Are Women’s Bodies Warmer than Men’s

Kris and I have been married going on 40 years, and I would contend that women’s bodies are warmer — that she likes the home warmer than do I.

But this study says that’s not true. What say you?

Holding a body close to you, it’s easy to appreciate the warmth a human body can generate.

Humans are “warm-blooded” animals. We’re able to effectively maintain a stable internal temperature, even on cold mornings or hot afternoons. This thermo-regulation is a dynamic process that balances heat generation (through metabolism and muscle activity) and heat loss to the environment, in order to maintain core temperatures….

However, there are a few situations where women’s core temperature are more clearly a little higher than men’s. Pregnancy and hormonal contraceptives will increase core temperatures by about 0.5°C to 1.0°C.

Core temperature also fluctuates between daytime and night time in a circadian rhythm: we’re generally 0.5°C to 1.0°C warmer in the late afternoon than in the early hours of the morning.

Temperature differences in bed

Interestingly, recent research suggests that men and women don’t use the same biological clock. On average, women go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than men. So these mornings can feel colder to women because it actually is colder at the time of their (earlier) waking.

And the night time nadir in core temperature, which occurs about three to four hours before waking, is over an hour earlier in women. So women have a head start: by the time their male partner eventually wakes up, women have been warming up for longer.

Our skin plays a particular role in regulating heat loss, chiefly by the control of perspiration (our own evaporative cooling) and blood flow to the skin. More blood flow makes the skin look redder, plumper and feel warmer to touch. But on cold mornings, these vessels constrict, reducing the volume of blood in the skin and heat loss to the environment.

While the core temperature remains within narrow parameters, the warmth of the skin is much more variable. On average, it sits around 33°C, but can vary a lot between different skin sites. The extremities (toes, fingers, lips, tip of the nose and ears) are the first to cool and can drop to below 25°C some nights if left outside the doona.

Unlike our core temperate, skin temperatures are clearly lower in women than in men, especially in cold air. One study, for instance, reported that the average temperature of women’s hands exposed to cold was nearly 3°C degrees lower than that observed in men.

This has been largely attributed to the very obvious dimorphism in body structure, limb proportions, surface area, insulating muscle and fat mass, thickness and distribution between men and women, which result in women maintaining a lower skin blood flow and, consequently, lower skin temperatures.

At the same time, our sense of how cold our bedroom is (or how warm our partner is) comes largely from skin temperature. By having cooler skin, women appear to be more sensitive to incremental skin cooling, meaning it takes less (cold) to reach a point at which skin sensors “feel the cold”, say enough is enough, and reach for the extra blanket.

Partly as a preemptive strategy, women (particularly younger, slimmer women) generally favour a higher skin temperature than men. Ultimately, this means that any gender differences in skin temperature under experimental conditions are eliminated in real life by prudent behaviour. If women feel chilly, they make themselves warmer. Men, by comparison, may be unfeeling but never cold.

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  • Shane

    I completely agree with you! My wife’s feet are like blocks of ice; the only reason we tolerate the same temp at night is because she likes to use lots of blankets. Otherwise there would be a discrepancy! 🙂

  • Nancy L.

    Wait: if Kris likes the house warmer, doesn’t that mean she’s colder?! In our household, I’ve always been the cold one, stealing my kid’s warmth when I could. My dear husband has stated I’m so cold that he’ll know I’ve died only when I stop talking.

  • Scot McKnight

    Nancy L, that might be right but all I know is if we turn the heat up, I get too hot! Kris can sleep under a duvet way too long into the summer.

  • I contend that my wife is just plain HOT! 😉 sorry cheeky Australian humour.

  • To Scot or whoever may be able to help:

    I am looking for graphic illustrations of the “cracked eikon” ideas from the excellent book A Community Called Atonement: broken and restored relationships with God, self, others, and creation, for possible use in preaching/teaching, with due credit given. I can’t find a general email way to contact Scot (or an associate), so I am resorting to commenting on his most recent blog post.

    My apologies for the off-topicness of thise post. I must confess that while I am a big fan of your theological writing, I have yet to wrap my head around this synthesis of research in gender temperature difference. I will give it another read though =)