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She drives you crazy -in good ways and bad. Here's why she can't help it

Sometimes it seems like your girl is a freaking superhero, her senses are so highly tuned. Then other times--especially when it comes to sex--she might as well be from another planet. That is, a planet where they never seem to have sex.

But before you drive back to the girlfriend store and try to exchange her for another, less aggravating model, realize this: There are certain biological factors at play that control her behavior. In short, there are distinct differences in the ways sex and the senses are hardwired in men and women.

These gender differences--and the conflicts they create--arise from the deepest recesses of male and female mammalian brains. Being aware of them can make your next trip together to the bedroom--or even the mall--a lot less frustrating.

FOREPLAY

Sexually, you're a Porsche: Testosterone allows men to go from zero to horny in under six seconds. Your girlfriend is more like a Rolls-Royce. "Estrogen is slower and pickier, and female arousal is much more gradual," says Deborah Blum, author of Sex on the Brain. "That's because, in a year, a male can impregnate hundreds of women, but a woman can successfully get pregnant only once, so she has to choose more deliberately." This lends itself to foreplay, which for her isn't what happens 10 minutes before the Main Event. "It's the whole tone of the relationship," says Dr. Aline Zoldbrod, a Boston-based sex therapist and author of Sex Smart. "It's whether you remembered to call her yesterday or whether you rubbed her shoulders this morning while she made coffee." This is part of why the search for a "female Viagra" is so elusive. For men, foreplay is simple mechanics. For women, it's about an entire relationship.

Orgasm questions and answers. Learn about the four phases of sexual response are as follows: Arousal, Plateau, Orgasm, and Resolution.SEXUAL AROUSAL

Men's arousal is closely tied to sight and visual images (hence, the multibillion-dollar porn industry), while women are more attuned to touch. A woman's sense of touch evolved for the care of babies. You, on the other hand, have hands designed for coarser work--like hitting buffaloes on the head with rocks, followed by swift guttings. So when it comes to sexual touching, forget the Golden Rule: Don't do unto her as you would have her do unto you. Men are aroused by firm, direct genital touching at any time: before sex, during sex, in line at Kmart. "Women like a much lighter touch, and little or no genital contact until we're really, really into it," says Zoldbrod. "Rather than fixating on the vagina, think of her arousal as an electric current running throughout her whole body." Or, as MF sex columnist Sarah Hedley puts it, "Men should train themselves to be less peno-centric."


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SEX DRIVE

The two genders usually start out on the same sexual page but end up reading two totally different books. "During a relationship's 'Oh wow!' phase, men and women see sex the same way," says Zoldbrod. "They can't get enough. But afterward, men prioritize sex much higher than women do, which leads to conflict." Women view sex as something that requires surplus energy. A man wants to boff even if he has only one calorie left in his body. "It makes sense," says Zoldbrod. "Women are much more distractible, and they have to work harder and focus more to have an orgasm. For women, sex is like cross-country skiing, while for men, it's an easy downhill run." The trick: Help ease her burdens outside the bedroom and thus help save her energy for, you know, later. Maybe that means your picking up the dry cleaning or doing the dishes.

INTUITION

Women are more astute readers of facial expressions--and for good reason. "Early in our history, men were not only dangerous to other men, but to women, too," says Blum, "and females needed to be able to recognize subtle danger signals. Besides, women have always needed to read the faces of infants." Not surprisingly, males often miss subtle expressions that indicate changes in mood--especially when distracted by, say, Game 7 of the Series. For modern men, this may result in chronic "Honey, I didn't know you were upset" syndrome. In other words, your lady can signal to you that she's pissed without throwing a cartoonish tantrum or acting like the angry protagonist of an Alanis Morissette song. Watch her face for subtle signs--she's watching yours.

SENSE OF SMELL

Sampled the bouquet from your overstuffed laundry bag lately? Notice the smell of weapons-grade tuna salad in your refrigerator permeating the kitchen? No? Well, she does. Women have a much stronger olfactory sense than men. "They get crucial partner information from scents--especially the sweat of men," says Blum. "They are more emotionally attuned to smell than guys when selecting a mate." What to do? Aside from being hygienic and healthy, you can't do much about your personal chemistry. And don't ever try to change that fact by bathing in a bottle of Turbo cologne. "This is one of the biggest mistakes men make," says Blum. "Let the female choose the cologne--she'll have an attachment to it, and to you." One more thing: Never try to cover the stench of eau de Pabst and an evening at a strip club with an Altoid. She'll know. Trust us.

SWEET TOOTH

When was the last time you sidled up to the bar at your local watering hole and asked for an "Apple Flirtini"? Neither have we. "Women are much more attuned to sweet tastes," says Allan Pease, co-author of Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes. "It's an important ability, going back to when they had to gather berries and determine which were good and which were poison." Indeed, the key to a woman's heart--and attendant girly parts--may well be her stomach. If, that is, you have enough Godiva truffles. "The chemicals in good chocolate can put women into a kind of trance," says Zoldbrod. "It may well also be cultural, as men love chocolate, too. But some women even prefer chocolate to sex if their partner isn't up for the job. I suspect that's not so true of men."

EYESIGHT

Is it just us, or does it seem like women have eyes in the back of their heads? "Unlike most men, most women can see at 45-degree angles from each side of their head without actually having to turn," says Pease. "In crowded social situations, your girlfriend knows not only who is looking at you, but what they're saying about you. She also knows you snuck a glance at that blonde in the corner." So, while female peripheral vision is more acute--the better to patrol territory and see who's sneaking up on the brood--men have the vision of survivalist killing machines. "Men are target-hitters," says Pease. "They have extraordinary tunnel vision to target and kill distant prey." Got a girl? Buy her some blinders.

SENSE OF HEARING

This is important, guys: "Women generally have a better sense of hearing," says Blum. "Historically, they are always listening for children. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be sexually aroused by sounds." But take heart: The sound of your voice is absolutely essential for putting her in the mood. "Women like to hear more verbalizing before sex and are more attuned to language," says Zoldbrod. "For men, the fact that a woman wants to make love with them is enough. Women take it for granted you want to sleep with them. They want to know that you appreciate them. They want to hear that they're beautiful, that they're fun, and that you're willing to deal with a relationship, not just a sexual partner."

Uh, sorry, we weren't listening--can you repeat that?

Freelance writer Jeff Ousborne understands his wife completely.

next: An Overview of Male Sexual Problems