Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Warning to men: Get married, become a dad, "lose hormones": an Army barracks joke comes true (study in the Phillipines)

Here’s a good one, from the front page of the Sept. 13 New York Times (sorry, paywall subscription needed), “Fatherhood cuts testosterone, study finds, for good of the family”, link here

This refers to a study done in the Phillippines. It found that when men become fathers, their testosterone levels are lower than that of age-matched counterparts, particularly if they spend a lot of time in actual child care.

It’s a little unclear if formal marriage fills in here, or if men who give care to other people’s children (like special education teachers) could be similarly affected.

From a biological viewpoint, it makes sense, especially with humans or any animals with very dependent infants.  The mother doesn’t have to do it all alone, and the father provides more attention to offspring, and is less “attractive” to other potential partners (usually other females). On the other hand, young males, before fatherhood, putatively need higher hormone levels to enhance "masculinity" or gender surplus in order to be appealing to the most nubile possible females.  

It’s also apparent that behavior affects hormones, as well as the reverse way. It sounds like relativity, doesn’t it.

Men who have become -- and behaved  -- as fathers may actually have a lower risk of prostate cancer at any particular age in their later years, much as is the case with women, mothers and breast cancer. 

Mara Hvistendahl had reported a similar finding (on fatherhood and testosterone) in her book “Unnatural Selection” (reported on my Books blog, Aug. 7, 2011).

I wondered how this finding applies to gay men, who apparently do not have the “taming” influence of women, or parenthood --- except that two-dad families are now more common.  If you look over a gay disco floor, you see a lot of slender younger men probably at the solstice of their biological “masculinity”.

When men stop childrearing, do their hormone levels return somewhat? What happens after divorce?  Do divorced men become more “masculine”?  Probably not; the damage is probably done.

When I was in the Army, at Fort Eustis, in 1969, there was actually an intra-barracks joke about men who had started to “lose hormones” (or “go downhill fast”, and that's not just post-nuptial weight gain).  That tied in to the Chickenman Saturday morning cartoon, although the nexus is a bit obscure now for most people.  But maybe it really wasn’t so funny. 

Another coworker, in the early 70s, made some sort of joke predicated on the idea that "male sex hormones in the bloodstream" would be a bad thing if they kept increasing. 

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