Men Can't Hear: Sex-Linked Sensory Differences

"Basically, men have overall worse hearing than women as they age, but it's hard to isolate behavioral risk factors," said Dr. Charles Limb, an associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Differences in men's hearing ability versus women, however, is the result of environmental factors. When they are born, boys and girls exhibit equivalent hearing, meaning there is nothing that genetically predisposes men to have worse hearing than women.

Limb pointed out that risk factors like cardiovascular disease and smoking are more prevalent among men and could contribute to hearing loss, but that men are more likely to be in situations of high noise exposure -- working in construction, for example, or being in the military -- and less likely to use earplugs or protect themselves otherwise.

And the hearing problem doesn't resolve as men get older.

"Men are more likely to need hearing aids, but women are more likely to wear them," Limb said.


When it comes to every day smells, men and women aren't so different. But the scents of other people is a different story.

"Body odor is influenced by gender and sexual orientation," said Dr. Charles J. Wysocki, an olfactory expert at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. "Perception of body odor is also influenced by both of those factors."

Wysocki said studies have shown that heterosexual males, heterosexual females, lesbians and gay men have specific preferences for body odors from other people. Given the choice between heterosexual male body odor and gay male body odor, heterosexual men and women and lesbians prefer heterosexual male body odor, but gay men choose the gay male body odor.

But in general, men are less sensitive to the subtleties of body odor than women are. In another study to determine if certain scents could mask body odor for men or women, out of 40 different materials, one third were effective at masking male body odor from men while none were effective at masking male body odor from females. Out of 45 different materials, half were effective at masking female body odors from men while only two were effective at masking female body odor from female.

"For a biologically relevant [body odor], it is very difficult to reduce the impact of that odor in the nose of females," Wysocki said. "It is much easier to reduce the impact in the nose of males."

Wysocki said this may be because body odor is predictive of the underlying genes associated with the immune system and that females are more likely to be tuned to choose mates with immune systems that are as different as possible from their own because they have a more limited capacity to reproduce successfully in their lifespan.

"Males can reproduce daily," Wysocki said, and there is less evolutionary pressure on them to gain more information from potential mates.


"There's small, subtle differences here and there ... but that's not particularly pronounced in terms of taste," Breslin said. "All of that gets wrapped up in culture. It doesn't necessarily tie in with physiology and biology."

Taste perception may be one of the most subjective of the five senses, but there are few biological differences between men and women.

There are times when a woman's sense of taste will become more sensitized to certain flavors -- during pregnancy, for example -- and there is no analogous change in taste for men at any point in life.

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