Tag Archives: testosterone

Testosterone spikes this season

13 Nov

Ah, the autumn! Crisp air, glorious colours,  the delicious harvest, and look out - the peak of your annual testosterone levels.

More than any other season, the fall seems to have the most birthdays, doesn’t it? A September-born friend of mine jokes about being a “Christmas Party Baby”, but it turns out that there is more to it than a slap, tickle, and one too many cups of holiday cheer.

“Testosterone levels and sperm counts are highest in late fall and early winter… the peak times for human births in the Northern Hemisphere is around August or September – 9 months after the high testosterone levels of the preceeding fall.” (Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behavior).

According to Jed Diamond in The Irritable Male Syndrome,  testosterone levels cycle throughout the year: “Studies conducted in the US, France, Australia found that men secrete their highest levels of sex hormones in October and their lowest levels in April.”

The irritable male syndrome is characterized by a “state of hypersensitivity, anxiety, frustration, and anger that occurs in males and is associated with biochemical changes, hormonal fluctuations, stress, and a loss of male identity.”  Diamond claims that there is a seasonal aspect to the irritable male syndrome that makes men “more irritable when days shorten and there is less light. The decline in testosterone between October and April may contribute to this irritability.”

When I read these two books a few years ago, I was left wondering why it’s taken us so long to start examining men like we do women. As I research further, I have found that male hormonal swings may be more powerful and more prevalent than female hormonal fluctuations, and yet women have been pinned as the changeable, screaming, crying, mood-and sometimes axe-swinging slaves to their monthly hormone changes.

Not only does a man’s testosterone level change throughout the year, it is constantly changing all day and every day – when men go to sleep, testosterone is on the rise hour by hour until its peak upon waking in the morning (if you don’t believe me, gentlemen, think about what you wake up with every day). By the afternoon, the hormone levels off, begins its decline, and by late afternoon, testosterone is at its lowest level – when men are said to be at their highest point of irritability.

Did you know?

  • Testosterone rises in men when they win a competition and falls when they lose (this seems to be the case whether the competition is direct or observed);
  • Testosterone tends to decrease talking and socializing – unless sports or sex are present;
  • Men higher in testosterone tend to be dissatisfied in marriage;
  • Men lower in testosterone tend to have more convincing smiles.

We’re only starting to recognize the complexity of men and the role of testosterone is fascinating, to me at least, in the way it motivates male thinking and behaviour; I think it’s important that people understand this and give a guy the benefit of the doubt because believe it or not, there are some things that men cannot necessarily control.

So fellas, before I end this week’s post, I want to tell you that because your testosterone is rising to peak right now and at any moment you could be at your most virile, I want to remind you to keep yourselves protected to prevent any surprises next fall.

Recommended reading: Effects of Testosterone On The Body

In praise of older men

10 Oct

gregory_peck

This time last year, at the tender age of 43, I admitted to some friends that I kissed a 60-year-old man. My friends, still in their 40s, had interesting responses. One of them sneered at me, but the other was curious. “What was it like?” he asked. “It was fantastic,” I said.

The gent in question had flown into Toronto that day from the UK, to attend a posh business/cocktail party associated with his work that I happened to be at. We had a wonderful conversation, and before I knew it, we were the only guests remaining. After bidding the hosts adieu, we shared a taxi back into the city and had a couple of drinks at his hotel bar. Like many women, I fell under the spell of a man who excited my mind, and a man who wanted to hear what I had to say, and I wanted to show my appreciation.

I invited myself up to his room under the guise of wanting to see what they’d done to the building since renovating it into a hotel/residence. After looking at the view and talking about the action on the street below, I sat down beside him and asked if I could kiss him. It was innocent, respectful, exciting, unhurried. Most of all, it was a refreshing change.

My phone rang at 8:30 the next morning. With a thick head, I struggled out of bed to answer it. It was the gentleman calling me from his plane back to London as it waited on the tarmac. He wanted to make sure I got home okay and we chatted for a few minutes before he said goodbye. It was a romantic dream. I felt like the heroine in an old movie.

I’ve known a lot of men in my life, but I’ve seldom been treated so well. My gentleman carried a hankie and the manners of a bygone age, from a time where men and women treated each other with respect. Meeting this man made me think about the differences between seasoned older men and the urgent expectations of younger men; about maturity and experience vs physicality and insecurity. An older man’s politeness, consideration, and charm can be irresistible, and if he’s anything like my guy, it doesn’t hurt if he resembles Gregory Peck.

Survey says

I became fascinated with the idea of older men with younger women and wanted to know how other women felt, so I devised a survey and got the opinions of a handful of women who have had some kind of romantic tie to men at least 15 years their senior. Most women think their older fellas are fantastic, with the exception of one woman who complained of being more of a “nurse-maid” than a romantic partner. That’s a risk that a younger woman might take, I suppose, but overall, women who like older men love older men.

Women found their mature men respectful, polite, handsome, generous, intelligent, kind, affectionate, sensitive, and good conversationalists; the men were not considered pushy, demanding, or materialistic. The majority of women who took the survey found their older men confident, aware, and responsible, and all women recognized the differences between older and younger men.

One woman offered this: “Older men seem to understand that they have to be full participants in a relationship. I’ve also dated younger men (much younger) and found the relationships were hollow and shallow. Older men know who they are, what they want and where they’re going. They are less selfish and self-absorbed. They are also more caring sex partners. I put it all down to older men have more experience with women and therefore are more sensitive to our needs.”

The jaded nurse-maid was the only woman who would not recommend dating older men, and rightly so, but most women agreed that men get better as they age. As one woman said, “Older men have a lot more going for them than we often think.”

Andropause

When men reach their mid-30s and move into their 40s, they enter andropause, also known as man-o-pause, similar to women’s mid-life menopause where hormone levels change and people take on new behaviours. When testosterone levels begin to wane in men, many changes occur – vitality lessens, the sex drive and aggression decreases, and physical agility declines. This can be shocking for some men, but they have a choice to cruise into their golden years with grace.

The following short-term effects of andropause can include:

  • Decreased strength
  • Decreased endurance
  • Dermatological changes
  • Decreased libido
  • Decreased sexual performance
  • Dysphoria (restlessness)
  • Increased anxiety

Added to the effects of testosterone deficiency comes loss of muscle mass that, according to this Huffington Post article, includes higher fat levels as muscle converts to fat, and more fat means testosterone converts to estrogen. Increased estrogen can look like many things like a heavier frame and “man boobs”  (yes, even 007 has developed moobs – have a look at Roger Moore as a senior). Some of these changes may not be welcome, and depending on the man, could be thought of as a defeat, but an increase in estrogen is what makes men more sensitive and better listeners, and this is what the women in the survey found so appealing.

The style of the older gent

Researching for this post, I did a general search for “older men” and had to pick out the rare bits that were not focused on health issues like increased urination, risk of falls, or a preoccupation with the falling libido. I waded through scathing articles written by women about men growing meaner as they get older, terrible sex-crazed articles describing how thirtysomething “older” men should deal with the conniving, sex-obsessed, gold-digging twentysomethings. I was crestfallen to find few articles mentioning the allure of older gentlemen appealing to a woman’s sense of intelligence, and so too, anything about the style of an older gent.

For the Baby Boomers who bore the youthquake movement of the 1960s, their youthful ideals have in the end betrayed them, and we find ourselves in a youth-focused society where older people are almost entirely overlooked. It’s a shame – we miss out on how awesome they are. As a men’s image consultant, I am blessed to work with older men who want to reinvent themselves during the second part of their lives and become the men they’ve always wanted to be. 

We’ve been conditioned to think of aging as a sentence, as a terrible end to life, but it’s all about perspective. Take it from actor/model Gerry Hennessy who, at age 67, would rather talk about style than ill health:

“Surely personal style is one of the choices that define us as individuals,” he says, “It is the wrapping on the package that identifies you as a man who is interesting, interested, fearless and worth knowing. That is why abandoning your sense of style as you age makes as much sense as retiring at 65.

“If only older men took the time to explore and experience the sense of well-being that personal style brings to the life table, then perhaps we would have more things to discuss than the things ageing generally brings. It is a matter of finding inner peace through life’s style choices – I age, therefore I style.”

Further reading: In Praise of Older Men (Elle magazine)

The Myth of Older Men Wanting Younger Women (Huff Post)

Rent older men in Japan!

Resolve to have a better image in 2013

27 Dec

Gentlemen, if you’re the type to make New Year’s resolutions, make 2013 the year you take five simple steps to improve your image and make a better impression in the world.

1. Keep your shoes and boots clean and polished.2013 shoes It’s a cliche by now, but I say the same still rings true – in the old days, a man’s character was associated with how well he kept his shoes, and there is no reason to think differently now.  Freshly-polished footwear is the sign of a man who takes pride in himself, and people notice.

Shoes are the base of our daily wardrobe, and if they’re dirty, scuffed, and/or in need of repair, your footwear will negate any effort you’ve taken to dress well. On the other hand, wearing magnificently cared-for footwear can actually excuse an otherwise sloppy wardrobe – shoes are powerful!

2. Keep your hands clean. hand illustrationWe meet a lot of people and we shake a lot of hands, and keeping yours clean, like wearing well-kept shoes, sends a positive message about your self esteem and your respect for others. Clean hands also reduce the spread of germs, important  especially in winter – so respect your health and the health of others and wash often!

Unfortunately, washing germs away will dry out your hands, making skin tight and uncomfortable (to the point of cracking, for some of you). The way around this is to apply moisturizer. I hear your complaints already, but  moisturizing your skin is no different than using oil to keep your baseball glove supple. To avoid the discomfort of dry hands, gents, try to apply at least once a day, preferably after your morning shower.

3. Keep scent to a minimum. cologneKeep the smell volume down low, because you may be the only one enjoying the fragrant symphony hanging around you.

Remember that most, if not all of your grooming products, from shampoo to shaving cream, are scented. If you wear aftershave or cologne, this is another fragrance on top of these scents, which  gets to be overpowering quickly.

To make things worse, I just read an article about the fragrance industry using human and animal feces in their products – yuck!

4. Wear well-fitting clothing.  When dressing for business or casual, if you’re not paying attention to the fit of your clothes, you’re doing yourself a 2013 fitdisservice. It doesn’t matter how big or small a man is, ill-fitting clothes visually change your body shape.

Wearing too-small clothing makes bodies bulge and pushes us out of proportion. Too-big clothing (left) gives visual obesity while making us look insignificant as we swim in excess fabric. A correct fit (right) accentuates the positive and makes us more confident. Wearing well-fit clothing feels great!

5. Stand straighter. Want to lose a visual 5 pounds and feel more confident? Inhale, straighten your spine, lift your eyes, and square your shoulders.

People often don’t pay attention to the way they stand, but posture speaks loudly; it can diminish us in the eyes of others or boost our presence and mood. People notice confident people, and confident people stand straight.

I encourage you to watch this 20-minute TED talk with social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, who explains body language and how to turn up your testosterone and your confidence by assuming 2-minute “power positions”:

Without spending extra money, you can sharpen your image by following these simple steps, making for a more confident and memorable 2013. Happy New Year!

Note – In the Key of He is taking January off – see you in February!

Fatherhood: a psycho-chemical view

4 Aug

An old friend of mine suddenly became a father this week. I say suddenly because it’s been a while since I’ve spoken to him and I had no idea that his partner was pregnant with his child.

I don’t have any children (that I know of ) and I have no desire to make copies of myself, so I have difficulty understanding why anyone would want to procreate, but I know that some people do and I respect that. I knew that my friend always wanted to have a baby, so I’m quite pleased for him and I hope that all goes well.

This unexpected news reminded me of the hormonal research I’ve read about what happens in the male brain at various stages of his life, including fatherhood, and decided that this was a good time to discuss the chemical changes that occur in new and expectant fathers. As I continued my research for this week’s post, I was surprised to learn that there are many more things for a father-to-be to worry about besides getting the mother to the hospital in time.

Let me begin by reducing fatherhood to brain chemicals that alter his moods and his perceptions.

 Prolactin

Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, regulated by neuroendocrine neurons in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls temperature regulation, sexual behaviour and reproduction, eight major hormones, and a few other highly important functions. Both men and women have prolactin in their systems but the brain chemical causes very different reactions in either sex especially during pregnancy.

In The Male Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine explains that during the mother’s pregnancy and after the birth, prolactin production is increased in men which sharpens dad’s ability to hear their babies cry by stimulating connections in his brain. The rise in prolactin is accompanied by a decrease in testosterone and this combination promotes paternal behaviour by reducing the aggression associated with testosterone, making men calm and gentle around their babies.

In women, oxytocin, a feel-good brain chemical, pairs with elevated levels of prolactin when the baby is born, as this hormone stimulates milk production for breastfeeding.

In human evolution, there is an amazing reason for everything and so it goes with hormones during pregnancy: with a decrease in testosterone, a father might be able to gently handle his baby, but the hormonal drop also takes down a guy’s sex drive – a lucky thing because mum is probably not paying dad as much attention because it’s all about the baby now. Some men experience neglect because there isn’t enough attention to go around with a small new human in the house, but that’s not all that can happen.

Sympathetic pregnancy

With an increase in prolactin, there is a chance that a father could experience couvade syndrome, or sympathetic pregnancy symptoms when their partners are pregnant. I checked a Parenting.com article about couvade syndrome, which is said to affect a significant amount of men, “about 90 percent of men experience at least one pregnancy-like symptom,” according to CNN chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, M.D.

90 percent may be a high estimation, but there seems to be some evidence that the prolactin chemical can cause otherwise inexplicable “weight gain, nausea, insomnia, and mood swings” in some men. Dr. Gupta described severe cases of couvade syndrome, “among them a father who experienced abdominal pains when his wife went into labor.”

On the psychological end of things, the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology sees the symptoms of couvade syndrome as “a consequence of the man’s envy of the woman’s procreative ability.”

The opposite of penis envy

Early in the last century, Sigmund Freud fathered psychoanalysis and developed all sorts of theories about human sexuality and behaviour. Freud is famous for many things, and one of his better known (and perhaps most ridiculous) theories is “penis envy”.

Freud developed the psycho-sexual stages of children and described the challenges associated with each. By the time a child has passed the oral and anal stages, he theorized, the child reaches the phallic stage, somewhere between the ages of 3 – 7. It is at this stage where Freud borrows from Greek mythology and suggests that little boys experience the Oedipus Complex, a theory based on the story of Oedipus, a king who unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. Dr. C. George Boeree, a retired psychology professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, has written much about Freud, saying that the mythological components of Freud’s theories  are “without a doubt, the weakest part of his theory.”

Of Freud’s theories about the phallic stage, Dr. Boeree finds two of them particularly unrealistic: castration anxiety and penis envy. Castration anxiety is the fear in boys of having their penises cut off.  (Have any of you readers actually experienced this? I’m curious.)  Penis envy on the other hand, Dr. Boeree explains as “the supposed desire all little girls have to grow a penis of their own. The girl has noticed the difference between boys and girls and feels that she, somehow, doesn’t measure up. She would like to have one, too, and all the power associated with it. If Freud meant these things metaphorically, to represent the power of maleness in male-dominated societies like his own, we could understand them.  But he was serious about these ideas, and they form the basis of his theory of sexual development.”

Enter Psychoanalyst Karen Horney, a student of Freud who branched off from the traditional psychotherapy and developed her own theories as a Neo-Freudian. While Freud was consumed with penis and penis envy, Ms Horney instead examined the social condition of women and decided that though penis envy could possibly occur in particularly neurotic women, she believed that Freud’s theory of penis envy is actually a woman’s jealousy of men’s privilege and power in the world.

Horney took the concept further and came up with her own theory about who really envied what, suggesting that some men were envious of women because of women’s ability to carry, bear, and nurture children. These men were said to have womb envy. Horney developed her theory further and believed that a man’s drive for success or his impulse toward creative work is a substitute or compensation for his small role in procreation (source).

Viewed this way, a father’s role seems undervalued, but at the time of Horney’s theories, men didn’t participate much in the nurturing of their children, so they would have played a small role in procreation. Now in the 21st century, fathers are taking active roles in their child’s growth and upbringing, and they have their own modern issues.

Post-natal depression in new fathers

I came across an interesting article from the Fatherhood Institute that suggests 1 in 10 new fathers suffer from depression before and after the birth of their babies. According to the Adrienne Burgess, lead researcher at the Institute, “Depression for both mothers and fathers arise as a result of  huge life changes a baby brings. The outpouring of hormones, lack of sleep, increased responsibility and general life stresses can apply to men just as much to women.”

During the pregnancy, the article suggests, the relationship between the couple is changing, and with the mother’s concern with the birth, the “nesting”, and the baby, she often leaves fathers feeling “left out”, which may lead them into depression.

When the baby is born, the involvement of the father sometimes comes under serious criticisms from the mother who may blame him for not measuring up as a parent “without thinking deeply [about] how such criticisms go a long way in undermining a man’s confidence in parenting. When the criticisms become sustained, the father of the child may withdraw and then communication breakdown and resentment sets in to compound the post-natal stress for the father.”

The Fatherhood Institute identifies symptoms of male post-natal depression:

1. Men with post-natal depression easily get mad, while women tend to get sad.

2. The men drink too much, engage in self-medicating and indulge in extra-marital affairs.

3. Men dealing with post-natal depression tend to be bullies in their homes.

The Institute also identifies ways to reduce father’s depression:

1. Mother and father of the unborn baby to frequent pre-natal clinics and be in touch with health care providers who can detect any issues that could lead to depression on the part of the father.

2. Fathers with signs of post-natal depression should be encouraged to undergo counselling, psychotherapy, cranial osteopathy, massage, and reflexology, all of which are useful therapies to post-natal depression.

3. Taking good rest, eating properly, and writing down feelings in a journal or a diary could also greatly help reduce fatherhood post-natal depression.

4. Talk about your situation to confidants. Never bottle it up, speak to your partners and friends about it.

So there it is. Another complex issue about the complex masculine condition. Before embarking on this post, I didn’t realize what kind of issues a father-to-be may have to grapple with – psychoanalytic neurosis, neglect, post-natal depression, and much, much more, I’m sure.

My friend Lawrence, himself a father of two daughters, says that fatherhood is the most rewarding and challenging experience that a guy can go through, but it isn’t for everyone (“Think hard before you make the decision to be a father,” he says.). I don’t have the stomach for it, but for all of you new fathers who do, I hope that your baby brings you more joy than challenge.

The beauty of aging

23 Jun

Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man.                     - Leon Trotsky

Rohan Francis, Mr. Caribbean Canada 2008

39 is not old. It isn’t even middle-aged, but 39 isn’t exactly fresh either. By the age of 39, we have become more mature and established, but our bodies have changed, we’ve got “life lines” on our faces, our energy may have waned some, we may be more susceptible to injury, and maybe it’s time for reading glasses.

When we think of male “beauty pageants” or “fitness modelling contests” as they are known, men at the ripe old age of 39 are probably not an obvious choice in contestant, but at 39, personal trainer, Rohan Francis, decided to enter one of these contests, won the title of Mr. Caribbean Canada, and went on to compete in Mr. Caribbean International.

“It was my last kick at the can,” Rohan says, explaining that he was by far the oldest contestant in the 2008 competition, his competitors 10-14 years his junior.

Rohan’s rivals were confident and self-assured islanders, fit, and living healthy lifestyles, and judged by the usual “beauty contest” categories: modeling casual wear, then swimwear (to show off their brawn and physiques), talent (Rohan did a dance routine), then a question and answer session to spotlight the intellect and personality (I believe that this is the category that won Rohan the title – he’s a shining star here).

When I asked him how he felt about going on display, he told me that when he was 25, he knew what he had and he worked it.

“At that age, a guy is all about ego and getting laid,” he said.

At 39 however, the motivation was different. Rohan explained that instead of focusing all of his energy on sex and how to get it as a younger man, “life is more than your looks and sex appeal, it’s more about character and aspirations about things outside of yourself.”

Through the competitive modelling experience, Rohan learned that he could still compete with younger men but didn’t walk around with a chip on his shoulder and a puffed up chest like I’ve seen some older men do in imagined or real competition with younger fellas. I suppose these older guys are clinging to their former strength and fear of losing potency, perhaps not rational but completely understandable.

Andropause

As men age, their testosterone levels drop and they experience what is called andropause (also known as “man-o-pause”). Somewhere after the age of 40, hormones slowly wane, accompanied by “changes in attitudes and moods, ongoing fatigue, a loss of vitality, and decreased sex drive. Added to this, there is usually a decline in physical agility and ability,” says the Masters Men’s Clinic website.

According to Andropause Canada, men may experience the following short-term effects of andropause:

  • Decreased strength
  • Decreased endurance
  • Dermatological changes
  • Decreased libido
  • Decreased sexual performance
  • Dysphoria (restlessness)
  • Increased anxiety

Because the testosterone deficiency causes the loss of muscle mass and bone density, it can make a guy feel tired and can affect his self-esteem. Though this could threaten a man’s virility and his sense of self-worth, the post-30s should really be a time in a man’s life that he accepts and embraces.

As Rohan says, “It’s important to respect the body especially as we age. The body wears down so we shouldn’t try to do at 39 what we did at 25. Play it smarter and respect the aging process but don’t feel that you’re incapable.”

Leverage 

Winning a title such as Mr. Caribbean Canada could have been all about Rohan, Rohan’s ego, Rohan dripping with star-struck women, and Rohan getting more stuff because he’s a title-holder. But being older and wiser, Rohan used his title and notoriety for good, seeing it as a launch pad for business exposure and to help his community.

He was featured in a few magazines including Sway, a quarterly urban magazine, and had a wardrobe supplied by Anthony’s Formal Wear for a year. Nice perks, but what is really cool is that Rohan used his influence to make his community better.

Rohan recognized that blood donations from the black community were (and still are) lacking, so knowing the far reaches of the gift of blood, our champion continues to promote blood donation to his community in support of the Canadian Blood Services. (Before I spoke to Rohan, I thought that blood was blood but apparently, Rohan’s blood has less vitamin D than my caucasian blood does, and this influences the tendency to acquire hypertension in black people – check this site and please enlighten us in the comments if you have further info on this subject).

Women

I came across several websites that sing the praises of older men and the younger women that love them while researching for today’s post, and there are lots of reasons to opt for an older gent including maturity, experience and the confidence that comes from being experienced, and a different kind of appreciation for women than younger guys riding the waves of blinding, pumping hormones might have.

Our old geezer in question had figured some things out about women that were different from his former attitudes, and certainly different than the attitudes of some of his younger competitors. Without so much focus on his ego, Rohan says that “intellect is the ultimate thing to win a woman over but to keep her, you’re going to need creativity, some “swag” (coolness), character, confidence, fun, and sex appeal.”

Affirmation

Having had the fitness contest experience, Rohan says that it’s time to reevaluate how we look at men and I couldn’t agree more. It should be about character, he thinks, not about how tight a guy’s buns are. It’s also about older men being empowered and self-affirming.

Now as a 42 year-old, Rohan says, “I can still live life to its fullest and I can still function and be relevant and vital.”

Indeed, in Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, author and philospher Sam Keen writes that “to age gracefully, we must aspire to become wise and beautiful elders. For this, men require a revolution in identity in which we measure success by our capacity for compassion rather than by accumulation of power, and virility by the capacity to mature, husband, and mentor.”

Sounds good to me.

For the love of politicians, part 2

28 Apr

Here's to finding common ground, not battle ground.

When it comes to party leaders, people tend to see them as figures who represent party ideology that may agree or disagree with them and will treat the party figure accordingly. We judge politicians very harshly according to what they stand for, for the agendas we think they carry, and the assumption that we make of them all being crooks, and non-human ones at that.

This week, I’d like to offer an alternate view, a social and neuro-biological point of view, an angle that sees Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff, and Gilles Duceppe not only as humans, but as men, men enslaved to tightly-bound atoms that carry messages from one part of their bodies to another in the form of hormones, and also by the profound social structure that is born of seeing the world through googily testosterone goggles.

Politics as science

The Oxford English Language Dictionary (Oxford) defines politics as the art and science of government. Last week, I discussed politics as art and imagined the complexity of a political image and how important it is to a leader and the party “brand”. This week, if science is “a branch of knowledge involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena”(Oxford), allow me to explain my objective observations about this beast.

Through science, we have insight into the conduct of people, in this case, male politicians, via brain structure which is influenced by testosterone. Six weeks after their conception, males are already under the heavy influence of this hormone that goes so far as to affect the formation of their brains. All humans have lots of testosterone in their bodies, but for those of you with the XY chromosome combination, testosterone has given you more brain space than females for aggression, sex, and power. But testosterone giveth and testosterone taketh away – your brain space for communication, emotional processing, and observation has been compromised and is smaller than in females. With a brain like this making decisions for the last six thousand years, it explains a whole lot about who we are as a species and what kind of world we live in.

Hierarchical Systems 

You may not have thought of this before, but any structure, system, or institution in our world has been born of the male mind. Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, categorizes the male brain as “predominantly hard-wired for systemizing… Systemizing is the drive to analyze, explore, and construct a system.” Systems that make things work like engines or paddle boats, or systems that influence ways of thinking and behaving like academia, law, or government are all very much products of the male mind.

Dr. James M. Dabbs, who spent his professional life researching the relationship between testosterone and human social behaviour says that “boys play war games and sort themselves into hierarchies. They compete to see who will be the leader, the quarterback, the top dog.” In the political system, it’s the Prime Minister at the top of the heap  (but in a different system could be the king or the admiral or the manager), in control and lapping up the power of the position of authority.

To me, the hierarchical system, generated by the male brain and under the spell of a very powerful hormone, pits people against each other where one figure dominates and controls power, giving us one “winner” and one “loser” in male language. Translated through the filters of my empathetic female brain, this means “someone who reached their goal” and “someone who felt bad”. Indeed, in The Male Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine explains that “pecking order and hierarchy matter more deeply in men than most women realize.”  You said it, sister.

 Domination

Within a hierarchical system, one person, or one group of people with the same understanding, dominate and control others – and guess why? Yes, it’s testosterone again, driving men to fight for power in some way  (arguing or arm wrestling, for example) to win dominance over other people.

If the male brain wants to dominate and have more power, it will drive a man to attempt to out-do other figures that threaten him, so there is a need to prove oneself, to be correct, and to impress oneself on other people. Dabbs says that dominant people need “panache”: “the male animal equivalent of puffing themselves up, bristling, strutting, preening, spreading their tail feathers, and controlling space to intimidate their [perceived] opponents.” Our politicians compete with loud election promises, and they argue and finger point and call each other names in the name of dominance, it seems to me.

In the case of politics, competition, aggression, and the drive to dominate turns the goings-on in the House of Commons to the equivalent of an intellectual street brawl; the boxing ring for policy geeks. Stephen, Michael, Jack, and Gilles may not physically dominate each other by being big and burly, but they are out to dominate with their minds and their points, just like the Classical Greek men did, sans toga this time.

Extreme thinking

Testosterone likes to see in extremes and this is very evident in our society. Thinking in extremes forces wedges between people, suggesting or imposing a view that allows only one way or another to see an issue, instead of the sea of grey in between both points of view. Think about it, our culture forces a very black and white view (oh! there’s another one), specifically because the dominant culture sees through testosterone goggles and takes this way of thinking very seriously. Examples of extreme thinking:

  • right – wrong
  • whig – tory
  • guilty – innocent
  • win – lose
  • to be or not to be

In politics, the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” way of thinking breaks into very strict ideologies that forces wedges between people with only slight differences of opinion. Though I’m applying this idea to political parties, I could just as well apply it to any other testosterone-born organization: religion, sports teams, or court rooms, where you’re a believer or a heathen, a Rider fan or a Stampeders fan, guilty or not guilty.

Somehow, seeing things this way asks for a judgement as in, one thing is good or bad (another!), and I suppose this harkens back to the hierarchy and the dominance of the testosterone-laden mind, one that yearns for the position of being “better” than someone else. This, as far as I can make out, can only breed bad behaviour.

Politics breeds bad behaviour

You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner. -Aristophanes, Greek comic dramatist, 424 B.C.E

Testosterone pushes for competition and the one-upmanship of competition creates unnecessary adversity as far as I’m concerned. In a political realm, bad behaviour in the form of insults, shouting, or smear tactics are used to compete with the intent to dominate. Ipolitics.ca recently reported on the recent electoral-related vandalism, from “slashed tires and harassing phone calls to sign vandalism and flyer-swapping skullduggery, citizen tacticians have taken the race into their own hands — often at the expense of their preferred party’s reputation.” It is amazing to me that within our society, people have been so profoundly influenced by testosterone that they will turn against each other merely for differences of opinion.

As per the ipolitics article, bad behaviour equates to people being “left with a bad taste in their mouths (a new Angus Reid survey shows 80 per cent of Canadians are politically “scattered between mistrust, cynicism and alienation”), despite the best efforts of most candidates to run clean campaigns.” Bad behaviour has a huge bearing on the candidate and the parties they represent, casting both in a less than palatable light. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think Canadians are into adversity like this, and I certainly do not feel properly represented by people who use intimidation to do their job, and act in a less-than-gentlemanly manner.

Action

I see politics, in structure and operation, as the product of testosterone. However, despite the enormous links between the two, I also see irony. Testosterone is all about movement, exploration, and action, but for some reason, our politicos are not taking any. It seems that instead, they’re busy trying to out-do each other and dominate for power, just like their hormones dictate (I know it’s not the salary or the sex, drugs, or rock and roll on Parliament Hill).

Our four leaders in question, like all other males in the world, are under the chemical influence of testosterone which drives them to dominate, intimidate, and think in extremes in their support of a hierarchical structure that to my mind, breeds automatic hostility and a constant state of tension. Though I too have been conditioned to operate under such a structure, I wouldn’t want to be a male under what I observe to be a life of testosterone-laden strife (it must be exhausting!).

If we don’t like what politicians are doing or saying, remember this: men are not necessarily conscious of their behaviours and what drives them; they may simply be operating under the influence of the molecules that make up testosterone in a society that testosterone created. In other words, cut them some slack, they’re not as fully in control of themselves as we might think.

Vote

During the debates this month, the candidates stated that they wanted to work together to come to some agreement to get some things done. I think we’d all like that. And so I would like to challenge all candidates to really embrace their words and try to put differences aside to be able to come to the agreements imperative to making a country work, and look for common ground, not battle ground.

So on May 2, even if you’re a long-time party supporter, even if you can’t decide, even if you’re apathetic, just remember that, with all due respect to Ms May, who I greatly admire for having sensible estrogen and not swimming in the pool of political rhetoric, one of these men will be running our country and you have a say in which one does.

My only regret is that Steve Paikin is not in the race… 

The co-ed gym

17 Mar

I’ve been going to a women’s gym for several years and due to various circumstances, decided to switch my membership to a gym closer to where I live. This particular gym happens to be a co-ed gym.

Working out with only women is its own thing, but working out with men is quite another. The dynamic is different, it smells different, and people behave differently when the opposite sex is present.

I go to the gym because exercise makes me feel good and helps me look good in my clothes, but that doesn’t tell me anything about why a man might opt for the gym, so I spent time reading weight training and men’s health forums and found some good opinions to help me understand a guy’s motivation. I came upon this very honest and revealing opinion from a young man explaining why he loves going to the gym: “There’s this innate need in us to be appreciated, to be praised, and to be admired. Make no mistake about it, 99% of males go to the gym for one reason – to be more attractive to the opposite sex. Females have the ability to significantly alter the male behaviour with their presence alone.”

I’ve been told that the women at my gym tend to do the fitness classes like group yoga and such, while the men mostly concentrate on the weights. I’ve always weight-trained and since I haven’t found a yoga instructor at the gym that I particularly like, I’m one of a handful of women who use the free weights and weight machines in this mostly masculine realm.

When I’m in this masculine domain doing my thing, men notice that I’m there. I sometimes think that they’re mystified that a woman is there using free weights or maybe they’re sneering at my technique; maybe they respect me, or perhaps something completely different.

Dangerous interruption

One day while I was listening to music on my iPod and using a 30 lb bar bell (no snickering please), a big muscle-bound fella comes over and says something to me. I stopped, put down the weight, and took the earphone out to hear him ask me how long I’d be at the bench. I was completely dumbfounded that this person would interrupt someone’s concentration in mid-pump and ask how long they’d be with the equipment. Now,  I can understand if someone spoke to me if I was sitting on the equipment texting or daydreaming (bad gym etiquette), but I was using the equipment. With a heavy weight, I expect that interrupting someone’s routine is potentially dangerous.

I found a soul sister’s comments on a forum for this example: “…if you want to strike out, then be sure to try to talk to me when I’ve got my headphones on, and make me take them out to hear you say something inane. Grrr.”

Women seem to be mixed on the question of being approached at the gym, but I will say that while she’s wearing headphones, it’s a  suggestion of exercise and not conversation.

Testosterone country

But back to the guy. I noticed him walking by most of the machines I was using. I mentioned this to my male friends who laughed at the story. “We used to do that in grade school when we liked a girl,” one friend said. Elementary school? A grown man with the same level of emotional intelligence as an adolescent boy?

I thought about it. Sounds like the old one-track mind routine brought to you by testosterone, the stuff that helps men focus on the task at hand. This time though, testosterone’s control over this guy seemed to reduce what was already lacking and focused on his immediate needs (“need bench”, “need to talk to / irritate woman”). But no one knows for sure.

Does everyone stare?

Now as I said, gender behaviour changes when there is mixed company and when gym-going women choose to dress in tight or revealing clothing, the testosterone focus can switch from pumping iron to pumping blood. I read a comment from one fellow who said that after staring at a woman, he lifted 20% more weight on the bench press. Wow. I didn’t realize that women had that kind of effect on men.

I look around me when I’m working out and notice the people, see what they’re doing, notice what they’re wearing, imagine what they do based on the way their heads are groomed, and I will admit that from afar, I admire men doing pull-ups because bearing witness to a man working his upper body is amazing and awe-inspiring to me. Sometimes the men notice me noticing them but I am usually respectfully clandestine about it – i.e. I’m not ogling them.

Everyone will have their own opinion, but looking to the forums again, I found a range of women’s opinions about what it’s like to be stared at by the men at the gym:

a) As long as it is not leering I take it as a compliment. After all I am working hard to look good. Nice to know it is appreciated.

b) I focus on my workouts and never make eye contact… so if someone is staring I wouldn’t even know…

This young man sums it up quite well: “I’d say noticing is fine, staring is rude, but as long as you’re not camped out with a pair of binoculars and a box of donuts, you’re probably okay.”

I’m not here to judge or get down on anyone, but I think women should be more aware of what they wear to exercise in because men like to look at women and that isn’t going to change. Women’s bodies are very distracting to men and if women don’t want to be noticed / stared at, they should maybe think twice about wearing a push-up bra under their low-cut gym top in full make-up (these choices make me question women’s motivation). One weight-training forum guy says: “I think women who feel offended by [men staring at them] should use good judgment when choosing what to wear to the gym. Some guys are just gonna stare regardless, but come on, don’t wear booty shorts and a short sports bra looking thing to the gym and hop on the thigh master or butt blaster, you’re asking to get stared at.”

I can only speak for myself and I’ll tell you that it makes me uncomfortable to be stared at while at the gym. I don’t think most men want to make women feel ill at ease, so it might be a good thing to be conscious of what your eyes are doing, guys, as in, how you’re looking at women but also how long you’re looking at them.

To sum up this week’s post, I think this fellow says it well: “… in the presence of ladies, the motivation to exercise even harder is never lacking, but there is nothing quite like working the bench press or preacher’s curls… [and] come out feeling more like a man, more masculine, more fulfilled, having achieved something at the end of the day.” Isn’t that what it’s all about, fellas?

Pie face

17 Feb

It’s February and we are in the dead of winter; we’re at our driest, lightest, and flakiest. Of course I’m talking about skin, not pastry.

If you had a look at me right now, you would see winter woe personified: dry, papery skin, my face seems more deeply lined than it was a plump 6 months ago, there are red patches on my hands, and because of my horrendously sensitive skin, you would also see little red splotches on my cheeks caused by rosacea brought on by winter wind. I’m really quite a dish come February.

We Canadians really get the crap kicked out of us during the winter

There’s so little moisture in the air outside and dry heat inside, that we’re literally cracking. I’ve personally got split skin in my right nostril (treating it with antibacterial ointment on a Q-tip, in case the same thing is happening to you).  Some people will experience painful cracked skin on their hands in the winter from the lack of moisture, and for those clean freaks out there, having your hands wet for a good deal of time will exacerbate the problem, keeping your hands raw and red.

How to make it better: Use rubber gloves to wash dishes and moisturize your hands. Some people use moisturizer every time they wash and dry their hands. If this is too much for you, see if you could get into the routine of moisturizing three times a day, before you eat, say, and if that is unrealistic for you, at least try for one time after the morning shower. (And if you won’t even do that, I’m not sure why you’re reading this blog). I don’t care if you guys think this is pansy – pansies are smart and much more comfortable in their skin during the winter and are not open to invading germs that crawl into the cracks of the broken skin – guys that care about their skin are simply keeping themselves comfortable and keeping themselves healthy – nothing wimpy about that.

You fellas will have some different issues with your skin than I have because you have more testosterone in your bodies. Testosterone makes for a thicker and oilier skin with it’s own characteristics, but no matter what your skin type, we’re all affected by winter.

Here are some tips to make things better from me and this week’s co-pilot, Brian Lao, founder of Bread and Butter Skincare for men:

Winter skin

Brian says that a guy’s main winter skin issues are dry skin, cracked facial skin, and chapped lips. “We need some sort of moisturizer on our face to make sure that our skin doesn’t get all dried out.”

The Bread and Butter philosophy is “to create products where nothing is put in, said or done that is without purpose”. Brian talks about commercial lip balms adding flavour and fragrance which actually encourage us to lick our lips which dries them out even further. “We take out all the flavour and scent out of our lip balm so that the temptation [to lick] isn’t there,” and allowing the balm to do what it’s supposed to to: protect your lips.

Oily skin

Though it seems counter-intiuitive, oily skin wants moisture, so those of you with shiny skin, reach for a water-based moisturizer without parabens – nasty liquid plastics used as preservatives that are in almost all grooming products that your skin will absorb. Parabens are usually listed at the end of the product’s ingredient lists in the form of methyl, ethyl, propyl, and butylparaben, and less common isobutyl, isopropyl, and benzylparaben, so keep your eyes out for these.

Most of the Bread and Butter products are about 95% natural; Brian doesn’t use parabens in his products as they “are one of the top 5 irritating substances to human skin. Parabens are highly toxic and have been linked to breast cancer.”

Dry skin

Exfoliating to remove the dead skin cells from the surface of the skin is a good move – this prepares the fresh skin below to receive moisturizer that I hope you are heavy-handed in applying as a dry-skinned person. If you skip this step, “there will be too much dead skin on the surface and these block the hair folicles, creating conditions for ingrown hair,” Brian explains.

Sensitive skin

Wash in warm or tepid – not hot – water. My research shows that our skin contains proteins and fats that help retain the natural moisture and hot water can remove this natural seal. With me, a long hot shower makes my face and body break out into red splotches and my skin feels tight – a terrible feeling!

Try a natural soap and moisturizer. Commercial soaps contain all sorts of nasty ingredients (alkalines, chemical colours and scents) that can dry out and irritate the skin. I use the lather of a natural locally-made oatmeal soap on my face, and with flakes of real oatmeal in the soap, it’s great for a gentle body exfoliation.

Be gentle on your skin. Try not to apply too much pressure as you wash and moisturize, sensitive-skinned lads. Applying pressure to the skin arouses the blood vessels near the surface of the skin and can make a flushed face – I’m so sensitive that even applying a moisturizer gives me red cheeks!

Everybody’s skin

The top layer of human skin is composed of cells in the epidermis that have about a 27 day life cycle, the cells rise up from the innermost layers and later die on the surface of the skin that I understand to be 20 – 30 layers deep – that’s a lot of spent skin cells. Because of the nature of our skin, we can all benefit from an exfoliant. The sloughing wash lessens the possibility of ingrown hairs as Brian mentioned, prepares the skin to soak up the moisturizer, and it helps give a closer shave. It also makes our skin glow and look more youthful, and it feels better too.

One thing I love about the exfoliant in the Bread and Butter daily face cleanser is that the tiny exfoliating beads are made of bamboo and rice powder. Brian tells me that commercial exfoliants use plastic beads to work off the skin cells. “Why would we use products that wash plastic beads down the drain?” he wonders. B and B uses recyclable packaging and does their part to reduce materials and energy use – another reason that I like them.

If it will be helpful to you, gentlemen, I’ll do a summer skin care blog this year and ask Brian to join us again to talk about summer skin issues and solutions.

Until then, keep clean, keep smooth, and keep hydrated – the moisture of spring will find us soon enough!


Brevity and the man

10 Feb

Sometimes you fellas amaze me. You amaze me because so many of you are tight-lipped about things that I would be all gushy over. My clients amaze me most of all.

The men I work come to me when they’re ready to step it up, so they’re already excited about changing. They’re generally talkative and ask questions as they undergo the image transformation. We discuss all sorts of things from shaving cream to whether or not to cuff their trousers. There’s lots of chatter and sharing and laughing and hanging out during the process but when we’re finished the physical work, the verbage just dries up. Let me explain.

With face time over, I prepare a digital file for each client, documenting the individual’s transformation: colour information, body and wardrobe notes, photographs, my analysis, and the visual results. I email these notes to the client when they’re ready. It’s a pretty good system.

Oh, and that was my left brain speaking just there.

“I’m creative and I’m intuitive and I pour in a little soul with my meditations and reflections,” says my right brain of the client notes. I’m starting to wonder if I become emotionally attached to the creation of these notes because I always feel somewhat deflated when the client responds to the multi-page document, full of soul and observation, with a brief “thanks” or “that’s cool”.

As a woman, I want you to talk to me,  I want the details, I want to know how you feel. Then I remember who I’m dealing with: straight men.

The male brain

Deborah Blum, in Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women, says that in brain hemispheric theory, men rely on one hemisphere or another when doing a task. “By comparison,” she says, “women use both. In tests involving word selection, women recorded activity in both hemispheres. Most of the men – there are always exceptions – showed increase only in the left hemisphere.”

(The left hemisphere of the brain is the side that keeps order, uses reason and logic, conceives time, and is also associated with the masculine. The right hemisphere, associated with the feminine, is intuitive, creative, looks for patterns, and understands non-verbal communication.)

Dr. Louann Brizendine is one of my favourite scientists. Her specialty is neurobiology and she’s done some fascinating research on male and female brains (fellas, if you want to understand women better, please read The Female Brain).

Brizendine suggests that in Y-chromosoned embryos, “eight weeks after conception, the tiny male testicles begin to produce enough testosterone to marinate the brain and fundamentally alter its structure.”

Several processing areas of the male brain are affected by the testosterone surge, enlarging some areas and shrinking others. It should come as no surprise that the communication, observation, and emotional processing centres are the three main areas that shrink in the testosterone shower, so male verbal abilities (compared to female verbal abilities) are compromised before they’re born.  We’ll talk about what testosterone makes bigger another week.

Testosterone affects all areas of a man’s life from the degree of his monogamy, to his aggression, emotional memory, and his communication

In a 2004 Journal of Abnormal Psychology study, James M. Dabbs et al, measured the relationship of testosterone levels with written language for 1 -2 year period with two people in testosterone treatment: a man with a loss of upper body strength, and a female-to-male transgendered individual.  Ultimately, the study concluded that “higher testosterone levels correlated with reduced use of words related to social connections.”

The study’s statistical results showed really interesting patterns in word usage frequency:

1. Increase in the aggressive, dominant, and sexual language category (“hate”, “kill”, swear words; terms of achievement, money, sports; “penis”, “sensual”), in spatial thinking terms (“area”, “up”), and in action-oriented words (“will”, “certain”).

2. Decrease in social verbal connections (pronouns and esp. female pronouns, communication verbs like “share” and “say”), reasoning (6+ letter words, “know”, “think”),  and feeling (“happy”, “love”, “joy”, worry”, “cry”, “touch”, “I”).

Interestingly, the the few feeling words that did increase had to do with optimism (“energy”) and negativity (“ugly”).

(“Testosterone as a Social Inhibitor: Two Case Studies of the Effect of Testosterone Treatment on Language”: Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2004, Vol. 113, No. 1, 172-175.)

So we have all of this interesting scientific data about testosterone affecting men’s neurology and communication, and then Jed Diamond comes along and puts it into more understandable terms: “when a man becomes emotional, he is more likely to express it physically. A woman is more comfortable expressing her feelings verbally. He wants to go out and pound something. She wants to talk it out.” (The Irritable Male Syndrome.)

Looking at men from this perspective makes things different, doesn’t it? What an interesting link between my client’s brief thank you messages, testosterone, and male brain function. Makes a little more sense now.

The gay brain

Something different happens when I send the follow up notes to my gay clients. They quickly come right out and dish about how the changes make them feel and  how fantastic they feel in their clothes. I feel good that I was able to help and I understand how I helped; this is what my female brain craves and my gay clients gratify me this way.

Gay male brains are said to be more similar to heterosexual female brains in terms of size and components – i.e. the amygdala, (pronounced a-MIG-dala) the ancient brain center that regulates emotion, and a slightly larger right hemisphere. Most of the gay men that I’ve ever met have been expressive like women are expressive, even the leather fetish men, the biggest teddy bears of them all.

For a really interesting article on the gay brain, check this Washington Post article.

*                                   *                                  *

It could very well be that testosterone prevents men from articulating, though there will always be exceptions, like my straight 18-year old client who filled every moment with words.

Now that I understand testosterone as a verbal and social inhibitor to greater and lesser degrees in (str8) men, I’m gratified again because now I can appreciate their brief bullet pointed remarks as boiled down versions of the wonderful and detailed responses from my gay clients.

If I’m right, that’s a pretty cool translation.

What are your hands doing?

23 Dec

If you don’t know by now, I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Design with a specialization in costume. In Theatre school, we learned from all different areas so that we could understand and appreciate all of the jobs that make up a working theatre – stage management, lighting and sound, scenic painting, stage carpentry, and acting, for example.

While in my performance class, I developed an appreciation of acting and how difficult it is. One of the most challenging parts of acting for me at least, was to sync up the movements – genuine movements – to the genuinely delivered but memorized words – it’s all so fabricated that only great actors can do this well. (Next time you’re watching TV or a film, watch the hands of the actor – if he / she is focused, their hands will be one with their emotions and words.)

Throughout the class, we worked on monologues and performed our speeches to the whole department at the end of the semester. I chose a piece from a Eugene O’Neill play, A Touch of the Poet.

I was prepared, I researched the play and my character, I memorized and internalized the work, I knew all of my lines cold. The night came. It was my turn. I walked into the center of the floor in the studio theatre and began my monologue. I delivered my lines flawlessly. Then, while reaching out in gesture as I continued, I was so focused on getting the words right, that my hands froze in mid-air until my brain realized that there was absolutely no connection between my outstretched hands and the words I was speaking.

From this experience, I learned many things. I realized how important and how strong the connection between the mind and the body is, and I realized how out of touch we are with ourselves when we are not conscious of our physical body.

I know from acting studies that our hands give much away about our emotional state and when I’m working with my clients, I like to draw their attention to this idea. I like to take them through a mental journey of their own bodies when we do body work. This helps them to become aware of their bodies, how they hold themselves,  their posture, and their movements because not only does it feel good to be alive, our physical presence sends messages to the people around us to be interpreted accordingly.

Hand movements and gestures can speak at high volumes and can punctuate our words and give away our state of mind, even if we’re not conscious of it, so being able to identify what our bodies or hands are doing is a great way to learn to be in control of oneself.

If you read my Multi-tasking blog post from earlier this year, I discussed the difficulty men often have with doing more than one task at a time due to the amount of testosterone in their bodies which likes to focus on one thing at a time. The challenge for the fellas is becoming aware of the body and its parts at any given time while remaining present in the current situation. If you are up to it gents, try the following experiment.

Experiment

At different points during your day, try asking yourself, what are my hands doing? to become more conscious of your appendages while your brain concentrates on other things. You may be surprised to find that your hands are the physical manifestation of what you’re thinking about / feeling / in the midst of.

Try this experiment if you’re interested and ask yourself what your hands are doing when you are in different situations:

  • If you’re relaxed, your hands may be hanging relaxed at your sides
  • If you’re speaking to someone who is giving you information that you don’t like, ask what your hands are doing and you may find that your fists are clenched
  • If you’re bored or in a situation that makes you nervous, you may become aware that your hands are fidgeting in some way or have gone to your mouth

These are simple examples that most people can read. The trick is to make yourself conscious of them so that you can control yourself, if you so choose. I believe this knowledge will help you if you don’t want everyone to know how you are feeling at that particular moment.  So when you’re in a meeting and not agreeing with what is being discussed and you notice that you’re roughly rubbing your hands, take a breath, realize that other people can see and read you, then consciously relax your hands. Undoubtedly you’ll feel better and being controlled / conscious, you may be in a better position than if people read you as an aggressive member at the table.

Testosterone spikes this season

7 Oct

Ah, the autumn! Crisp air, glorious colours,  the delicious harvest, and look out - the peak of your annual testosterone levels.

More than any other season, the fall seems to have the most birthdays, doesn’t it? A September-born friend of mine jokes about being a “Christmas Party Baby”, but it turns out that there is more to it than a slap, tickle, and one too many cups of holiday cheer.

“Testosterone levels and sperm counts are highest in late fall and early winter… the peak times for human births in the Northern Hemisphere is around August or September – 9 months after the high testosterone levels of the preceeding fall.” (Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behavior).

According to Jed Diamond in The Irritable Male Syndrome,  testosterone levels cycle throughout the year: “Studies conducted in the US, France, Australia found that men secrete their highest levels of sex hormones in October and their lowest levels in April.”

The irritable male syndrome is characterized by a “state of hypersensitivity, anxiety, frustration, and anger that occurs in males and is associated with biochemical changes, hormonal fluctuations, stress, and a loss of male identity.”  Diamond claims that there is a seasonal aspect to the irritable male syndrome that makes men “more irritable when days shorten and there is less light. The decline in testosterone between October and April may contribute to this irritability.”

When I read these two books a few years ago, I was left wondering why it’s taken us so long to start examining men like we do women. As I research further, I have found that male hormonal swings may be more powerful and more prevalent than female hormonal fluctuations, and yet women have been pinned as the changeable, screaming, crying, mood-and sometimes axe-swinging slaves to their monthly hormone changes.

Not only does a man’s testosterone level change throughout the year, it is constantly changing all day and every day – when men go to sleep, testosterone is on the rise hour by hour until its peak upon waking in the morning (if you don’t believe me, gentlemen, think about what you wake up with every day). By the afternoon, the hormone levels off, begins its decline, and by late afternoon, testosterone is at its lowest level – when men are said to be at their highest point of irritability.

Did you know?

  • Testosterone rises in men when they win a competition and falls when they lose (this seems to be the case whether the competition is direct or observed);
  • Testosterone tends to decrease talking and socializing – unless sports or sex are present;
  • Men higher in testosterone tend to be dissatisfied in marriage;
  • Men lower in testosterone tend to have more convincing smiles.

We’re only starting to recognize the complexity of men and the role of testosterone is fascinating, to me at least, in the way it motivates male thinking and behaviour; I think it’s important that people understand this and give a guy the benefit of the doubt because believe it or not, there are some things that men cannot necessarily control.

So fellas, before I end this week’s post, I want to tell you that because your testosterone is rising to peak right now and at any moment you could be at your most virile, I want to remind you to keep yourselves protected to prevent any surprises next fall.

Recommended reading: Effects of Testosterone On The Body