Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget: Surprising Findings from The New Science of Gender-Specific Medicine

“Men and women think differently, approach problems differently, emphasize the importance of things differently, and experience the world around us through entirely different lenses,” says Marianne J. Legato, M.D., Founder of the Foundation for Gender Specific Medicine and author of numerous books on men and women including, Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget.

The field of gender-specific medicine is less than 25 years old.  In 1992, Dr. Legato  published  The Female Heart: The Truth About Women and Coronary Artery Disease and revealed that women’s presenting symptoms of heart disease are taken less seriously than men–and when women undergo cardiac surgery, they are less likely than men to survive.  Further, her team learned that heart disease often presents differently in men and women.   Men more often feel a crashing pain in their chest, while women more often experience fleeting pain in the upper abdomen, shortness of breath, and sweating.

Prior to Dr. Legato’s work, the assumption was the men and women were essentially the same except for issues specifically related to our reproductive functions.  But since Dr. Legato’s research in the 1990s the field of gender medicine has flourished.  There is now an International Society for Gender Medicine (IGM) and national societies in Austria, Germany, Israel, Italy, Sweden, and the U.S.

Males and Females Are Different In Every Cell of Our Bodies

According to David C. Page, M.D., professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and director of the of the Whitehead Institute, where he conducts research studies of mammalian sex chromosomes and their roles in cell development.  He says, “There are 10 trillion cells in human body and every one of them is sex specific.” 

It has been said that our genomes are 99% identical from one person to the next.  “It turns out that this assertion is correct,” says Dr. Page, “as long as the two individuals being compared are both men.  It’s also correct if the two individuals being compared are both women.  However, if you compare the genome of a man with the genome of a woman, you’ll find that they are only 98.5% identical.”

In other words,” says Dr. Page, “the genetic difference between a man and a woman are 15 times greater than the genetic difference between two men or between two women.” 

Let us consider my wife, Carlin, and myself.  I am as similar to my wife genetically as I am to a male chimpanzee.  My wife and I, and the chimpanzee and I, both share 98.5% of our genes.  This may help to account for the fact that men and women sometimes have a difficult time communicating with each other.

Our Gender-Specific Brains Causes Us to Think and Act Differently

Louann Brizendine, M.D. is a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco and Co-director of the UCSF Program in Sexual Medicine.   Dr. Brizendine graduated from UC, Berkeley in Neurobiology, Yale University in Medicine and Harvard Medical School in Psychiatry.  She’s written two informative books on the subject appropriately titled The Female Brain and The Male Brain.

Here are some of the significant differences in the brain structure and function she describes in the books:The Anterior Cingulate Cortex weighs options and makes decisions. It’s the worry-wort center, and it’s larger in women than men.

  • The Medial Preoptic Area is the area for sexual pursuit. It’s 2.5 times larger in the male.
  • The Prefrontal Cortex rules the emotions and keeps them from going wild. It’s larger in women, and matures faster in women than in men by one to two years.
  • The Temporal Parietal Junction is the solution seeker. It’s more active in the male brain, comes on-line more quickly, and races toward a “fix-it-fast” solution.
  • The Insula is the center for gut feelings. It’s larger and more active in women.
  • The Hippocampus is the center for emotional memory. It’s the elephant that never forgets a fight, a romantic encounter, or a tender moment—and won’t let you forget it either.  It’s larger and more active in women.

There Are Good, Gender-Specific Reasons, Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget

Women have a higher rate of blood flow to parts of the brain associated with memory.  According to Dr. Marianne Legato, M.D., “This is one of the reasons researchers give for the overwhelming evidence that women have better immediate and delayed recall of the spoken word.”  Women’s higher levels of estrogen also helps with memory.  “Higher levels of it are associated with improved learning and memory,” says Dr. Legato, “and this may be why women are better at these tasks.

Estrogen is also an element in the key finding that women remember stressful events better than men do.  Here’s why.  Estrogen not only activates a larger field of neurons in women during an upsetting experience, meaning that they experience the stress more intensely, but it also prolongs the amount of time that the adrenal gland secretes the stress hormone, cortisol—which happens to be a natural memory booster.

Learning to Hear the Sound That Our Cells Sing Can Help Us All to Live Well

Understanding who we are can only help us prevent disease and heal more quickly.  The poet Robert Bly said that it is important for boys to spend time with older men in the tribe in order to “hear the sound that male cells sing.”  Clearly he understood the importance of being in touch with who we are as either males or females.  Think about what it means to have each of our cells “singing” a male song if we’re men or a female song if we’re women.

“So all your cells know on a molecular level whether they are XX or XY,” says Dr. Page.  “It is true that a great deal of the research going on today which seeks to understand the causes and treatments for disease is failing to account for this most fundamental difference between men and women.”

Page concludes, “We need to build a better tool kit for researchers that is XX and XY informed rather than our current gender neutral stance.  We need a tool kit that recognizes the fundamental difference on a cellular, organ, system, and person level between XY and XX.  I believe that if we do this, we will arrive at a fundamentally new paradigm for understanding and treating human disease.”

What do you think? Please share your thoughts, questions, and experiences below in the comments section.

I’d also like to invite you to join me for an ongoing conversation on Twitter @MenAliveNow

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  1. Thank you for sharing these findings.
    I am NOT surprised when I consider the large challenges I faced getting to know or pursuing the women I found attractive. Once I established relationships we would explore our commonalities and then be frustrated, surprised and amazed by our differences. I recall (with a lack of specifics) how words I said would be repeated as evidence of whatever misdemeanor I had perpetrated, while I could not recall more than just the gist of any conversation. I had the basic understanding, the essential points, but the specific words? Not with any ease.
    It was only when I became interested in male companionship, men’s work and the men’s community that I really felt heard, seen and welcomed.
    I was searching for initiation, my tribe, meaning and relevance in an age of exploring possibilities women’s liberation. free love and all that went with that time. Our generation has pushed the envelope in all directions and we still do not understand who we are on many levels. We have huge expectations of our potential, assumptions about our abilities and ignorance of basic realities.
    I believe strongly in the need for men’s initiation and gender specific communities to support the establishment of authentic male and female , transgendered and gay identity, understanding and fellowship.
    I am a male hetrosexual, that is what I know, to the best of my ability and experience. My personality, brand or flavour is distinctly unique and mine. But there are lessons, roles, definitions, heritage, archetypes and intimate sharings that if I am to be authentic, grounded in my culture, integral with my ancestors and ultimately mature, must be imparted to me from my previously initiated elder brothers, uncles and grandfathers. From Medicine Without an Expiry Date by Randy Jones Pg 126 “… The indigenous approach has been to support each gender by separating them at specific times for ritual purposes. During these events, some part of the proceedings will remain confidential with the members of that gender only. It’s not an attack on the other gender, it’s away of protecting the genders from each other, by making them each independently strong and grounded in their identity, purpose, and responsibility….
    “How could you put an uninitiated boy alone in a hut with a woman?”(Massai)”
    and another African proverb- “If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel it’s warmth.”
    This gender specific research promises to unveil and expose our inner most drives and abilities, motivations and shortcomings. We may think we are different, separate individuals, but my understanding is we are all made of the same stuff. We are social animals and it is our consciousness that we assume makes us different from everything else. Is our behaviour predetermined by biology physiology and neurology? If so then I believe those “primitive,” indigenous, pagan individuals that we used to be, were living more rationally, appropriately and certainly more sustainably, long before civilization came along.