Testosterone poisoning: myth or reality?

“Everyone knows that testosterone, the so-called male hormone, is found in both men and women. What is not so well known, is that men have an overdose… Until recently it has been thought that the level of testosterone in men is normal simply because they have it. But if you consider how abnormal their behavior is, then you are led to the hypothesis that almost all men are suffering from testosterone poisoning.”, 1975, Alan Alda, [1]

Something isn’t right with the world, everyone senses it. War, violence, destruction, reckless treatment of people, animals and natural resources is everywhere around us. But what causes people to hold fast to this tendency towards self destruction so convulsively? What stabilizes these patriarchal structures in such a seemingly irreversible way? Surely there are applicable explanations from the disciplines of sociology, psychology and even politics. Here I will mention two hypotheses:

From a psychological perspective, in the patriarchy there is a “pyschological murder of the mother” which leads to the drastic decay of motherly values (or matriarchal ideals) among young boys: caring attention, unconditional love, leniency, empathy, sense of community, emotionality, spirituality, connection with nature). Boys aredenied the patriarchal process of becoming a man if they do not separate themselves from these motherly values and thus separate themselves from the mother. It starts with the old adage “boys don’t cry …”. In compensation for these systematically “instilled” deficits, boys develop into patriarchal, aggressive, rationalizing and emotionally underdeveloped men, who live according to the survival of the fittest and have lost their connection to nature and the source of their existence.

From a sociological perspective, a patriarchal nuclear family does not offer a protective environment oriented towards children’s needs.Children often fall between the cracks, as their parents are constantly overwhelmed by their jobs, household and childcare responsibilities, and often come from dysfunctional or broken families themselves.

In addition, the constraints of the relationship and the lack of sexual self-empowerment are often the ruin of patriarchal nuclear families. Violence in the family, painful separations and the isolation chamber of the relationship produces powerless and emotionally damaged children who have never seen the ideal of social competence(which they are supposed to strive towards as adults) as well as those who try to fill their inner emptiness with consumption goods, drugs and diversions or with riches and power.
These conditions seem to perpetuate the patriarchy, although I still believe personally in another stabilizing factor, which I will explain in my hypothesis:
Body, mind and soul were already considered by Wilhelm Reich – the founder of body-psychotherapy –to be a unity. Conflicts, mental attitudes and spiritual conditions directly affect the body, and thus affect the body’s endocrine system. Testosterone is considered to be the masculine hormone. Among men, it is present in the blood at ten to twenty times the concentration found in women. Despite the differing concentrations, it is responsible for the sexual drive and pleasure impulses among both sexes. Among men, the much higher dosage affects the secondary sexual characteristics, such as a deeper voice, facial hair, body hair and a stronger musculature, as well as a higher metabolism and a slightly higher body temperature. Studies also confirm a positive correlation between testosterone and social dominance, aggression and a disposition to violence (for example, refer to Mazur, [2], McDermott, [3]).

These are characteristics which also correlate with the effects of this hormone among other male mammals, which (among other motives) also explains the frequent surgical castration of male farm animals (such as stallions, bulls) but also pets (e.g. male dogs and cats). The fighting disposition may have also meant an evolutionary advantage in choosing partners, since the position of “alpha male” actually ensured this individual a higher rate of reproduction.However, a high level of testosterone also means a higher risk of injury, higher energy consumption, a lower life expectancy and overall weaker group cohesion due to constant competition. For this reason alone, evolution has developed other strategies, such as those of our closest relatives, the bonobos, who are considered to live in a matriarchal system and who are suprisingly much more similar to us in many respects than the chimpanzees. For example, apart from humans bonobos are the only species which can mate face to face, and they can get sick easily from the same germs which make humans sick. Male bonobos are considered to be much less dominant and aggressive than those of their chimpanzee relatives. Whereas there is constant competition and infighting among chimpanzees, in which the females are the lowest ranked and often beaten up by the males in their group, among bonobos sex and intimate contact plays an important role in solving conflicts and reducing tension. However, there is possibly a biological reason for this different behavior: a research team at the Max Planck Institute, under the direction of zoologist and bonobo researcher Gottfried Hohmann, determined with a urine test that bonobo males have a much lower testosterone level on average than male chimpanzees (see [7]).

If this were the case, bonobo males would have a drastically different puberty process, and wouldn’t have the displays of dominance which are typical for young male chimpanzees. This evolutionary strategy means that only particularly peaceful males can reproduce, since the females (who have a higher rank) prefer mating with males with whom they are already friends.As we see, even among closely related species of apes there are completely different principles of cohabitation. Whether the different levels of testosterone are the cause or result of these differences, however, is difficult to say (the chicken or the egg dilemma).

However, it is relatively certain that the high or low testosterone levels stabilize the aggressive behavior of the chimpanzees and the more peaceful behavior patterns of the bonobos: testosterone leads to aggressive behavior, and aggressive behavior stimulates testosterone production, while low levels of testosterone lead to a de-escalating behavior. In turn, the binding hormone oxytocin is produced, which facilitates closeness and social connections, which in turn lowers the testosterone level. Studies from Harvard University and Northwestern University in Evanston (Illinois) have shown that men who are closely involved with their families and take on many social responsibilities have lower levels of testosterone than those who live alone, see [4] and [5].In matriarchies, men are always involved in the social life of the community.

Studies have also shown that a violent environment or situations of being in competition with others leads to a higher concentration of testosterone among men, and the man with the highest level of testosterone is the one with the highest social rank. This mechanism is completely counteracted by the bonobos, and it is perhaps possible for people to likewise counteract it with the right lifestyle. Due to the physical and genetic similarities between bonobos and humans, I assume that not only bonobo males, but also men who live according to matriarchal principles also produce less testosterone on average and, as a result, are less dominant and violent. On the other hand, when men are more closely integrated in low-conflict and low-violence, familial contexts, this makes them produce less testosterone. It is presumably difficult to find confirmation of this in practice, since the men in the last few existing matriarchal cultures are exposed to the strongly patriarchal influences of their surroundings. In addition, the most remaining matriarchal forms of family are unfortunately not “pure forms”, since they have adopted more and more patriarchal elements over the centuries.
Considering the points outlined above, the term „testosterone poisoning“, which Alan Alda coined in the 1970s, takes on a whole new meaning: it is perhaps not only a socially critical, provocative new concept; it may also have an element which is based on endocrinological facts. From everyday experience, we know of further strange asymmetries between the sexes, which at least point to hormonal causes:

  • Men reach their climax in coitus within 3-5 minutes, while women need 20 minutes on average.
  • In our Western culture, men seem more libidinous, which can sometimes lead to a conspicuous sexualization of the female sex.
  • Men die on average 5 years earlier than women, although this difference can only be accounted for with a less healthy lifestyle (i.e. higher tobacco and alcohol consumption) in approximately half of the cases.
  • Men tend to bald, since hair follicles are often hypersensistive to one of the substances which testosterone gets broken up into (DHT), while strangely enough body hair increases with age.
  • Men suffer from early „primary hypertension“ (i.e. hypertension without an identifiable cause) more often than women

We are already so used to most of these asymmetries that they seem normal to us, and seem to even be “typically manly” characteristics. But could they perhaps only be a consequence of a patriarchal overdose of testosterone in the male body?Some of the asymmetries listed above stubbornly contradict the laws of evolution:
Women would logically prefer to mate with men with whom they could reach their sexual climax. Therefore, the characteristic of holding back orgasm for more than 20 minutes should have become widespread since it is under natural selection pressure. But this is clearly not the case, at least not from a statistical point of view. A lower level of testosterone concentration in the blood of men would lengthen the time leading up to orgasm, since the sexual (over)excitability would be reduced overall. This would not impair men’s ability to have an erection, since the erectile tissue in the penis would be used to this low level of testosterone (even prepuberty, boys can bring their penises to erection). Results of a study from the University of Washington (Seattle) found that in Bolivia there is even an indigenous tribe, the Tsimane people, whose men have only 1/3 of the testosterone level of men in Western societies, see [9]. Clearly, these men are still capable of reproducing!

At least according to the cliché, men seem to be more libidinous than women in the Western world. If one looks to matriarchal societies which are still in existence, however, the sexual urges between men and women seem to be more equal. Usually it is even the woman who has to take the first step. Of course this may have cultural or sociological causes, but it is still certain that a high concentration of testosterone influences the sexual instinct.
According to the British geneticist Steve Jones, testosterone weakens the immune system and makes people more susceptible to illness, as well as provoking more risky behavior. In addition, Jones claims that male castrates live up to 13 years longer (see [8]). Is this also a sign of a patriarchal testosterone overdose? In other words, would men with half as high testosterone concentrations perhaps live to be as old as women?
People have only been sedentary for several thousand years. As nomads, hunters and gatherers, we spent a great part of the day in the elements. Although our ancestors have worn clothes for several thousand years, people still have full heads of hair because one can lose more warmth via the head than other parts of the body. Another reason is that even our ancestors considered full hair to be a sign of beauty and health – among men as well as women. Therefore, a full head of hair was an important selection characteristic for men as well as women. Then how can it be possible that male hair loss could spread as widely as it has in our culture if this were the case? This phenomenon also makes sense in my theory of patriarchal testosterone excess. In other words, I imagine that among men with normal testosterone concentrations (i.e. half as high) there would be no baldness with aging.

As a last indication I would like to mention the increased amount of young men with primary hypertension, i.e. the form which has no physiological or organic causes and thus cannot be treated in any way other than by prescribing blood pressure-lowering medications. As studies by the Berlin Charite hospital and the University of Birmingham have shown, testosterone influences the function of the kidneys and the body’s salt levels, so that more sodium is bound in the body, see [6].

The presence of more cooking salt in one’s blood raises the blood pressure. This fact could be a further indication of a real excess of testosterone in men in patriarchal society. The testosterone concentrations which we consider to be normal in Western culture are not necessary for biological maleness. Due to the patriarchal way of life which requires the separation from the parental family and a competitive stance from early childhood onwards in nearly all areas of life, the testosterone levels among men could have been changed to a high level since the first patriarchal structures took hold (since around the Bronze period). More recent studies have also shown that men who grow up in a socially disadvantaged environment where violence is common later display more testosterone in their blood than men from more sheltered backgrounds.

If this thesis is accurate, then patriarchal as well as matriarchal societies would thus not only be stabilized simply with sociological factors, but also with biological factors.For example, an interesting and provocative question is: would an artificial change in the hormone levels make it easier to transition to another societal or family structure, or perhaps even make another structure possible in the first place?In order to prevent misunderstandings, I want to emphasize that testosterone is not the only cause of aggression or destructive behavior. There are triggers for aggression in both sexes, and from a psychological standpoint, they both have the same cause: long-term unfulfilled needs (psychological, social, individual).

However, the progression of aggression is different under the influence of testosterone: for behavioral-biological reasons, this aggression tends more strongly towards physical violence and also correlates with dominant behaviorand the determination of social hierarchies (among mammals: the so-called ritualized fights). Insofar, testosterone is not necessarily a hormone conducive to consensus-oriented thinking, equal rights and nonviolence, but in high enough concentrations, it facilitates the opposite tendencies. This condition has which at least been long since confirmed on an intuitive level.

What if the term coined by Alan Alda in 1975 – „testosterone poisoning“ – turned out to be biologically confirmed?  If so, it could bring matriarchal research a good step forward and open entirely new horizons.

Sincerely yours,

Robert Anatol Stein

(c) all rights reserved by Robert Anatol Stein, 2013

Sources and references:
[1] Alan Alda, “What Every Woman Should Know About Men”, Ms., New York, October 1975
[2] Mazur, A. & Booth, A. (1998) Testosterone and dominance in men. Behavioral & Brain Sciences 21:353–397.
[3] McDermott, R. (2007) “Testosterone and Aggression in a Simulated Crisis Game” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 614, No. 1, 15-33.(2007)
[4] http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/sexualhormon-ehemaenner-haben-weniger-testosteron-a-197795.html [5] http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/sexualhormon-vaterschaft-senkt-testosteronspiegel-im-blut-a-785935.html
[6] http://www.innovations-report.de/html/berichte/medizin_gesundheit/bericht-44241.html
[7] http://www.wdr.de/tv/quarks/sendungsbeitraege/2011/0301/002_mann.jsp
[8] Jones, Steve (2002) „Y. The Descent of Men“, Little, Brown, London
[9] http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/tsimane-maenner-haben-ueberraschend-wenig-testosteron-a-824087.html

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About anatolstein

Robert Anatol Stein, Dipl.-Ing. (BA), Systemischer Coach, Systemischer Körperpsychotherapeut, http://www.dreistattdry.de, Mitglied bzw. Unterstützer von: MatriaVal e.V., Greenpeace, World Vision, Avaaz.org, Paladins.eu, MatriaSys.de, DreiStattDry.de
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