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Testosterone spikes this season

13 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

Spread ’em. Actually, don’t

8 Jan

you balls are not that bigInspired by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the move to ban “man-spreading”–men who sit on public transit with their knees spread so far apart that they actually take up seats next to them–has reached Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission, and it’s caused some interesting gender chatter.

Globe and Mail article on the topic mentions the Canadian Association for Equality (CAE) who started a petition to stop the ban on man-spreading. The group says, “This sets a very bad precedent as men opening their legs is something we have to do due to our biology. It’s physically painful for men to close their legs and we cannot be expected to do so, and it’s also a biological necessity for us to do so.”

According to the petition, a ban on spreading one’s legs would “be a big blow to men’s rights.” Men’s rights to do what? Take up unnecessary space on public transit? To be discourteous to others?

Mike Wood, a volunteer advocacy officer with CAE argues that men should be able to take up as much space as women who board buses with strollers, but he fails to understand that when women bring strollers onto a bus, there is another person in the stroller, and the baby in the stroller needs space, just like any other person.

I wouldn’t agree that testicles have any independent rights and need their own seat on the subway.

 In Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behaviour, James Dabbs describes “panache” as a manner that seeks to get the attention and respect of others. “A person with panache,” he writes, “scores points by looking dominant. Bluffing often works just as well as fighting when it comes to getting attention and respect. Male animals bristle, puff, strut, preen, spread their tail feathers, control space, intimidate their opponents, and show off to get their way and impress the opposite sex.”

Is this not what man-spreading is? Puffing up to take up more space and display some form of power and superiority? Why else would a man would choose to sit in on public transit in a way that exposes his most vulnerable body parts, open to potential contact with knees and parcels at the sudden jolt of an unexpected brake. If I were a man, I would protect my fragile spheres, not make them targets.

Ball room

Subway behaviour has its own etiquette and etiquette is about respecting other people and making them comfortable. Man-spreading is the opposite of this. Mr. Wood mentions men’s biology a couple of times being the reason that men need to spread. Some men will need a little extra space for their tackle than others, yes, but how much space could comfort possibly require? Are your testicles so big that you need an extra foot to accommodate them? Perhaps it’s time to change your style of underwear instead of hogging transit seating.

The image used for this post is from a hilarious site about man-spreading. YOUR BALLS ARE NOT THAT BIG seeks to out man-spreaders on the New York subway by posting pictures of the culprits (world-wide submissions are welcome). The blogger makes it clear that man-spreading is about men concerned only with display and their own comfort, not the comfort of others.

Display includes body language, the expression of our self-confidence. Individual self-confidence and self-esteem speaks through the way we move and position ourselves in space, including the way we sit. A man who sits with crossed legs looks comfortable, a man sitting with knees 6″ apart also looks comfortable, but when men sit with knees wide apart, i.e. over 12″, he’s telling the world that a) he’s desperate for attention, b) he’s painfully insecure, and c) he wants to appear virile and by spreading his knees apart so far apart, he can show off those “big balls” of his. Testosterone likes to put on a good show, as Dabbs says.

Funny thing about virility: it’s often not what it seems. Like male animals, much of the virility is false but the display can be stunning.  I had a boyfriend with a huge set of testicles that hung heavily under his pinkie-sized penis which only ejaculated prematurely, so I wouldn’t say that large testicles necessarily indicate virility. The whole puffed-up, I-have-bigger-balls-than-you-and-that-makes-me-more-masculine mentality of man-spreaders is a delusion; mere posturing.

In the animal world as Dabbs mentions, panache works to look dominant and impress the opposite sex. I cannot imagine any woman being attracted to a man who tries so hard to show he’s masculine by exposing what he thinks are mammoth testicles to prove his manhood, while simultaneously imposing himself into other people’s space.

I’m not even sure that men are aware of how much space they take up because they haven’t been challenged on it until recently. Once men are called on it however, many will acknowledge their puffed-up, space-taking wrongdoing and change their position (at least this is what happens in polite Toronto). Several times I’ve been on public transit and saw the only seat available beside a wide-kneed man,  but instead of being intimidated, I said, excuse me, and lowered my bottom into the seat (while he scowled because I’ve messed up his space). If a man’s leg is in my space, I ask him to please give me some more leg room and I’ve never had an argument. Politeness and a kind smile can do wonders for personal comfort, so I recommend it.

Now that the New York subway system’s anti-spreading campaign is on and the messages are travelling to other large cities, it’s time for men (and women who take up more space than they need to) to pay attention and be more aware of the necessity to share space in our ever-increasingly populated cities. As subway posters in Philadelphia say, “Dude It’s Rude… Two Seats — Really?”

PS – Have a look at this site that features Japanese subway posters from the 1970s and 80s that even back then, tried to make people aware of how man-spreading negatively affects people.

 

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

Man boobs

23 May

Gynecomastia, enlarged male mammaries, also known as” man boobs” or “moobs”, can be a tricky conditionman boobs both physically and psychologically. If you “carrying extra baggage on the top floor”, as Seinfeld’s Kramer would say, read on.

This condition is complex and its origins are difficult to pin down; man boobs happen for many different reasons and different stages of a male’s life.

TIME attributes the condition to aging and also to hormones in adolescent boys, stating, “Nearly half of all men will experience it at some point in their lives, and not necessarily at the end. In fact, it’s most common during adolescence; 65% of boys have it at the age of 13 or 14.”

There are three stages in a male’s life when breasts can develop: infancy, when breast tissue is stimulated by high levels of estradiol and progesterone produced by the mother during pregnancy; in puberty, where hormones are completely out of whack as estrogen levels increase and jockey for position with testosterone; and as men’s testosterone levels decline and body fat increases as he ages, men over 60 experience increased estrogen which may be a factor in developing gynecomastia.

Endotext, a resource for endocrinology (hormone) professionals, explains that a “significant percentage of gynecomastia is caused by medications or exogenous chemicals that result in increased estrogen effect.” This includes some psychoactive drugs (e.g. Diazepam), cardiac and anti-hypertensive medications, drugs for infectious diseases (e.g.  Indinavir, for HIV/AIDS antiretroviral therapy), and illicit drugs like heroin.

No matter what the cause, enlarged mammaries can be psychologically difficult for men and boys to deal with. For some, man boobs can be nothing short of mortifying. I just tried searching “man boobs emotional/social support”, and I get pages of “how to get rid of man boobs” instead of how to reconcile them.

Am I surprised? Not at all. Am I saddened by the lack of support for boobed men? Absolutely.

Moob solutions

Plastic surgery is a drastic option for minimizing man boobs. The procedure removes tissue, scars, and causes pain. It should be the last resort.

According to Muscle & Fitness, part of the moob solution is in diet – easing up on estrogen-producing foods like wheat and grains and instead consuming foods high in monounsaturated fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil to produce testosterone.  Zinc supplements are also recommended. Talk to a dietitian or a doctor about it.

I asked lifelong athlete and certified personal trainer, Patrick Marano, for exercises men can do to banish the moobs. Patrick suggests three main exercises that focus on building the pectorals, and recommends starting your training with lower weights and higher repetitions, increasing the weight as you get stronger:

1. Bench press: Lie on your back on a weight bench and a lift bar bell up and down slowly. As you move into heavier weights, always have someone “spot” you so there are no accidents!

2. Pectoral fly: Or the “Pec Deck” as Patrick calls it. The act of squeezing the pectorals helps strengthen them. This exercise is done on a weight machine.

3. Classic push up: Be sure you’re in proper form with a straight line from your head through your back to your heels, hands under shoulders. Patrick says to do “as many as you can”  and repeat for 3 – 5 sets. Lower slowly and push up slowly. If this is too challenging, push up from your knees instead of your feet.

Dressing the man boob

Obesity is also a major factor in gynecomastia, but not all heavy men have man boobs. A couple of differently shaped clients of mine have man boobs: one is heavy, rotund, and very confident, and the other is medium-sized, active, and very aware of his moobs (that are smaller in real life than they are in his head).

My job as an image consultant is to help my guys feel and look good in their clothes, so instead of resorting to the outright lie of compression garments to flatten your chest, try these dressing tips:

  • Avoid clingy fabrics that outline and accentuate your bumps and lumps;
  • Avoid heavy cotton sweaters – these tend to “fold” around man boobs when you’re sitting;
  • Wear patterned shirts that move the eye around,  but avoid horizontal stripes if you’re a larger man;
  • Jackets, cardigans, and vests do well to cover your chest excess;
  • Wear clothes that are your correct size – wearing too-big shirts to hide behind won’t do you any favours;
  • Wear a well-fit sleeveless undershirt alone in hot weather or under your shirt to smooth you out and hold you in (yes, men with boobs could use some support too without resorting to “The Bro” or the “Man-sseir”).

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?

Multi-tasking and the man

16 Sep

I haven’t done Pilates classes for a few years and attended a rather humbling class on Sunday morning at my new gym. Many Pilates instructors are rather like field marshals or drill sergeants to me, and this one was no different: she put us into the crazy and challenging Pilates poses and scolded us if we couldn’t keep up. Pilates is difficult physically as well as mentally – there is a lot to be conscious of with each pose –

  • lie on your left side with hips, knees, and ankles stacked
  • prop up on your left forearm and keep your upper arm at a 90 degree angle
  • left hand flat on the mat
  • place your right hand around your left side
  • straighten left arm, lift from the hips, and pull yourself up by the ribs
  • straighten the body and balance on your left foot

… hold the for 5 breaths and pull abdominals to the spine on the exhale

The drill sergeant admitted that the poses were challenging and that there is a lot to keep track of, adding that the poses can be more difficult for men because “Men have a difficult time multi-tasking.”

I laughed to myself – testosterone and evolution at work!

We all have testosterone in our bodies. Testosterone helps build muscle, red blood cells, and in men, produces sperm. Testosterone has been shown to decrease talking and social interaction in males and is the drive behind the “one track mind”:  it is task-oriented, it is focused, and it gets the job done – at least one job at a time.

Describing his transition from female to male, a Dutch sex-change patient explained the hormonal differences in perception after receiving testosterone to make himself more masculine:  “The visual is so strong… when walking down the streets I absorb things around me… It gives a euphoric feeling. I do miss however, the overall picture. Now I have to do one thing at a time; I used to be able to do different things simultaneously.” (See Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behavior.)

Not only does testosterone affect a man’s abilities and narrow his focus, on an evolutionary level, it has kept him alive – testosterone has sharp concentration and testosterone is about action. Were it not for the narrowness of its focus and ability to snap to action, the human race might all be vegetarian (wait a minute..).

What I mean is that males needed that focus on the task at hand in order to hunt and explore and survive. Social psychologist and Heroes… author, James M. Dabbs explains that “Prehistoric man hunted and traveled, and they had to be able to find their way home without getting lost. Good hunters and travelers survived to pass their spacial abilities and their testosterone on to succeeding generations.”

The late Dr. Dabbs devoted his professional research to testosterone and social behaviour. His studies found that “men and animals who are higher in testosterone persist in what they start, and work longer at a task without being distracted… It appears likely that testosterone is a factor in stubbornness as well as persistence.”

Men and women, though both human, are very different. Each gender has its own strengths and weaknesses based in nature (hormones) and nurture (socialization), and both of these concepts, I believe, are of equal importance and operate simultaneously. Generally, when it comes to accomplishing tasks and you want a whole bunch of things done simultaneously, ask a woman. If you want one job done well, take advantage of the focus of testosterone and ask a man to do it.

For further reading on the topic, this NZ article is quite good.