There was a post being circulated on Facebook a year or so ago that went something like this: “Just because you sleep with him doesn’t mean he loves you, and just because you have his baby doesn’t mean he’ll stay.” The intention behind the post was to warn young women to not so readily enter into a sexual relationship with someone they loved in the hope that their boyfriend would love them in return.

Such a post with its warning and encouragement highlights a very basic difference between men and women. Both men and women have a “default position” when it comes to relationships, but each of these default positions are at opposite ends of the relationship spectrum.
Sex is the male default position. Many a joke is made about the need men have for sex and that it’s the thing they think about the most. But joking aside, men are wired this way. Sex is the primary way in which men express intimacy. However, their very great need for sex means that it is the first place they go when needing intimacy. And it can be for them purely a physical act in which there is no emotional component. Perhaps it isn’t any wonder that prostitution that panders to male desire is the oldest profession in the world.

The converse is true for women; relationships and love rather than sex is the female default position. This is the point at which women seek to start, although much of Western culture over the last 2-3 decades has encouraged women to make sex their default position too (perhaps the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series is indicative here). However much this line may be pushed, loving relationships still top the list for women. This is reflected in the plethora of chick-flicks and romance novels that gratify the desires women have for relationship.

The difficulty is that for many women books and movies become their escape when their own relationships fail. Pornography too seeks to satisfy the male need for sex. It’s a world into which men can escape, and from which men often derive their image of “real” sex whilst women can fall prey to the idealised relationships found on the movie screen or between the covers of a novel. Both pornography and romantic stories can unhealthily replace and adversely influence the real-life relationships and sexual encounters of men and women.

Because of these different default positions women can think men will love them if they have sex and men can think that sex for women has no emotional element. Both men and women can be disappointed and hurt because they don’t understand their partner’s default position. It’s not that women don’t love sex or that men can’t fall in love; they can and do. It’s just that men and women start at different places and journey differently within relationships. Seeking to understand these differences can enable healthier relationships to be formed and to continue in strength.