Considering Sex Differences for Effective Education (page 2)

By — Gender Differences Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

Gender Differences in Sports Interest

  • Competitive sports are good for both boys and girls. But from an early age boys, more than girls, like balls, games with clear winners and losers, and play fighting. Later in 4th to 6th grade, boys in free play are competing with other boys 50 percent of the time whereas girls compete against each other only 1 percent of the time [2]. 
  • Another large study questioned high school seniors about their participation in a wide range of activities: sports, music, art, dance, religion, spending time with parents or friends, volunteering, and religious activities, among others. Far and away the largest sex difference was in “non-school sports,” with male participation exceeding female participation by a factor of three. In college, anyone who is interested can play intramural sports, but again there are three to four times as many men as women who do so [2].
  • But boys don’t just like sports more than girls; they need sports more than girls. Boys bond with their chums through shared activities, like sports. If girls don’t have the activities or sports, they will still bond through talk [2].
  • Perhaps more importantly, sports keep boys out of trouble. The source of much crime is gangs or other unsupervised peer groups of teens. Even violent sports like football and wrestling channel young males, filled with testosterone, into rule bound competitive activity [2].

Gender Differences in the Approach to Sexuality

  • Teen girls and their collegiate sisters commonly experiment with casual sex without having a clue that they are much more likely to get an STD than their male partners are and much more likely to become infertile or develop cancer later if they do get one. Moreover, the emotional aftereffects of sex for women are far different than they are for men. Evolutionary anthropologist John Townsend’s studies show that sexually active women with extremely liberal sexual attitudes aren’t able to deal with casual sex emotionally. They feel used, hurt, and demeaned after sleeping with men uninterested in relationships [2]. 
  • Similarly, Denise Hallfors, a research scientist at the University of North Carolina, finds that for females, teen sex with multiple partners increases the odds of subsequent clinical depression by a factor of ten; for men it’s more like a factor of two [9]. A study of casual sex among college students comes to even more dramatic conclusions: Females who “are the most likely to engage in casual sex” report the most symptoms of depression whereas their male equivalents who are the most likely to engage in casual sex report the fewest symptoms of depression [10, 11, 2, 12].

Implications for Education

In the first years of school, 95 percent of the time boys and girls have women as teachers.   Many of these well-meaning female teachers believe that there is too much violence and competition in the world and not enough cooperation and communication. They often assign reading books meant to induce sympathy for the feelings of characters with problems. 

But most boys are bored by these books, and they are less likely than girls to read books that they think are boring in order to please teachers or parents [12].
In part, boys fall so far behind in reading because educators often don’t give them stories that would appeal to them--adventures and combat, heroes and villains. And, we don’t give them the competition they crave by dividing the class into three groups and finding out which group best understood the story [12].

Much of the information you have read here was excerpted from Dr. Rhoads' book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously . To learn more, please visit      

  1. Alexander, Gerianne M. and Melissa Hines. Sex Differences in Response to Children’s Toys in Nonhuman Primates (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus). Evolution in Human Behavior.  23: 467-79.
  2. Rhoads, Steven. (2004). Taking Sex Differences Seriously. Encounter Books.
  3. Blum, Deborah. (1997) Sex on the Brain. Viking.
  4. Moir, Anne and David Jessel. (1989). Brain Sex. New York: Delta.
  5. Baron-Cohen, Simon. (2003). The Essential Difference. Basic Books.
  6. Maccoby, Eleanor. (1998). The Two Sexes. Harvard University Press.
  7. Popenoe, David. (1996). Life Without Father. New York: The Free Press.
  8. Geary, David C. (2008). Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
  9. Hallfors, Denise, et. al. (2005). What Comes First in Adolescence—Sex and Drugs or Depression. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 29:3, 163-170.
  10. Grello, Catherine M., et al. (2006). No Strings Attached: The Nature of Casual Sex in College Students. The Journal of Sex Research, 43, 255-267.
  11. Grossman, Miriam. (2007). Unprotected. New York: Sentinel Trade.
  12. Sax, Leonard. (2005). Why Gender Matters. New York: Doubleday.
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