10 Fascinating Facts About Men, Sex and Testosterone
Our culture has endowed women with some exotic qualities -- mystery, hidden depths, secret knowledge; all very alluring. But also very explainable. For a long time, women had little voice, so of course we were a mystery. Mute the TV and you won’t understand what the show is all about.
Men, by contrast, are alleged to be much more direct; even their primary sexual characteristics are obvious, hanging out there like an awning, compared to the secret gardens of women. In fact, the male stereotype was so set in my mind that the first time a straight man said to me, “It doesn’t always have to be about sex,” I looked at him like a puzzled dog. Men, I thought, were supposed to be relatively simple creatures, driven by sex, food and sleep (and sometimes Star Wars).
In reality, men are every bit as complicated as women and thoroughly fascinating in their sexual mechanics, hormonal fluctuations and brain functions. Here are 10 fun facts about male sexuality that make men a little easier to understand.
1. "I’m not gay but my boyfriend Testosteronius is."
Male sexuality was a different ballgame in ancient Roman times than it is now. One’s sexuality was defined not by preference for one sex or another, but as being “active” or “passive.” Active meant you were the penetrator and passive meant you were the penetrated. Sex was more about social status than anything.
N.S. Gill on About.com, reports that men of “good standing” were active, and they “initiated acts of penetrating sex. Whether you did this with a female or a male, slave or free, wife or prostitute, made little difference -- as long as you were not on the receiving end, so to speak.” (Only freeborn youths were out of bounds.) It’s actually quite complicated, but, writes Markus Milligan in Archeology News, “From a societal perspective, to be 'passive' or 'submissive,' threatened the very fabric of masculinity, with feminine traits, submission and passive mannerisms being an act of the lower class and slaves.”
So in ancient Rome if you were on top you were a top. We’ll call you Testosteronius.
2. Making a man out of you.
Let’s keep talking about testosterone, or T, because there’s no discussing male sexuality without it, the “quienes mas macho” of hormones, the thing that literally makes men men. All embryos develop the makings of both male and female sex organs: testosterone, under certain conditions, stimulates the growth of the male organs. It waves its magic wand and voila! You get a magic wand.
And once it’s made you a boy it doesn’t just leave you hanging; it accessorizes you as a male, making your voice deeper, your body hairier and muscle mass bigger. You also get that most useful and attention-getting of ornaments, the testes, which in turn, produce testosterone, though it’s regulated in the brain by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, a little love triangle known as the HPG axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, gonad).
So that’s some of the technology of testosterone, which you probably think of as being at the helm of the male sex drive and manly traits. Interestingly, less than 100 years ago no one thought about it at all. Harvard Medical School associate clinical professor Abraham Morgentaler writes in Testosterone for Life (source of the HPF info) that, “For several thousand years, farmers have found that castrating domesticated animals made them infertile and more docile as well as greatly reducing their sexual activity. They did not know, however, that they were reducing a specific substance, because testosterone was not identified until the 1930s.”