PODCAST: Are There “Pink Brains” and “Blue Brains”? A Review of the Neuroscience Christian Authors Like to Cite

by | Sep 30, 2021 | gsr, Podcasts | 46 comments

Ever heard Christian resources tell you that the male sex drive is something that women can’t possibly understand?

That men are visual in a way that women never will be? That sex matters to a man in a way that it doesn’t to a woman?

It’s all over our Christian resources, and much of it is evidently based on claims from neuroscience. Most famously, Shaunti Feldhahn in For Women Only talks about how male and female brains are different when it comes to sex, so much so that we’re almost different species.

And then others have used her work and her claims to say that men are visual and so women must be modest, and this is why men lust and  have porn problems.

There’s only one problem: Is this was science actually says?

It’s Rebecca here on the blog today (and on the podcast) since my mom and dad are on vacation in Maritime Canada. My mother (Sheila) thought this was a great topic for Connor and I to tackle while she was away, since we’ve actually taken neuroanatomy courses and she hasn’t.

So in today’s podcast, Connor and I dissect all the footnotes that Shaunti uses, and that Gary Thomas uses in his new book Married Sex where he makes similar claims, and asks if the science they reference actually says what they say it says. Are you ready?

 

We don’t have a YouTube version this week, since they don’t have the equipment to do different audio and video feeds, so it’s just audio for now!

Timeline of the Podcast

0:45 What is a Meta-analysis?
5:30 Why you can’t be flippant about neuropsychology research
11:15 The most recent Male/Female brain research
19:15 The most recent conclusions
22:00 “Men are visually stimulated in a way women can NEVER understand.”
33:30 Sexual differences in the brain
48:00 Encouragement

What Does the Neuroscience Actually Say about Gender Differences and Sex Drive?

Many Christian authors have used neuroscience to claim that men and women are almost different species, to the point that women can never understand men’s visual nature or men’s sex drive. There are “male” brains and “female” brains, and we’re really very different and can’t understand each other. These claims are then often used to support the idea that men face incredible temptation and incredible sex drives, and need women to help them out.

But is this what the science that they reference in their footnotes actually says? These books have influenced all of evangelicalism–but are their interpretations of neuroscience right?

We’re going to dive in! Building on our work from last week where we suggested that you vet resources to see if they’re healthy, we’re going to walk through how to vet these ones as well and see if the science claims are accurate.

I hope everyone listens to this podcast, because it’s important! And please, share this one! We’ve got to get this message out there.

Things Mentioned in This Podcast:

Neuroscience and Gender Differences Podcast
Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Blog Contributor, Author, and Podcaster

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8. Check out Why I Didn't Rebel, or follow her on Instagram!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

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46 Comments

  1. Kay

    Haven’t had the chance to listen yet but I make two predictions based on my own interest in neuroscience related to trauma: 1. that the differences within the same gender are far greater than the differences between different genders, and 2. That any differences that do exist are in the parts of the brain with the most neuroplasticity, meaning those things were learned and not hard-wired.

    How’d I do? 😂

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Pretty well! 🙂 You actually got into more in-depth arguments than the podcast–the plasticity issue is something I’d like to explore in a later podcast. But the whole idea that the brain structures are totally different is just not supported by the ressearch.

      Reply
    • Beth Kowieski

      Rebecca and Connor, thank you for your research and discussion on pink and blue brains! It was excellent and I plan to dig deeper. I am an LCPC and CADC in IL. I have text with your mom via IG but am now off it. Can’t do it knowing it holds so many of my clients hostage. With that said, will your team respectfully share your findings with Debra Fileta? I heard her and Gary talk and cringed. So I reached out to your mom just before her vacation and then I exited IG, but oh my gosh what a huge disappointment to realize the info Debra and Gary together are presenting is the conservative, misogynist manipulation of the worldview and evangelical view. I could not believe it, but also believe it. Thank you so so much for your work. I buy your books in 20’s and 30’s to share with all my female clients, friends, daughters and the men I think are open to reading them or listening to all of you. God Bless the work of your hands, minds and hearts. This is so foundational and needs to be required reading somehow in academia and Christian premarital!!! All the best to each of you

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Beth, I remember you reaching out on Instagram but when I went to reply I couldn’t find the message! (Instagram is really annoying that way; if you open a message and don’t respond it disappears).

        Anyway, we have spoken to Deb about many of our concerns, especially about their speakers for the Married Sex conference this weekend.

        When we looked at the book, it’s very clearly delineated which parts are written by Gary and which by Deb. Deb’s really are quite good. We haven’t read the whole thing (haven’t had time and I’m on vacation), but Deb’s aren’t bad. Gary’s aren’t even as bad as Every Man’s Battle or anything; it’s more the level of Sheet Music. I have spoken to Gary at length in the past about the problems with the neuroscience research, but he doesn’t agree with my perspective.

        Reply
  2. Jo R

    Goodness, some of these books sound like a selection of theories in search of data to back them up, rather than the authors doing the research to see what’s actually found during properly conducted studies.

    The net result is that men seem to be given a bag full of ready-made excuses for worldly, piggish behavior (that sixty-year-old men “naturally” ogle fourteen-year-old girls), while at the same time putting all the responsibility (and none of the authority, of course!) on women to keep men behaving well. Or as well as possible. Because it’s always the woman’s fault if a man sins, especially sexually!

    Whatever happened to, oh, I don’t know, self-control being a fruit of the Spirit? Are we really to the point where we let our natural proclivities run loose just because “I can’t help it, that’s the way I’m wired”?

    Let’s take that philosophy out of the realm of sex. I am by nature, and most definitely by nurture, a short-tempered, hot-tempered person. I was not raised to deal with strong emotions in any way but stuffing them, so, naturally and “nurturally” speaking, I can’t help but blow my top at the various frustrations of life. Since I’m “wired that way,” I guess I don’t have to make any effort at all to control my behavior, or even learn better ways of responding to various situations that make me mad, right? I just can’t help it, so why should I even try?

    Where’s the book saying that my behavior is perfectly fine, even for a Christian???? Not forthcoming on any publisher’s list, I’m guessing, because everyone on the planet would say my behavior is inappropriate and I, especially as a Christian, need to turn to the Spirit for that aforementioned self-control. Maybe even do some—horrors!!!—reading of secular—oh no!!!—research to learn new behavior patterns and ways of dealing with the things that make me so angry!! But that would mean work on my part!! Effort!!! Trying!!! Can’t have that, can we, so I’ll just let myself stay in this condition because it’s just “who I am.”

    Ha!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Pretty much, Jo! Yes, the emphasis is too much on excusing bad behaviour in men, or telling women that we can never, ever understand male sexuality, and so we need to change our behaviour to help them not sin. It’s really wrong.

      Reply
    • Kay

      Try Softer by Aundi Kolber is excellent. About how to grow your window of tolerance so your body doesn’t jump to flight/fight mode quite so easily. The fight mode honestly is a reflex that you can’t control once it’s triggered. But you can “build the muscle” of your window of tolerance so it takes a lot more to get you there.

      Reply
    • Nicole Keller

      LOL I’m laughing so hard! You and I are just as fed up and impatient! Your enthusiasm is refreshingly honest.

      Reply
  3. A2bbethany

    So gary Thomas is choosing a side officially now. This aught to get interesting! With him writing a sex book, the conversations with my parents will increase.

    When I started talking about you, my mom responded by starting to listen to dr lora lessinger(?) again. I listened to her just enough to know that she had many opinions and listened to nobody else.
    Until recently, gary Thomas was mutually liked. But he’s lately choosing the side of the old older of marital books.
    And our division is oddly united and yet on separate angles, in sisters marital abuse. Mom readily admits that abuse throws all the advice out the window. But doesn’t see how it causes it.

    Reply
    • A2bbethany

      *order*

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This actually is quite tragic to me. I actually thought at one point about asking Gary to write the foreword for The Great Sex Rescue, because we were good friends and I thought he supported what I did. But he declined to endorse The Great Sex Rescue, and has used our phrasing in his new book without citing me. I’ll be talking more about this on a later podcast, but I am really sad. This is something I’ve been carrying for a year, and has bothered me even more than those who have specifically spoken against us. But several things have happened in the last few weeks which have been very distressing, and I will talk about it later.

      Reply
      • Shannon

        Sheila, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry that you lost someone that you thought was a friend. I’m sorry that there is such horrible pushback on the things you are writing. I cannot imagine how hard it is to walk in your shoes. I really, really hope that the many marriages you have helped and the people’s eyes who have been opened through your podcast, book, FB page, etc bring you joy to compensate for the ugliness you endure.

        Reply
      • Andrea

        I’m so sorry too, I think it’s the same sad story as with Focus on the Family, where they seemed like such nice guys, and it proves once again, as Kristin Du Mez shows in her book, that it’s an old boys’ club and that they ultimately stick with each other, some are just nicer (Thomas) than others (Eggerich). And the women that they platform are just double agents for the patriarchy, shame on them.

        Reply
  4. Laura

    I read the article (that was linked to yesterday’s post) about Shaunti Feldhan’s “research” for her book, For Young Women Only and what I find interesting is Amazon’s book summary stating this:

    Why Are Guys So Weird?

    Unravel the mystery. A national scientific survey and in-depth personal interviews give you an unprecedented look inside the teenage male mind. Discover how: He’d be perfectly fine if he was loved by few and hated by many…as long as he was respected by all His ego is the size of Africa (but so are his insecurities) He hides his real feelings under a tough exterior He’s magnetized by pretty girls–but also wants to find a diamond in the rough He actually does want to marry a virgin He just wants you to be yourself.

    From what I read of that article, if she only interviewed a select number of young men for her book, then this was not “a national scientific survey and in-depth personal interviews” like Amazon said.

    Of the few Christian marriage books I’ve read, and as I look back and think about the “research” these authors claimed to have done, I sense that they only use sources (a lot of which they do not cite) that fit their agenda. Although I haven’t listened to today’s podcast yet, I found it laughable about Emerson Eggerich’s pink and blue brains from his L & R book.

    I believe that men and women are different in their ways of thinking, but I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all deal that we should put people in gender-specific categories. In addition to judging these Christian marriage and advice books with their thorough research and citation of sources, I think another litmus test would be “does the author’s views also line up with Jesus’ teachings?” From the synopses and book reviews for For Young Women Only, I don’t see any Christ-centered teachings in that book. It’s more cultural and biased to me; also the assumptions that a young man is “respected by all His ego is the size of Africa” and “he actually does want to marry a virgin.”

    Reply
  5. Jo R

    Let me see if I understand what’s being taught and expected…

    Men are so enslaved to testosterone and their genitals that they need women to do the heavy lifting of keeping the men from sinning sexually, forcing “weaker” women to put the brakes on when a premarital make-out session gets hot and heavy.

    Men are so weakened by their testosterone that they can’t think straight if they go more than seventy-two hours without the ever-popular “Christian” phrasing of “release.”

    Women are therefore asked, if not nearly demanded, to provide said release no matter what may be going on in the wives’ own lives, because their husbands will have some kind of physical breakdown if the wives don’t.

    Yet women are the ones who all too often suffer menstrual cramps to the extent that they spend hours curled up in the fetal position. They bleed so much from their vaginas that they routinely ruin clothing, bedding, and other surfaces—or must take sometimes extreme measures to prevent said ruination. Women’s hormonal changes too often induce vomiting, both during periods and during pregnancy. Women are the ones who push brand-new human beings out of what their husbands consider to be the husbands’ on-demand sexy place, too often resulting in tearing and other trauma. And while women are suffering from cramps, heavy bleeding, and vomiting, and when they’re healing from tears and other birth-induced traumas, women are somehow supposed to be strong enough to rise above these silly little physical issues, that, after all, last such a short time, to give their husbands manual or oral stimulation because those times are so difficult for the HUSBANDS (although, as we just acknowledged, those times are actually short in light of eternity, so the husbands can’t wait till the wives feel better?).

    And which sex is the one automatically disqualified from certain positions in North American cultural “Christianity,” in church, at home, and optimally in society generally?

    Reply
    • Nicole Keller

      Let’s be clear: Shaunti, Eggerichs and others are paying lip service but supporting marital rape. Never mind that a rapist (even a married one) is to be put to death in the O.T. If an adulterer (and one who looks at porn) is stoned, so was a rapist. No one is commanded in Scripture in ANY place to submit to sex under pressure. The Lord commands that we give freely, out of no pressure to oblige another. Think of Annanias and Saphira – Peter told them they were never forced nor expected to give anything they genuinely did not want to. Basics, people. Basics.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        To be fair, I wouldn’t classify Shaunti as someone who gives the marital rape message like I would some of the others. She doesn’t talk about why a woman could say no, but she does say that what men really want isn’t sex as much as it is your emotional enthusiasm. It’s all very convuluted. But regardless, it isn’t a healthy message.

        Reply
      • Jo R

        It’s just one step from date rape to marital rape, though, and her books do groom girls to feel responsible I they’re date raped.🙄🙄🙄

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really doesn’t make sense.

      And, yes, we’ll be talking more about postpartum stuff later this month!

      Reply
    • Wild Honey

      Yup. I used to belong to a church that literally banned men from changing baby diapers in Kids’ Ministry as a response to the #metoo movement. The church couldn’t trust men to control themselves around naked babies and toddlers, but men were the only ones trusted to hold positions of pastor or elder. Makes no sense.

      Reply
      • Lisa M

        That is so twisted and perverse! If they REALLY think that every man walking through their doors is a pedophile, they should ban men from ever being in the same room as a child.

        Reply
  6. This is a Pseudonym

    I am so thankful for this podcast! I decided to go listen to some of Shaunti Feldhahn’s podcasts to see if she’s changed her perspective on some of this stuff. She had one about “How Could a Good Guy Be Tempted By Porn?” — it was just…yuck. She and her co-host were laughing about the icky things that supposedly pop into all guys heads if their female co-worker goes to make a presentation wearing something “immodest.” She started to go into the “neuroscience” and I was like, nope. It was too triggering.

    This podcast gives me such peace of mind. Excusing men for disgusting thoughts just because of their “maleness” and “wiring” is so wrong.

    Reply
  7. Fuerza

    In the future could you please provide transcripts of your podcasts for hearing impaired persons? I would greatly appreciate it! I usually listen to your podcasts on YouTube since there’s cc. I will need someone to listen to this new podcast for me and then repeat to me what’s being said. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks for that feedback! We’re looking into it; It’s just been expensive. But I’ll try. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Em

        I think Microsoft Teams is coming out as a part of Windows 11. There is a transcript feature on that! Not sure if you are using a laptop already when you record but could be as simple as recording a call with yourself with transcript on?

        Reply
  8. CMT

    For some reason I can’t respond directly to Andrea, above, but this is my thought exactly:

    “The women that they [Focus on the Family, etc] platform are just double agents for the patriarchy.”

    I don’t know what the true motives of people like Shaunti Feldhan are, maybe they honestly believe the stuff they write and so they think it’s somehow OK to cherry pick “evidence” and massage data to show what they think it should show. But looking back at how seriously I took her book, and others like it, when I was a young adult, it does feel like a betrayal.

    People like Feldhan and the Eldredges sounded to me like wise older friends telling me what I desperately wanted to know – how to be a “good Christian woman” and make God and my future spouse happy. Ugh, it makes me mad now! Women authors make this nonsense so much more palatable simply because they are the ones saying it. Double agents, indeed.

    Reply
  9. Wild Honey

    This made me laugh, so thought I’d share. Looked up Gary Thomas on Amazon because I’m not familiar with his work. The first book of his that popped up: “When to Walk Away, Finding Freedom from Toxic People.” I think Amazon just told us all what to do.

    Reply
  10. M

    Good podcast. We shouldn’t turn our analytical minds off when reading, even if it’s by trusted author. Reflecting on why this has been the norm…?! Seriously…I guess it’s because the teachings have *sounded* biblical? Scary.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know I fell prey to it. I just assumed that the authors had done their research. I used to quote Shaunti as an authority on brain science too.

      Reply
  11. GG

    What struck me in all of this was that the white American Evangelical church (at least most of them? or the ones I know) refuses to use secular counseling for anything (even trauma) because psychology/neuroscience. Only “biblical counseling is ok. Psychology is “of man” and wrong. But when it comes to men’s “needs” and that only men are visual, then they can cite psychology (even though what they cite is not correct) because it proves their point. (I hope that made sense. It does in my brain. 🙂 )

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Also, much of what they’re using is evolutionary psychological theories. That makes it even more ironic.

      Reply
  12. Bethany

    Ohh this was good! And I felt like I learned some good things about research 😀

    What struck me as I was listening to it, when you were discussing the idea that “women just can’t understand what men go through” is … what about Jesus? If women’s and men’s experiences are so different, how could Jesus have experienced everything we have as people? Wouldn’t there have had to be a “female Jesus” to experience all that we do as people? Or do men just have “extra temptations,” and women just have it easier? Or do women just not count as people? The implications of this obsession with male/female differences are honestly staggering.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a great point, Bethany. I remember once when someone told me it was okay to picture God as a woman sometimes. I didn’t believe him, but I tried it–and immediately burst into tears and sobbed for an hour. I never realized how alienated from God I had felt always thinking He was male. To konw that God is neither male nor female–that God could understand me as a woman too, and didn’t look down on me–that was profound. I still tend to picture “Jesus” when I picture God, but that one afternoon was very startling to me.

      Reply
      • Courtney

        This response of yours made me want to cry too. Feeling alienated from God, like I’m the once-remved “other” whose intrusion to God’s love story with men is merely tolerated . . . Is something I still deeply struggle with. I still feel like picturing God as a woman is somehow profane and blasphemous and the way I’ve heard Christian men speak about women over the years only compounds that anxiety.

        Reply
  13. Mel

    Great podcast! Rebecca, you might find this amusing because you have a toddler too: we had a big Daniel Tiger phase in our home, and I’m pretty sure he can sum up this podcast research nicely, “In some ways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same.” 🙂 We’re teaching our children to appreciate, enjoy, build on the common ground, not to get hung up on the differences. (For example, we have children of 4 nationalities on our block.) We talk a lot about all of us humans being made in the image of God. 🙂 That’s what makes us matter and why we can love each other.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so lovely! (Joanna got Rebecca on to Daniel Tiger. I love that we’re teaching kids emotional health and resilience now!)

      Reply
  14. Kathleen

    I feel like Shaunti’s statements are so often put together in a way to excuse male behavior that qualifies as harassment. And excuses for policing women about how they dress, where they can go, what professional spaces can they be in. Basically, to enforce male dominence.

    Reply
  15. Maria Bernadette

    Men and women are the same species? Huh!? (sarcasm)

    Reply
  16. Jim

    I listened to the podcast and found that it had some great criticism of the research.

    However, one criticism that was brought up multiple times was concerning. It was the idea that the person doing the research did not have academic degrees in a particular field.

    Does that not become the logical fallacy of arguing from authority?

    Could the research methods and finds be wrong because of a lack of experience? Of course it can. However, just because someone has a list of credentials does not mean that their research is accurate or correct.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      No, Jim, but when someone isn’t trained in neuroscience, and then they say they understand the neuroscience, that can be a problem.

      Reply
      • Jim

        Is it not possible to have an understanding of a subject without having credentials in that field?

        Just because one has a degree in a subject does not mean that they are automatically correct nor is one without the degree automatically wrong. It is entirely possible for lay-people to get things right when the ‘experts’ get it wrong.

        Isn’t that one of the reasons that you started your blog? To show that the established thinking was wrong?

        Reply
      • Maria Bernadette

        Well, the excerpts obviously came from people who did not understand the neuroscience, who then made it sound like they knew what they were talking about.

        I think the issue should be about whether an author understands what they are talking about. And I agree with Jim; that credentials don’t guarantee understanding. And doing one’s own studies and research does not guarantee being wrong.

        I get that a lot of people without credentials passed themselves off as being knowledgeable when they weren’t. But I think the lack of credentials wasn’t the issue. And looking for certification might be useful as an aid in discernment, but using it as a hard litmus test seems like too much.

        Reply
  17. Christina

    Sheila, Rebecca, Keith, Connor,

    Thank you. Please keep going. God has given you a unique and difficult calling to be sure. Thank you for saying yes. Thank you for showing up and facing the things head on. I need this work, my children need a mom who’s been exposed to more than the church abuse of gender and marriage. Thank you. Please keep going.

    Reply
  18. D

    I thought the podcast was excellent especially the geometry pizza analogy.
    I see a lot of “studies” cited as fact in the marriage/sex area.
    Sometimes the ones passing on the supposed facts don’t even know the difference between a study and a theory.
    Or sometimes the “facts” they are passing on are from a study of college aged women watching erotic material.
    Or maybe the study was done on a small group of women in their twenties in New Zealand. I want to know if a similar study was done amongst adult women of all age groups a little closer to home before I even begin to consider the findings as facts.

    Reply

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