Leading a Worthy Life p.176

Human aspiration depends absolutely on our being creatures of need and finitude, and hence of longings and attachments. Pure reason and pure mind have no aspiration; the rational animal aspires in large part because he is an animal and not an angel or a god.

Once again it is our in-between status – at once godlike and animal – that is the deep truth about our nature, the ground of our special standing, and the wherewithal of our flourishing.

Perhaps the most profound account of human aspiration is contained in Socrates’ speech about eros in Plato’s Symposium. Eros, according to Socrates’ account, is the heart of the human soul, an animating power born of lack but pointing upward. Eros emerges as both self-seeking and overflowingly generative – at bottom, the fruit of the peculiar conjunction of, and competition between, two conflicting aspirations joined in a single living body, both tied to our finitude: the impulse to self-preservation and the urge to reproduce. The former is a self-regarding concern for our own personal permanence and satisfaction; the latter is a self-forgetting aspiration for something that transcends our own finite existence, something for the sake of which we spend and even give our lives.

Other animals, of course, live with these twin and opposing drives. But eros in the other animals, who are unaware of the tension between the two drives, manifests itself exclusively in the activity of procreation and the care of offspring…

But eros comes fully into its own as the arrow pointing upward only in the human animal, who is conscious of the doubleness in his soul and is driven to devise a life based in part on the tension between the opposing forces. Human eros , born of this self-awareness, manifests itself in explicit and conscious longing for something higher, something whole, something eternal – longings that are ours precisely because we are able to elevate the aspiration born of our bodily doubleness and to direct it upward toward the good, the true, and the beautiful. In the human case, the fruits of “erotic giving-birth” are not only human children but also the arts and crafts, song and story, noble deeds and customs, fine character, the search for wisdom, and a reaching for the eternal and divine – all conceived by resourcefulness to overcome our experienced lack and limitation and all guided by a divination of that which would be wholly good and lacking in nothing.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.176

Leading a Worthy Life p.62

Though maleness and femaleness are natural facts, manhood and womanhood are, in fashionable opinion, culturally constructed norms, at least to some degree. It is no accident that the meaning of being a man or being a woman has been radically transformed in a society that celebrates freedom and equality, encourages individualism and autonomy, rejects traditions, practices contraception and abortion, sees marriage as a lifestyle, provides the same education and promotes the same careers for men and women, homogenizes fathers and mothers in the neutered work of “parenting,” denies vulnerability and dependence, keeps mortality out of sight, and raises its children without any sense of duty or obligation to future generations.


Leon R. Kass – Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times p.62

Why Gender Matters p.270

A popular notion about transgender individuals is that sex-reassignment surgery reliably relieves the mental distress associated with being transgender. But researchers who have actually studied transgender individuals postsurgery have arrived at a different conclusion. As one investigator found, “even once the transsexual has achieved sex reassignment, the figure of being trapped in the wrong body, or being wrongly encased, continues to be evoked.”

Transgender adults who begin receiving hormonal therapy do benefit, on average, from that therapy: one year after starting hormonal therapy to transition to the desired gender, the rates of anxiety, depression, and impairment among transgender individuals are significantly reduced. Nevertheless, even after sex-reassignment surgery and hormone treatment, the rate of mental illness such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder among transgender individual remains much higher than among the general population. “Sex reassignment is associated with more serious psychological sequelae and more prevalent regret than had previously been supposed,” conclude other reviewers. In the largest and longest follow-up available, researchers studied everybody who underwent sex-reassignment surgery in Sweden between 1973 and 2003: 191 MtF individual and 131 FtM individuals. These investigators found that 19 percent of MtF clients and 17 percent of FtM clients had been hospitalized for psychiatric problems prior to undergoing sex reassignment, compare with less than 4 percent of matched controls. After sex-reassignment surgery, transsexual clients were still nearly three times more likely than controls to be hospitalized for psychiatric problems other than gender dysphoria, even after adjustment for prior psychiatric problems. There was some benefit from sex-reassignment surgery, to be sure. Transsexuals who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery reported feeling less gender dysphoria – less of a sense of being trapped in the wrong body – and were somewhat less likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric problems than they were before the surgery.

But only somewhat. Even after sex-reassignment surgery, transsexual clients were still nearly five times more likely to have made a suicide attempt and nineteen times more likely to have died from suicide than were matched controls, again after adjusting for prior psychiatric problems. The researchers did not find any significant differences between MtF individual and FtM individuals on any of these outcomes. Being transgender, even in Sweden and even after having sex-reassignment surgery, puts you at much greater risk of having major psychiatric problems, including death by suicide. This finding is consistent with multiple other studies.


Leonard Sax – Why Gender Matters p.270

Why Gender Matters p.327

Professor Kim Wallen and his colleagues at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta decided to do this familiar study again, with a little twist: instead of offering human children a choice between dolls and trucks, they gave that choice to monkeys. They gave monkey the opportunity to play with a “boy toy” such as a truck or with a “girl toy” such as a doll.

The basic pattern of results was similar to the pattern seen with human children. The female monkeys slightly prefer to play with dolls rather than trucks. The males substantially prefer to play with trucks rather than dolls.

It is difficult to invoke the social construction of gender to accommodate this finding. You would have to assert that a monkey in authority, maybe a parent, is saying to a young male monkey, Don’t let me catch you playing with a doll! But in fact nothing of the sort happens. Monkeys don’t appear to care whether other monkeys, female or male, are playing with trucks or with dolls. And yet the main effect – the preference of the male to play with a truck rather than with a doll – is clearly present in monkeys, as it is in human children. But the social construction of gender cannot reasonably be invoked to explain this effect in humans, in view of the fact that a similar effect is present in monkeys…

Developmental psychologist Gerianne Alexander found sex differences among monkeys similar to the sex difference we see among human children. In 2003, one year after she published her monkey study. Professor Alexander published her theory explaining why female and male monkeys – as well as female and male humans – might prefer to play with different toys.

Scientists have known for more than thirty years that our visual system is actually two separate systems operating in parallel, beginning at the level of the ganglion cells in the retina and extending back to the visual cortex and visual  association cortex. One system is devoted to answering the question What is it? What’s its color? What’s its texture? The other system is devoted to answering the question Where is it going? And how fast is it moving? These two systems in the brain are often referred to as the “what” and the “where” system.

Professor Alexander was the first to suggest that hardwired sex differences in the visual system may explain finding such as the observed sex difference is the toy preferences of children (as well as monkeys). She conjectured that maybe girls have more resources in the “what” system, while boys have more resources in the “where” system. Girls are more likely to play with a doll rather than with a dull gray truck because the doll has a more interesting color and texture. Boys are more likely to play with the dull gray truck because it has wheels. It moves.

Professor Alexander’s hypothesis helps to make sense of many finding that otherwise are hard to explain. For example, baby girls (three to eight months of age), but not baby boys of the same age, prefer to look at dolls rather than at toy trucks. When researchers show women and men different colors and ask them to name the colors, “women respond faster and more accurately than men.” When researchers test men and women to see how accurately they can target a moving object, men are significantly more accurate than women… Finally researchers in Germany have reported dramatic sex differences in the anatomy of the human visual cortex in adults, with significantly more resources devoted to the “where” system in men that in women, even after adjusting for any overall size difference in the brain.


Leonard Sax – Why Gender Matters p.327

Why Gender Matters p.314

In 2017, the Journal of Neuroscience Research devoted an entire issue to sex differences in every aspect of brain function, from vision to learning to mental illness. The issue was 791 pages long, with seventy-three different scholarly articles. Larry Cahill, a professor of neuroscience at the university of California at Irvine who served as editor for the special edition, wrote:

Due to a deeply ingrained, implicit (but false) assumption that “equal” means “the same,” most neuroscientists knew, and even feared that establishing that males and females are not the same in some aspect of brain function meant establishing that they were not equal. This assumption is false and deeply harmful, in particular to the health of women, but remains deeply impact nonetheless.

The past 15 to 20 years in particular witnessed an explosion of research (despite the prevailing biases against the topic) documenting sex influences at all levels of brain function. So overpowering is the wave of research that the standard ways of dismissing sex influences (e.g., “They are all small and unreliable,” “They are all due to circulating hormones,” “They are all due to human culture,” and “They don’t exist on the molecular level”) have all been swept away, at least for those cognizant of the research.

These papers forcefully document the fact that sex influences on brain function are ubiquitous, regularly reshaping findings – hence conclusions – at all levels of our field, and powerfully demonstrating how much “sex matters.”

The notion that sex matters fundamentally, powerfully, and pervasively for all of neuroscience (not just for reproduction) is an idea whose time indeed has come.


Leonard Sax – Why Gender Matters p.314

Why Gender Matters p.261

We know that most young boys who say that they are girls grow up to be men who do not think they are women and who do not want to be women. We now have many studies in which researchers have followed such boys for fifteen or twenty years, well into adulthood. In every study, the great majority of such boys grow up to be men who have no interest in becoming women. In one of the largest such studies, of 139 boys who insisted in childhood that they were really girls trapped in the bodies of boys, only 12 percent still felt that way as adolescents or adults. In other words, 88 percent of the boys grew out of it. Many of those boys grew up to be gay men. Some grew up to be straight men. But they are mend. They don’t need hormone supplements or surgery. They are capable of fathering children.

In other words, for the majority of young boys who say they are really girls, the desire to be a girl is just a phase. For such boys, allowing the boy to present himself as a girl will be a major stumbling block on his road to becoming a man (whether a gay man or a straight man)…

The most common outcome for the five-year-old boy or eight-year-old boy who says that he is really a girl, twenty tears down the road is a boy who grows up to be a gay man… Most five-year-olds, and even most eight-year-olds, have little sense of their own sexual orientation prior to the onset of puberty. Many kids in that age group, when presented with the facts of life, just pronounce it all to be “yucky.” Heterosexual intimacy and homosexual intimacy seem equally strange, and repellent, to many prepubescent kids. So it’s very difficult for that eight-year-old boy who loves to dress up as a princess, who believes himself to be a girl, to know whether he might grow up to be a gay man and feel right as a gay man. Being a girl may seem more real and more comprehensible.


Leonard Sax – Why Gender Matters p.261

Why Gender Matters p.259

The transgender activists seem to be motivated not primarily by data or research but by a belief: the belief that transgender is a normal variation.  If that’s true – if being transgender is a normal variation, just like being left-handed – then any effort to align a patient’s gender identify with their biological sex would clearly be misguided, just as trying to make a left-handed person write with their right hand is misguided.

But transgender is not a normal variation. People with normal variations such as left-handedness do not require any professional intervention. But a transgender individual will require treatment with sex hormones and perhaps even sex-reassignment surgery in order to live in the other-sex role. Left-handed people don’t need prescription medications or surgical intervention in order to live as left-handed people. But a transgender individual will need lifelong treatment with cross-sex hormones in order to pass as a member of the other sex.

Prior to 1942, prescription female hormones were not available. And without prescription hormones, an adult male wearing a dress looks like. . .  a man in a dress. The modern conception of transgender – the notion that a child born male can, as an adult, be made to look like a woman and “pass” as a woman – rests on the ready availability of intervention such as electrolysis, plastic surgery, and prescription hormones. It is as much a creation of the modern world as the telephone and the digital computer.


Leonard Sax – Why Gender Matters p.259

Why Gender Matters p.242

There are still many unanswered questions about sexual orientation, some of which seem (to me) to be urgently in need of answer. For example: Researchers in the Netherlands found that a gay man who is in a relationship with a gay man is eight times more likely to commit suicide than is a straight man who is married to a woman; by contrast, a lesbian woman in a relationship with a lesbian woman is no more likely to commit suicide than is a straight woman who is married to a man. The researchers point out that the Netherlands is one of the most tolerant and accepting countries in the world for gay men and has become even more tolerant and accepting; but in this study the younger men were at the same high risk as the older men. There has been very little research directed to understanding the reasons behind this finding.


Leonard Sax – Why Gender Matters p.242

Why Gender Matters p.128

The anthropologist Peter Wood… in answer to [a] Yale woman who said that plenty of women enjoy having casual sex, observed:

If the cost of that view is not immediately apparent, it is still real. The woman who treats her sexuality as something detachable from strong mutual attachment to a single partner sooner or later discovers that men regard her as expendable… The pretense that sex is just sex is never true…. There is no such thing as sex without consequences…

The sexes are complementary. The distortion of women’s sexuality plainly distorts men’s sexuality as well, though in a more deferred way. Men, instead of learning how to be responsible committed partners and eventually husbands and fathers, learn that the pleasure-seeking dimension of their sexuality can be sustained with relative ease. As a result, the men shun social maturity. The women who are veterans of the hook-up culture find that , once they are in it, their options for getting out are reduced…. All of this distorts and diminishes the lives of those who are caught up in the pursuit of sex without attachment. They eventually become those for whom genuine attachment is far more difficult…. The [true] meaning of sex is that it leads somewhere – somewhere beyond orgasms and the excitement of strangers. An older generation called that “somewhere” marriage.

The end result of multiple sexual encounters outside the context of a romantic relationship may be a lessening of the ability to form and sustain a healthy and lasting romantic relationship. And that may be true for both girls and boys, for both women and for men.


Leonard Sax – Why Gender Matters p.128

Why Gender Matters p.122

What’s the relation between love and sex? The neurochemical basis for both love and sex in females involves the hormone oxytocin, the same hormone released when a mother breast-feeds her newborn baby. “Oxytocin’s effects on both [romantic] attachment and sexual behavior are estrogen dependent and gender specific,” observes neuropsychologist Lisa Diamond, adding that there appears to be “more extensive oxytocin circuits in female than male brains.” In males, on the other hand, the hormone underlying sexual drive is not oxytocin but testosterone, the same hormone that mediates aggression in males.

Many researchers have used functional MRI to look at brain activity in women and men during sexual arousal. One consistent finding is that men show comparatively more activity in the older, more primitive areas of the brain such as the amygdala, thalamus, and hypothalamus, while women show proportionately more activity up in the cerebral cortex; that’s true even when the women report feeling more sexually aroused than the men. And these differences are apparently not affected by sexual orientation: reviewers found no significant differences in the patterns of brain activity of straight men compared with gay men but large differences between men and women, regardless of sexual orientation.

These sex differences suggest that women’s sexual experience is “happening” more in the cerebral cortex and is therefore more connected with the rest of what’s going on in their mind. The sexual experience in men is less connected with the cortex, less connected with the outside world. One recent study actually showed that in young men sexual arousal decreases functional synchronization between cortical areas of the brain. That’s a fancy way of saying that when a young man is sexually aroused, his brain literally comes unglued, and the different parts aren’t talking with one another.

The weight of the evidence strongly suggests that males and females experience sexual desire differently. As UCLA psychologist Anne Peplau observes, “women’s sexuality tends to be strongly linked to a close relationship. For women, an important goal of sex is intimacy; the best context for pleasurable sex is a committed relationship. This is less true for men.”

You can say that again. For boys and for some men, especially younger men, the sexual urge is closely tied to aggression. That’s not surprising when you remember that in males both the sexual urge and the aggressive urge are mediated by testosterone. In one carefully designed study, a surprisingly high percentage – 35 percent – of “normal” college men said that they not only fantasized about rape but would actually rape a woman if they had the chance and they were sure they wouldn’t be caught. In another study of “normal” college men, more than half said they would actually rape a woman if they were assured of not being punished. Researchers have found that more than 80 percent of popular porn videos include some form of degrading violence against women: most often the woman is slapped or gagged or spanked or has her hair yanked. But the men who watch these videos are not necessarily Neanderthals. In fact, researchers have found no association between a man’s gender-role beliefs and the likelihood that he finds rape sexually appealing. Some men who are strongly in favor of equal rights for women, who approve of women in leadership roles, and so on also say that they would rape a woman if they had the opportunity. In one recent study, men who watched pornography were actually somewhat more likely to endorse equal rights for women, compared with men who don’t look at porn. Nor is there any association positive or negative, between a man’s intelligence and the likelihood that he will be sexually aroused by depictions of rape. Highly intelligent men are no less likely to fantasize about raping a woman than are men of below-average intelligence.

Men and women experience sexuality differently. A significant number of men may feel tempted to engage in sexual assault, even if they are otherwise intelligent and believe in equal rights for women. Women are much less likely to feel a strong temptation to engage in sexual assault. These differences between women and men can be traced at least in part to biological causes, including the differences between testosterone and oxytocin. A sensible, commonsense approach to preventing sexual assault would begin by recognizing these hardwired differences.

Young men are much more likely to find pornography satisfying and fulfilling. Few young women would use the word “fulfilling” to describe the experience of masturbating over pornography. But pornography has gone mainstream. The pop star John Mayer proudly told Rolling Stone magazine that he is “the new generation of masturbator”: he would rather masturbate over pornography than have sex with actual women. I haven’t heard of any leading female celebrities who have boasted that hey would rather masturbate over pornography than have sex with real people.

The motivation for sex is different for most teenage boys than for most teenage girls. Many teenage boys want to have sex to satisfy sexual desire. It’s a gut-level, base-of-the-brain impulse not far removed from the need to have a bowel movement when you feel the urge. Many boys will tell you that the urge feels just that irresistible.

Not so for most girls. As psychologist Roy Baumeister has observed, “male desire aims at the sexual activity itself, whereas female desire aims beyond it toward other outcomes and consequences.”


Leonard Sax – Why Gender Matters p.122