HEN I FIRST HEARD THERE WAS A BOOK, touted as an owner's manual for women, naturally I was intrigued, but a bit skeptical. How could The Female Brain explain all the phases of a woman's life?
Could it explain why I occasionally feel depressed, or irritable; why I fall head over heels for a guy; or why it's hard to communicate with my husband sometimes?
When I received the FedEx package from Random House publicist, Rachel Rokicki, I decided to spend the afternoon curled up with The Female Brain and see what all the fuss was about. Much to my surprise, afternoon turned into evening, dinner turned into microwave meals-my husband was thrilled with that-and I took the book to bed with me, writing down passages under a book light. I was enthralled!
The Female Brain follows the development of women's brains from birth through the teens, to relationships, pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing, to menopause and post menopause. I found myself nodding in recognition to many parts of the book; it's empowering to find out that there are specific biological reasons behind the emotions we experience. For example, the need to talk to friends about feelings plays a major role in women's and girl's relationships because, for one thing, "some verbal areas of the brain are larger in women than in men." And, in the brain centers for language and hearing, "women have 11 percent more neurons than men." "This means that women are, on average, better at expressing emotions and remembering the details of emotional events." This could explain why "a woman remembers fights that a man insists never happened."
But the book isn't all about the differences between male and female brains; it explains the hormonal and neurological reasons behind certain social behaviors.
Louann justifies that hormones can determine what the brain is interested in doing. "They help guide nurturing, social, sexual, and aggressive behaviors. They can affect being talkative, being flirtatious, giving or attending parties, writing thank-you notes, planning children's play dates, cuddling, grooming, worrying about hurting the feelings of others, being competitive, and initiating sex."
I asked Louann if we could include this table from her book and she graciously said yes. So, enjoy your gift!
Phases Of A Female's Life
||Major Hormone Changes
||What Females Have That Males Don't
||Female-Specific Brain Changes
||Brain growth and development left unperturbed by the high testosterone of a male brain
||Brain cells are XX, which means more genes for fast brain development and female-specific circuits
||Female brain circuits for communication, gut feelings, emotional memory, and anger suppression grow unabated - there is no high testosterone of the male around to kill all those cells
||More brain circuits for communication, reading emotions, social nuance, nurturing skills; able to use both sides of the brain
||Estrogen is secreted in massive amounts from age 6 to 24 months, then the juvenile pause turns off hormones
||High estrogen for up to 2 years after birth
||Verbal and emotional circuits are enhanced
||Major interest in playing and having fun in connection with other girls, not boys
||Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone increase and begin to cycle monthly
||More estrogen and less testosterone; girls' brains develop 2 years earlier than boys'
||Increased sensitivity and growth of stress, verbal, emotion, and sex circuits
||Major interest is sexual attractiveness, desperate love interests, avoidance of parents
|Sexual Maturity, Single Woman
||Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone change every day of the month
||More focus on relationships, finding a lifelong mate, and choosing a career or job compatible with raising a family
||Earlier maturation of decision-making and emotional circuits
||Major interests in finding a mate, love, career development
||Huge increases in progesterone, estrogen
||Focus more on nesting, how the family will be provided for; less on career and competition
||Stress circuits suppressed; brain calmed by progesterone; brain shrinks; hormones from the fetus and placenta take over brain and body
||Major interest in own physical well-being, coping with fatigue, nausea, and hunger, and not damaging the fetus; surviving in the workplace; and planning maternity leave
||Focus more exclusively on the baby
||Stress circuits still suppressed; sex and emotion circuits hijacked by infant care
||Major focus on coping with fatigue, sore nipples, breast milk production, making it through the next 24 hours
||Oxytocin; cycling estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone
||Less interest in sex, more worry about kids
||Increased function of stress, worry, and emotional bonding circuits
||Major interest in well-being, development, education, and safety of kids; coping with increased stress and work
||Erratically cycling estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone
||Fluctuating interest in sex, erratic sleep, more fatigue, worry, moods, hot flashes, and irritability
||Decreasing sensitivity to estrogen in certain brain circuits
||Major interest is surviving day to day and coping with the physical and emotional ups and downs
||Low estrogen and no progesterone; high FSH/LH
||The last precipitous brain change cause by hormones
||Circuits fueled by estrogen, oxytocin, and progesterone decline
||Major interest in staying healthy, improving well-being and embracing new challenges
||Low, steady estrogen and testosterone; lower oxytocin
||Circuits less reactive to stress, less emotional
||Major interest in doing what you want to do; less interest in taking care of others
Louann Brizendine, M.D. completed her degree in Neurobiology at UC Berkeley, graduated from Yale School of Medicine, did graduate work in London at UCL in Philosophy of Mind and History of Science and Medicine, and completed a residency in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She has served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and UCSF Medical School. At UCSF, Dr. Brizendine pursues active clinical, teaching, writing and research activities. She founded the UCSF Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic in 1994 and continues to serve as the director. Her bestselling, first book, The Female Brain, was released August 1, 2006 and now being translated into 18 other languages for release in 2007. She is currently writing The Male Brain.
Join us in a conversation with Louann Brizendine, M.D., the remarkable woman behind the book, as we discuss The Female Brain.
WOW: The Female Brain is like an owner's manual for women! You wrote the book so that we can begin to understand our distinct biology and how it affects our lives. How can having this knowledge benefit our decision-making process?
LOUANN: It can help us see the road ahead earlier in our lives and plan accordingly.
WOW: Something we all want to do because living in a rapidly changing world, this can make a big difference in a woman's life.
Now, let's get down to some specifics, your chapters on the teenage years were particularly intriguing to me, because it's such an important time of change in our lives. For instance, we know that teenage girls love to talk on the phone for countless hours. How does connecting through talking or gossiping activate the pleasure centers in a girl's brain?
LOUANN: The intimate-centers in our brain are activated by connecting with others and that releases oxytocin-the bonding hormone and dopamine-the reward neurochemical.
WOW: And the desire for the bonding and wanting a reward doesn't go away; but now we know why it is so strong, especially in girls. Another favorite activity of teenage girls is to spend hours in front of the bathroom mirror. They inspect their pores for blemishes, wishing that they had perfect skin; they examine their bodies wishing for smaller butts and waists, bigger breasts. Some believe this is caused by the media's influence on self-image. Why do you disagree with this theory?
LOUANN: The female brain is wired to respond to the sex hormones with a desire to be sexually attractive just as the male brain is wired for sexual pursuit.the media only plays on what is already there in the brain.
"We women may have more access to emotional details and memories, which help us write stories."
WOW: Oh, the things I wish I knew back then... one of them being a girls' inability to understand that the negative feelings and mood swings caused by PMS will only last a couple of days. What causes severe PMS, and what do you recommend for treating it?
LOUANN: Severe PMS is caused by the fluctuating hormones of the menstrual cycle in women who are sensitive to their own hormone fluctuations... and it sometimes runs in families, which means there is likely a genetic component as well. Keeping the hormones from fluctuating in women with bad PMS by taking continuous birth control pills often helps control these symptoms.
WOW: That's good news. So, when we fall 'head over heels' for a guy, what's happening in our female brains?
LOUANN: The love-cocktail of hormones that is triggered includes dopamine and oxytocin. this makes you focus almost exclusively on the beloved to the exclusion of all else.
WOW: OK, but to get turned-on, our female brain has to be turned-off. Why does this help? And what can we do to achieve this state?
LOUANN: The worrying about things needs to be put on HOLD if the brain is going to focus on erotic pleasure and be released to build up to a climax during orgasm.a vacation away from all the everyday worries is the best place for sex.
WOW: (laughs) Well, we know that isn't always going to happen. For our readers that have or will have children, please tell them in what ways becoming a mommy changes the female brain forever.
LOUANN: The brain circuits created by the hormones of pregnancy and birth will turn on the maternal circuits for behaviors to protect the child-which last a lifetime in one form or another.
WOW: There's an answer for your teen-ager that wants to have more freedom.
I love your chapter on emotion. This quote was quite ironic: "My husband said we didn't need a separate chapter on emotions. I didn't see how I could write this book without one."
Considering how vastly different our brains are when it comes to emotion, what can we do to lessen the gap between our communication differences?
LOUANN: The knowledge that we are differently wired and that we have different impulses and thoughts and ways of feeling and expressing ourselves is a good place to start in order to stop blaming the other sex for differences that aren't their fault.
WOW: That's makes a lot of sense, not always going to be easy to remember, but it makes sense.
Another difference you point out is that as women we have the ability to use both sides of our brains to remember emotional experiences in detail, whereas men only use one side. How does having this extra brainpower help women as creative writers?
LOUANN: We women may have more access to emotional details and memories, which help us write stories.
WOW: Oooh, we may not want that to get out to the male writers. But, back to women in general, contrary to popular belief, statistics show that women initiate more than 65% of divorces that happen after the age of fifty. Why is this the case?
LOUANN: No one knows for sure, but one could speculate that they are tired of taking care of the needs of everyone else and feel it is now their turn... and husbands may not be willing or able to come along or continue to insist on too much care-taking and home making and she feels she is "done."
WOW: Perhaps a good question at this point would be, can you tell our readers why it's important to plan for menopause?
LOUANN: Being postmenopausal is a wonderful time of life if you are healthy so being finished with raising kids can free us women to take on projects and interests we left behind long ago.
WOW: Louann, with all that we've covered, I'm sure our readers will see just how important your book The Female Brain is to women, and more to the point, women writers.
This just leaves me with one question, how can I convince my husband to read it?
LOUANN: I always tell men to start by reading pages 38 and 39 called "Boys will be boys" and see if they remember themselves at that stage! This usually gets them curious enough to then turn to page 90-92 at least and maybe the SEX chapter!
WOW: (laughs) Now that would surely peak their interests! Thank you Louann for taking the time to talk with us. And I can't wait to read The Male Brain. I'm sure men will be interested in that one, as well as us women.
To visit Louann's website, go to: www.thefemalebrain.com
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