Tag Archives: Jed Diamond

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

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

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.

The crime of emotional silencing

29 Dec

Sad news this week. While on holiday in Jamaica, Cathy-Lee Martin’s throat was slashed by her husband. The couple were experiencing marital problems and reports reveal that Ms Martin told her husband that she wanted to separate. The 43 year old Ontario school teacher decided that slitting his wife’s throat was a solution to their failing marriage and he intended to kill her.

That horrendous act of violence was the vocabulary that Mr. Martin communicated his hurt. He’s one of so many men who have not had the opportunity to explore and express their emotions in a healthy way, turning instead to violence.

I have looked up some extremely disturbing statistics for this week’s post to illustrate the catastrophic numbers of violence against women by men who cannot see another way to cope with their problems. From the Amnesty International website:

  • At least one in every three women, or up to one billion women, have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetimes  (L Heise, M Ellsberg, M Gottemoeller, 1999)
  • Up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners (WHO 2002)
  • In Bangladesh 50% of all murders are of women by their partners (Joni Seager, 2003)
  • In Pakistan 42% of women accept violence as part of their fate; 33% feel too helpless to stand up to it; 19% protested and 4% took action against it (Government study in Punjab 2001)
  • In Zambia five women a week were murdered by a male partner or family member (Joni Seager 2003)
  • In the USA a woman is battered, usually by her husband/partner, every 15 seconds (UN Study on the World’s Women, 2000)

Here in Canada, the Canadian Women’s Foundation cites half of Canadian women (51%) have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.

These numbers are frighteningly high. Why is this happening?

Marc Lepine, the gunman who murdered 14 women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique before killing himself wrote in his suicide note that “feminists have ruined my life… The feminists always have a talent for enraging me. They want to retain the advantages of being women… while trying to grab those of men.”

Anthropologist David Gilmore finds that there has always been a tendency for men to fear and hate women: “Most men need women desperately and most men reject this driving need as both unworthy and dangerous.”  This love/hate dynamic, says Jed Diamond in The Irritable Male Syndrome, “is rooted in men’s unique dependency on women: boy relies on mother, and later relies on his wife for food preparation, domestic care, emotional support, and nurturing.”

Sociologist Michael Kimmel suggests that while “psychologists and feminists and the entire [US] legal system see male sexual aggression as the initiation of violence, guys describe it in a different way – not as an initiation but as retaliation… against the power that women have over them.”

In other words, some men are threatened by women encroaching on “their” territory, and there is a perceived inadequacy for a patriarchal / macho man to need and rely on a “weaker” woman in a society that demands male self-reliance and stoicism.

The Montreal massacre sparked concerns in Canadian men and in 1991, The White Ribbon Campaign was born, addressing violence against women (website here). To support the group and to wear a white ribbon is a personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. The White Ribbon Campaign sees the future having no violence against women. As it should be.

However, it is one thing for a man to say that he will never be violent against a woman but it is completely another thing to nurture boys from birth, encourage them to communicate their feelings, and simply allow them to love. And so I turn to a brilliant feminist thinker, bell hooks, author of The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.  I was overjoyed to read her book because I found a kindred spirit in her way of thinking about men.

“Feminist thinkers, like myself,” hooks writes, “who wanted to include men in the discussion were usually male-identified and dismissed. We were “sleeping with the enemy”. We were the feminists who could not be trusted because we cared about the fate of men. We were the feminists who did not believe in female superiority any more than we believed in male superiority.”

Male superiority, or patriarchy, is the exclusive social system that puts men in the dominant position above all else, and what hooks goes on to describe as a convention that “endowed [men] with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”

She says that the patriarchy keeps men from knowing themselves and experiencing their emotions, from loving. “To know love, ” she says, “men must be able to let go the will to dominate.”

She also says, “Patriarchy demands of men that they become and remain emotional cripples.”

If any of you have read Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that it’s easy to create a deeply hurt and seethingly angry, violent, self-loathing man by mistreating him as a child. On top of this, add a heavy-handed expectation to conceal his feelings and swallow his natural emotions. And if he slips, let him have it.

“For many men, anger is the only emotion they have to express themselves,” says Jed Diamond, author of the Irritable Male Syndrome, “men are taught to “do” and as a result, men keep their emotions under wrap – they cannot show hurt, fear, worry, or panic.”

Hooks speaks at length about her experiences growing up with a brother just one year older, and how their gender roles were literally beaten into them by a patriarchal father who refused to accept his gentle and passive son and also refused to have an aggressive and competitive daughter.

“Something missing within” was a self-description I heard from many men as I went around our nation talking about love,” hooks explains, “Again and again a man would tell me about early childhood feelings of emotional exuberance, of unrepressed joy, of feeling connected to life and to other people, and then a rupture happened, a disconnect, that a feeling of being loved, of being embraced, was gone.

“Somehow the test of manhood, men told me, was the willingness to accept this loss, to not speak it even in private grief. Sadly, tragically, these men in great numbers were remembering a primal moment of heartbreak and heartache: the moment that they were compelled to give up their right to feel, to love, in order to take their place as patriarchal men.”

This idea is so sad to me. Manhood sounds like a sentence this way. I cannot imagine not being able to feel – it seems to me that I would explode. Young men can explode into violence and grown men explode in heart attacks and high blood pressure, both under serious stress, coping with a deafening and imposed silence, and no outlet to express themselves.

I see a lot of men walk around beaten, confused, abused, and bullied into patriarchal submission, and it breaks my heart. I think of this a crime against humanity.

We need to examine this social practice and start to heal from our patriarchal wounds, and to heal says hooks, we as a society need to stand by men and love them and support them, “offering a love that can shelter their wounded spirits as they seek to find their way home, as they exercise the will to change.”