Testosterone is an interesting hormone. The more a man uses it, the higher his levels become. And the higher his levels become, the more he wants to use it. Exercise, especially resistance training like weight lifting, increases T levels. And then the increased T levels make a man want to go lift some weights. It’s a virtuous circle.
If gasoline in a car were like T in a man’s body, the more you drove, and the harder you drove, the more gas there would be in your tank.
But there’s not much gas in the tank of young men these days. The Cleveland Clinic and other researchers report that men today, especially young ones, have less T than ten, twenty or fifty years ago. Odds are, you’re not the man your father was.
Testosterone does more than make a man want to hit the weights. It also makes him happier, healthier, sexier, more muscular, more productive, and more reproductive.
Notwithstanding BS about testosterone poisoning, in medicine there’s no such thing as too much T unless a person is taking anabolic steroids. But too little T is a common problem, and is frequently treated with T supplements that are absorbed through prescription lotions or skin patches.
So what has happened to the T levels in young men? I have several theories that are interrelated. Young men exercise less and eat more than they used to. When I was growing up, boys were usually skinny until well into their 20s. Now, boys stop being skinny by the time they’re teenagers.
Just as higher T levels produce more physical activity, and more physical activity produces higher T levels – that virtuous circle – it’s a fact that lower T levels produce less physical activity which produces lower T levels. The virtuous circle turns into a vicious one. The less you exercise, the less you want to.
Relatedly, young men take a lot of drugs these days. Some of that is pot, which is now very common. Anyone who has been around pot knows that it decreases a person’s ambition and physical activity.
Other drugs are medical treatments for perceived emotional disorders such as depression, hyperactivity, and attention deficits. In the old days, these “disorders” in boys were considered annoying but natural. But now, parents, teachers and ubiquitous counselors diagnose such boys as persons in need of pharmacological intervention.
My own observation is that these pharmacological interventions usually (but not always) hurt the boy more than they help him. Some depression, anxiety and mood swings are part of growing up. After you grow up, they’re part of life.
Medicating one’s way out of the pain and joy of life is no way to live. If Vincent van Gogh had been prescribed antidepressants, he might not have cut his ear off. But he might not have painted either. If Ernest Hemingway had been medicated, maybe he wouldn’t have put a shotgun to his head but maybe we wouldn’t have For Whom the Bell Tolls. If Abraham Lincoln had pharmacologically treated his frequent depression, he might have been more pleasant to be around but the Union might have lost the Civil War – and the diminished Free World might well have subsequently lost WWII or the Cold War.
Whether these drugs hurt or help, they certainly have a sedating effect. Sedated boys are less physically active, which consequently lowers their T levels, which consequently lowers their activity levels. The boys’ parents and teachers, if not the boys themselves, like that. So do the pharmaceutical companies.
The plan is typically to administer these sedatives for a few months or maybe a few years, but it’s now common to see young men in their 30s who have been on them for decades – all their teenage years and adult lives.
Scientific American reports that at any given time one in six Americans is taking prescription mood altering drugs like antidepressants or lithium, and a far greater number have taken such drugs at one time or another. The study was done in the mid-2010s, and the number is certainly higher now.
Finally, there are societal pressures on boys to behave more like girls. At the extreme, this pressure pushes boys going through normal pre-teen and teenage sexual confusion and frustration into concluding they’re actually girls trapped in male bodies, notwithstanding that pesky Y chromosome.
That extreme is fortunately still relatively rare. But it’s not rare to pressure boys to behave in a way that is non-disruptive. Don’t act up, is the message. Old-time boyhood shenanigans, like cutting off a girl’s pigtail, are now likely to produce a trip not to the principal’s office but to the police station. The pressure not to be disruptive extends to the natural T-driven ambitions of boys and young men.
Achievement, creativity, strength and independence are all discouraged. Merit has been abolished, all creativity is deemed equal in quality, strength is something to be ashamed of, and independence is considered sociopathic.
And so here we are. Young men – the human demographic that historically and anthropologically has been the strongest and most ambitious – are pussies. Another Hemingway, another van Gogh and another Lincoln are out there somewhere. It’s a pity they’ll never create their masterpieces.