The Frontal Cortex

Testosterone and Comedy

Men are getting less manly: our testosterone levels continue to decline. Given the Hobbesian state of the world, that might not be a bad thing. (Unfortunately, falling testosterone levels have negative medical consequences. So world peace might require a reduction in the male life span.) Over at the LA Times, the always hilarious Dan Neil – I think he’s even funnier than Anthony Lane – explores the implications of falling testosterone levels from a slightly more personal angle:

My wife and I–and two dozen highly trained and generously compensated reproductive doctors, nurses and technicians–are trying to have a baby. I still remember the old days, when conceiving was as simple as getting drunk and going to bed with your roommate’s girlfriend. However, things have grown increasingly complicated as I have aged. I always assumed that I would be massively fertile, like a biblical patriarch or African tribal king or Tony Randall, but I guess not. My wife, who is 34, is not exactly Mississippi bottomland, either. Between the two of us, we are–to borrow the immortal phrase from “Sex and the City”–the Special Olympics of reproduction.

To engage in assisted reproduction is to appreciate just how far off the rails of evolutionary biology postmodern America has gone. Humans are ridiculously fertile as teenagers because, obviously, early hominids wouldn’t have survived long if mated pairs had delayed pregnancy until they got their careers going. People in their 30s and 40s can and do get pregnant–my mom was 39 and my dad 49 when I, swimming past various barrier methods of birth control, arrived to completely ruin their retirement. Generally, though, the older you get the harder it is to run off a Xerox. And yet, I don’t feel alone or unfairly singled out. Even younger couples are struggling to conceive, as fertility rates in Western industrialized societies plummet for reasons that are not well understood.

As in all things reproductive, women have the worse end of it. The hormones, the shots, the pelvic ultrasounds. For a woman to have a child this way, she’s got to want it, bad.

My part has consisted mostly of having quality time with myself in a number of clinic restrooms and emerging sometime later, chagrined but triumphant. In my first such experience, a very sweet and sympathetic lab technician referred me to some “exciting” reading material in the magazine rack, which consisted of Elle, Maxim and–I kid you not–Modern Bride, which would constitute a very peculiar fetish if one were so inclined. As delicately as I could, I suggested she obtain magazines with a little harder edge, Penthouse at least.


  1. #1 Koray
    October 30, 2006

    Maybe testosterone levels fluctuate? The study mentions that there’s data available only for three decades. Perhaps they need a sitcom like Cheers again…

  2. #2 katherine sharpe
    October 30, 2006

    “Men are getting less manly: our testosterone levels continue to decline.”

    Does the one necessarily imply the other? I’m just sayin. Seems like there’s a possibly-false syllogism maybe lurking somewhere in there.

    (Men have testosterone. Men are manly. Men have less testosterone than they used to, therefore they are less manly than they used to be? I’m not sure I’m buying!)

  3. #3 rogerly
    October 30, 2006

    Sure, the medical and fertility issues are big, but what about the culture and politics! I foresee something very ugly.

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