10 Fascinating Facts About Men, Sex and Testosterone
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
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.”
By 1935, shortly after the T molecule was discovered, it was synthesized and in use as a medication (it still is: see #4).
3. T for two.
If you want to hear/read an amazing story about the power of this hormone, check out the Testosterone episode of This American Life in 2002, when producer Alex Blumberg interviewed Griffin Hansbury who transitioned from female to male five years before the story was produced. Hansbury’s first injection of testosterone was huge, giving him twice the amount that usually circulates in the system of high-T men. The changes were fast and included a raging libido (“It was like being in a pornographic movie house in my mind”) and…seriously…a sudden interest in science. From the transcript, Hanbury says:
“….I cannot say it was the testosterone. All I can say is that this interest happened after T. There's BT and AT, and this was definitely After T. And I became interested in science. I found myself understanding physics in a way I never had before.”
Blumberg’s response to Hanbury’s first admission to a new love of science?
“You’re just setting us back a hundred years, sir.”
Sometimes testosterone goes on the decline, usually in middle-aged men. When it does, they experience something very similar to menopause, only it’s less obvious because men never stop getting their periods (well, you know what I mean).
It’s called andropause, and the symptoms -- lowered sex drive, fatigue, lack of interest in work and hobbies, mood swings, loss of muscle mass, hot flashes -- are often mistaken for run-of-the-mill aging.
Damon Raskin, an internist who sub-specializes in men’s health issues and is the supervising doctor for Ageless Men’s Health.com said in a phone interview that the natural decrease in testosterone affects some men more than others. And even younger men can experience sudden drops in testosterone, sometimes for unknown reasons, or because of genetics, diabetes or opiate abuse.
“As men age it is normal for testosterone to fall and some men are more sensitive to the fall than others. Sometimes men can have low testosterone and have no symptoms,” he says. A simple blood test from their primary care doctor can let men know if they have low T and if so they can get testosterone replacement therapy, usually a gel, patch or a injection.
Some of the symptoms of low T can also be confused with depression. Raskin says, “When I see a new patient who comes in thinking they may be depressed one of the blood tests that I do is a testosterone test. I check the thyroid, see if they’re anemic and check their testosterone.”
Bottom line: you can find your mojo. The answer to where it went might lie in a simple blood test.
5. A little squeeze goes a long way.
Before you get to middle age you should know something: Kegels are not just for women anymore.
Kegel is an exercise that strengthens the muscles of the pelvic floor so you can sail gracefully into your later years with fewer worries about incontinence and your internal organs slipping around like luggage on a turbulent flight. They’re done by squeezing internal pelvic muscles and can be done on the sly, anywhere. Women will often joke while they’re sitting at their desk or standing at a bar that they’re doing their Kegels “right now!”
But men should be doing Kegels too, because in addition to those health benefits they can also lead to stronger orgasms, prevent prostate trouble, problems with erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. Dr. Chaves at AskMen.com provides some additional exercises men can do to work the Kegels, my favorite being “For more advanced muscle building, you can place a light towel over your erect penis and squeeze to 'lift' the towel.”
When you can throw it out the window give me a call. Or at least put it on YouTube.
6. See ya!
Sure, I’d like to see that towel trick. Who wouldn’t? But it’s one of those great bromides that men are actually the more visual sex and two studies have indeed shown marked differences in the visual processes of men and women.
A 2012 study from the Center for Behavioral Science by Emory University researchers found that women are better at discriminating between colors while men are better at perceiving “fine detail and rapidly moving stimuli,” than women. A 2004 study, also by Emory University researchers, found that when men and women looked at erotic photos both sexes reported the same levels of arousal but set off “a frenzy of activity, particularly in the amygdala of the men.” (The amygdala is the part of the brain's limbic system that is associated with emotion and anticipation.)
So we already knew that men and women see things differently in the figurative sense. Now we have some evidence that it’s true in the literal sense.
7. Sighs matter.
If men do, indeed, have a better eye for visual detail maybe that explains why they seem to fret over penis size despite stories like the one in Men’s Health that reported in one of their own surveys that only 7% of “sexually satisfied” women said size was “critical” to their desires.
But men will worry, no matter how much women tell them they shouldn’t. Even famous men worry. The wonderfully named Jay Dixit writes about the size matter in Psychology Today, reporting that he-man Ernest Hemingway once tried to reassure F. Scott Fitzgerald, telling him, "There's nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened," and "It is basically not a question of the size in repose. It is the size that it becomes. It is also a question of angle."
Perhaps, The Medium-Sized Gatsby just wasn’t a title F. Scott was comfortable with.
8. Size really doesn't matter, but it's interesting.
I hesitated to include this next item, but it’s so weird and funny I have to tell you: there are now two apps for your phone that measure penis size.
The Predicktor, an Android app developed by a Toronto physician and the team at The Doctor Says, seems the more lighthearted of the two; read the story and video on the National Post website. You enter certain numbers, like the size of his “feet, his height, ring size, whether it’s a porn star (etc, etc.)” which leads one to wonder how to ask a guy all these things without him just saying “It’s six inches, okay? Is that okay with you?” It’s got all kinds of genital fun facts and is meant to reassure men that they’re probably more normal than they think. And if it doesn’t The Doctor Says also has an app where you can test your anxiety.
Then PC Magazine reports on “Condom Size,” an app for the iPhone which is meant to accurately measure you and see what size condom you ought to be wearing. The app invites the user to hold “his hard member against inches or CM on sides of the screen,” where there’s a yellow tape measure. (There is also probably the chance of you accidentally taking a picture and sending it to your boss because that’s exactly the kind of thing that would happen to you.) The user is also asked to take a piece of string, wrap it around to get an accurate measurement and hold that up to the “digital ruler."
So, this is an app for people who can’t work a tape measure. If you can’t work a tape measure how can you afford an iPhone?
Glamour says “The app will give him his results, including a recommended condom brand but also…his world ranking according to penis girth and length!” A score of 100 percent isn’t a perfect score, it’s average. Anything over or under is, well, over or under.
9. The boy can’t help it, but neither can the girl.
So there are a couple of stereotypes we’ve dealt with here, like men’s visual nature being different and men worrying about penis size. A couple of items in this list from LiveScience, 10 Things Every Woman Should Know About a Man’s Brain, break those stereotypes, including their emotionality and vulnerability to loneliness. When it comes to cheating and one-night stands, the next study has no gender bias to offer. Another LiveScience story reports that in a 2010 Binghamton University study 181 young adults were asked about their sexual history and then DNA tested. Those with a variation of the dopamine gene DRD4 were more likely to report one-night stands and infidelity (dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward).
Researcher Justin Garcia said this doesn’t necessarily let the horn dogs off the hook because some people without the variant screwed around too, and some with the variant didn’t, just that “a much higher proportion of those with this genetic type are likely to engage in these behaviors.
Soooo, a dolphin might bite you and a shark might not bite you, but it’s more likely that a shark will bite you. Got it. Keep an eye out for sharks.
10. Come and get it and come...and get it.
Finally, all that sex has got to make you a little hungry so we’ll leave you with some more advice from AskMen.com, this one a list of the 10 Foods That Increase Your Sperm Count (just FYI: a new study from Harvard says a little less TV and a little more exercise will help, too). Of course, there are oysters which “contain a potent amino acid that increases testosterone in males and progesterone in females,” but the story also offers some surprises like garlic, which is full of allicin which increase blood flow to the nether regions, and bananas which are not only shaped appropriately, but full of vitamin B for stamina and bromelain which increases male libido.
But the most important one this week is dark chocolate, which “contains L-Arginine HCL, a powerful amino acid that has been clinically proven to double sperm and semen volume.”
Doesn’t everyone want to hear that chocolate is good for them on Valentine’s Day?