less risky, less fulfilling but it where he’s at. With that it less risky less fulfilling for me to even try plus his desire to protect me isn’t really there so therefore I really don’t have a desire to be intimate with him. But I will not disrespect him by being with someone else, it goes against my values. All this to say is that I think he let his fear of rejection over take him. I also think he’s a bit selfish too.

    • Rose,
      Thanks for the comment. People do get scared and our past stresses and pains growing up in our families often carries over into our adult relationships. Healing can happen, but it does take a willingness to hang in there and go deeper. That’s why I wrote my book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why Too Many Stop at Stage 3.

  2. It is also knowing that he will “be there” no matter what. Not only be physically present but mentally and emotionally engaged and supportive. That is such a basic need in order to feel safe.

  3. I agree, Jed. In writing my book, “The 5 Personality Patterns”, I went a step farther. I came to the conclusion that feeling safe is the first and most fundamental thing we all need, both men and women, and that most of our other defensive actions are really safety strategies, ways to make ourselves feel safer. So anger, leaving, appeasing, withdrawing, etc are all ways we try to feel safer and buffer ourselves from how scared we feel.

    • Steven,
      I agree. Feeling safe is important for men and women and it is basic in my experience as well. I think what men need to feel safe is slightly different than what women need, but we’re more alike than different.

  4. Jed, thank you for putting this so clearly. This fits in very well with what we teach men in The Art Of Masculinity. I’m going to send this out to a lot of men and also once again recommend they all follow what you offer to us. I’m very grateful for your insight. Regards.

  5. Hi Jed, this is a great article especially after reading the article you wrote about the one thing men want more than love. With the differences in society today that you mention in your article – can you give me some examples of ways in which a man could engineer or identify a situation to demonstrate that he is a safe partner to his wife/girlfriend?

    • Dan,
      The main way men can let women know they are with a save man is to recognize women’s natural fears of being hurt. Often men get angry and don’t realize how scary that is to women. If we can acknowledge that our anger makes women fearful, we can begin to work on our anger and find ways to express our own hurts and fears without scaring women. Women also have to work on the ways they shame men, without meaning to do so.

      Hope this helps.

  6. Gregory S Sanders says:

    Hi Jed, First, from my point of view your comparison of today’s couples and individuals from 100,000 years ago was not only enlightening but spot on. I think sometimes we forget that physiologically we have not change and remembering this can help us adapt to modern sociological problems. That said, I do have a question regarding the her’s maybe his comment in this article. I am in a relationship where my children are biologically not mine. They are aware of this but it is of little concern to them due to the abandonment of their biological father. My problem is not so much with my boys but with my spouse and the individuals in her immediate family and social circle. My role and what is expected of me seems to be viewed and determined by the biological factors associated with being a parent. I do not agree, due to the fact that in my mind and from an emotional standpoint the boys are my children. Do you have any advice on how I can (a) positively combat the external opinions regarding my role and (b) how can I effectively deal with these circumstances so my behavior does not have a negative impact on my kids.

    • Gregory,

      Thanks for the question. When Carlin and I got together, my daughter came to live with us as did her youngest son. We each had to learn what it meant to “parent” a child that was not ours biologically. I didn’t want to replace Aaron’s biological father and Carlin didn’t want to replace Angela’s mother, but it was a tricky process to find our own comfort zones, both with the children, our spouse, and extended families. I realized I had held back some of my involvement with Aaron out of my fears, until he told me at a retreat for young men, that he always wanted me to be a “father to him.” And he had no conflict about having two fathers. So, find your own path, but don’t be afraid to do all the fathering that feels right for you. Most kids want as much as they can get.

  7. BINGO Jed! With an epidemic of domestic violence, most often toward women and children, PHYSICAL SAFETY is a basic human need for women. The United Nations has a perspective on this universal need for safety and how these basic human rights are being routinely violated for women: Your article is so interesting with how you took us back to ancestral generations. Males have always tended to be built physically stronger than females for hunting and providing. It makes sense that females, while carrying and nursing young children (divine gifts from the Creator in my opinion) need to be protected from the harsh, sometimes gruesome realities on planet earth. Instead, in this age, the wounded male strength has typically been turned against females to even murder them and their young. Look at the Family Court Crisis, which now exists and exposes, how females need to protect themselves from male violence and a patriarchal legal system. We are so dysfunctional, now as a culture, that battered women and children are re-traumatized and even killed when needing to escape male violence in order to survive. Where now is the refuge for battered women and children? I hope we start taking domestic violence seriously and turn this back to the protective, supportive, genuine, common sense masculine attributes which you talk so eloquently about in this article. Then we can focus on emotional safety in male-female relationships. Thanks Jed!

    • Pamela,
      All your points are well taken. We are certainly living at a time when we have to continue to provide safety and justice for all. Our dysfunctional system of supports for women definitely needs to be healed. It harms women, men, and children when we don’t have healthy outlets for our energies and our system of supports doesn’t work as well as it could.

  8. Hi Jed, Comparing how men and women feel safe with members of the other gender would be useful. In this modern age men are at a much greater risk of not feeling safe with women than vis versa. Women are now economically independent, they can have children without a spouse getting support from other women and the state, they do not need men to bring home the game. Men are more marginalized in the family unit because they are not the sole bread winner, divorce laws favour women, they must face even stiffer competition for jobs and mates, they can be replaced by sperm donated by a more suitable partner, and they STILL are the most vulnerable emotionally because women still do the choosing and men are still expected to initiate the mating dance.

    • It isn’t easy recognizing the different vulnerabilities of the other sex. If we’re a guy, we see the way we are marginalized from the family when we go through a divorce. If we’re a woman, we see the ways in which we economically suffer in a divorce. Neither of us recognizes the systemic oppression that harms men and women. My purpose in writing is to help us all be heard and stop the shaming and blaming about who’s had it the worst and begin to “walk a mile in the other’s moccasins” and find the understanding and love that often feels lost.

  9. I really liked this post, because it shows that there are still men who want to live as primitives, that is, look at women seeking only sex, women really think differently want love, affection and romanticism and man only feel their pleasure and nothing more. More how to change this primitive culture of men?

    • Sara,
      I think we all have a “primitive” side where we are focused on our reproductive survival. Men are more drawn to finding new partners for sex (the more babies, the more our genetic line survives). Women are more drawn to finding the right man and holding on, until a better prospect comes along (she isn’t going to get more babies by having sex with more men). We also want more. Men, like women, want to feel safe, want to have real, lasting love, and fear being left and abandoned. My hope in writing these posts is to give us better understanding of what the other sex must deal with so we can become better friends and lovers.