In this episode of Mating Matters, Dr. Wendy Walsh discusses how the level of a man’s testosterone can impact a man’s ability to fall in love, can affect his health, and could even make him a better Dad. But what is the optimal level? Can a nose spray of oxytocin knock out testosterone and make men kinder?
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Dr. Wendy Walsh: Why is it that some men are so monogamous and others are complete players? I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. I think it has to do with testosterone. This hormone can affect a man’s ability to fall in love. It might even increase his death rate.
This is Mating Matters!
[Ken Turner Singing 00:00:19 to 00:00:30]
A sound of a deep baritone. That was Ken Turner of the Crystal River Boys. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. Welcome to the Mating Matters Podcast.
On this episode, the trouble with testosterone. How does the amount of this male hormone make men more attractive, less likely to fall in love, and sometimes better fathers.
[Man Singing 00:00:52 00:00:58]
That’s the voice of a man who according to YouTube, has the deepest singing voice ever. His baritone makes women shiver. And here’s the speaking voice of Red Pepper, a voiceover artist with over 100 movie trailers under his belt.
[Redd Pepper Voiceover 00:01:13 to 00:01:25]
All of these men carry a male vocal trait that can be a big indicator of high testosterone. Testosterone, a hormone found in both men and women is responsible for creating long vocal chords that produce deep sounds.
Male: Hello, I’m a human male.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: One way to tell if a man has high or low or medium testosterone is to listen to the pitch of his voice.
Male: Hello, I’m a human male.
Male: Hello, I’m a human male.
Male: Hello, I’m a human male.
Male: Hello, I’m a human male.
Male: Hello. I’m a human male.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Did you spot the dude with high testosterone? If you’re a woman, you probably had no problem. Women always find lower voices attractive because it indicates a higher sex drive and greater sperm production.
[Video Playing 00:02:09 to 00:02:25]
But testosterone does much more than that. Testosterone develops masculine traits such as sex drive, sperm production. It creates a higher energy level. It can affect behavior. It grows larger muscle mass and bone size, and it grows hair. For the most part, testosterone is well, great. Men evolve to carry lots of it for reproductive survival. High testosterone men are like chick magnets. They tend to be taller, more muscular, brave, and they grow really great beards. Oh, and they have lots of energy. Think professional athlete and hunky action hero.
Besides vocal tone, there’s another pretty accurate way to tell how much testosterone a man has, the size of his testes. Think about it, we even use the term in common language. “He’s got big balls,” right? Well, obviously, it doesn’t make sense that we could ask the guests in our studio to show us their scrotum. Instead, I asked them to do an interesting experiment with their hand.
Can you hold your hand like this fingers together and looking at the back of your hand? If you look at your first finger, your pointer finger and your ring finger, describe which one is longer, shorter or are they the same?
Male: They look almost the same. What would you say?
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Yeah, they look almost exactly the same.
Men who have been exposed to a lot of testosterone in utero tend to have a ring finger that’s just slightly longer than their pointer finger.
Male: Just hand to hand, both my ring fingers are much longer than my pointer finger.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Like almost an inch?
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Is one longer than the other? Even slightly?
Male: Yeah. My pointer finger or my ring finger? My ring finger is a little longer.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: It’s a lot longer.
There’s also been some interesting research that associates that longer ring finger with better music ability. Apparently, music was designed to attract women. And one study that asked a man to stand on the street in Paris and simply ask women for their telephone number had a terrible time, really bad odds. Then the researchers asked him to hold a guitar. And holding a guitar, he was able to collect far more female phone numbers. Thus, musicality and the testosterone that creates it were designed to attract women.
Male: They’re pretty close. I would say my ring finger is a little bit larger. Singer? Not really anymore. I play guitar.
Male: Yeah, I played alto sax for six years and then I played bass guitar for about eight.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Are you musical at all?
Dr. Wendy Walsh: What’d you play?
Dr. Wendy Walsh: But testosterone also has a few downsides. It can affect personality, can actually make men selfish and even affect a man’s ability to fall in love. And in long-term monogamy, a natural lowering of testosterone can turn a perfectly good husband into a couch potato.
Stick with me until the end of this podcast because I’ll tell you how women can actually help men maintain just the right levels of testosterone to create happier relationships, all without pharmaceuticals.
But let’s start at the beginning. Around the world, slightly more male babies are born than female. That’s because boy babies don’t always get to grow up to be men. Young males are biologically weaker (sorry guys) and more susceptible to diseases and premature death. And then there’s that pesky testosterone that makes young men more likely to die from violent causes than women.
Male: Won a lot of fights because I knew if I didn’t, then they would come back. Bullies tend to want to pick on only kids. But my dad had taught me a long time ago as an only child, that I would have to stand up for myself. And he never ever wanted to see me start a fight. But he never ever wanted to see me hightail and away from a fight, because if that happened, then I’d have to fight him. And I certainly did not want to fight him.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: This is how men teach masculinity.
Male: Yeah. But it wasn’t about exerting dominance, it was just a function of responding to bullying, self-protection. Sometimes, trouble finds you even though you’re not looking for it.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: During puberty, when testosterone levels rise suddenly, well, boys become men. And for many, this is a shocking transformation.
Male: It’s a little strange. It’s a little strange. I remember seeing my female classmates a little bit differently.
Male: Well, I remember it as a time of a lot of confusion. I don’t think I was prepared for it. I don’t think I was warned about just how weird puberty would feel.
Male: It hit when I was in middle school. Seventh to eighth grade, probably, if I can remember correctly. And the biggest thing I remember was the desire to be closer to girls more than ever.
Male: Kind of noticed little girls a little bit more. Didn’t want to punch them as much. Probably wanted to spend more time hugging on them.
Male: I noticed a girl in my sixth grade class, she had breasts and she was far more mature, if you will. I noticed that I was having erections every five minutes and I didn’t understand what was going on with my body.
Male: A lot of it is mental. You started thinking about sex a lot, which feels weird or even feels like a little bit dirty.
Male: I don’t remember exactly how old I was. I felt like I was older than a lot of those around me. I remember getting, like feeling like I got armpit hair later on than everyone else did and being like, kind of self-conscious about that.
Male: Probably around 12 or so, my voice started to change. I started picking up a little bit more weight. I started seeing more definition in my arms and in my neck, my back, even my friends joked with me about it.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Research shows that it’s advantageous to be an early maturing boy. They have better social lives and even better grades. And that effect of high testosterone can be lifelong. Here’s the really good news about having high testosterone. Men with it have better health. But is there health related to the amounts of testosterone circulating in their system or the increased energy caused by testosterone that makes them workout so much?
Take, for example, clearly high testosterone, Dwayne the Rock Johnson named by Muscle and Fitness Magazine as man of the century.
[Dwayne Johnson Talking 00:09:26 to 00:09:42]
Men with higher levels of testosterone are 45% less likely to have high blood pressure. 72% less likely to have experienced a heart attack. 8% less likely to have three or more colds in a year, and 45% less likely to rate their health as fair or poor. Oh, and by the way, men with high testosterone may also be smarter, at least in terms of nonverbal intelligence, spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination, art and music.
Male: I don’t like to ask for directions. I like to reroute and I would call it improvising.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Do you know why men don’t ask for directions? Well, partly it’s male ego, but a big piece has to do with vicio spatial reasoning.
Male: We carry a map around in our heads.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Men are natural mapmakers. In fact, words don’t help them as much as reading a map or spotting a landmark. In one study, lower testosterone men showed deficits in this mapping ability compared with a control group. This seems to point to the fact that testosterone helps men see and move more fluidly within the world. The researchers also found that testosterone affected intelligence. And when healthy men were given testosterone cream as a treatment, their verbal abilities increased. But get this, their spatial abilities declined.
What does this mean? Well, it means that the relationship between testosterone and intelligence isn’t straightforward. Whether it’s spatial reasoning or verbal ability, an optimal level of hormone is vital. But what’s an optimal level? We’ll talk about that later in the podcast.
[NFL Video Clip Playing 00:11:29 to 00:11:42]
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Testosterone makes men both aggressive and protective. Ever heard of the home team advantage? It used to be only connected to referee bias, home crowd support, greater familiarity with the venue and maybe less travel fatigue. But new research links it to the fact that men are just more territorial.
In animals, territorial behaviors are common and the acquisition of and defense of territories is often accompanied by big surges in testosterone. Two separate studies on humans found that soccer players do indeed show a testosterone surge right before a home game, much more when compared with just a training session or a game away. But this home surge is particularly apparent when the opposing team is considered a bitter rival.
So, testosterone is all well and good. It may make men smarter, more masculine, more protective, healthier and more sexual. But there are some downsides to having high testosterone. In case you were wondering, it’s a myth that high testosterone men lose their hair. Men with male pattern balding may actually have lower circulating levels of testosterone, but higher levels of an enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. That can cause baldness.
Men with higher levels of testosterone are more inclined to have bad health behaviors. That means they’re more likely to spoke, to drink alcohol excessively and to indulge in risky behavior that leads to injury or death. Because of behaviors that are driven by high testosterone, homicide, warfare, driving motorcycles too fast, the sex ratio tends to reduce as humans age. And by the time we land in a retirement community, there are far greater proportion of females. It’s the lucky older man with a bottle of Viagra in an old folks’ home.
So, those delicious high testosterone men, the ones with the big muscles, the deep voice, the beards, are they nice guys too? A group of researchers set out to answer this question. How do human beings decide when to be selfish and when to be selfless? In this study, they gave testosterone to 25 men looking to see if it had an impact on their pro social behaviors. They also had a control group as well, and they confirmed the participants’ testosterone levels before and after treatment. They used a behavioral economics gain commonly used by psychologists, and what they found was pretty startling.
Men with artificially raised testosterone compared with those on a placebo were 27% less generous towards strangers. But get this, men in the lowest group of testosterone were 560% more generous than men in the highest group.
Basically, what they found is that men with elevated testosterone tend to behave antisocially. And to underscore that, they also found that this group of men were more likely to use their money in the game to punish those who were ungenerous towards them.
But testosterone isn’t exactly the be all and end all in the hormonal universe. It lives in a world with lots of other hormones that compete for dominance. My favorite hormone even has its own nickname, the “cuddle hormone” – oxytocin. It facilitates bonding, feelings of closeness, empathy and compassion.
In one study, they gave a group of men a nasal spray containing oxytocin. Another control group just had salt water. Then they were asked to play a game that involved generosity. And you guessed it, the ones who had the oxytocin nasal spray, were 80% more generous compared to the placebo group.
Oxytocin plays a very high role in how people fall in love. Not surprisingly, when women have sex, their oxytocin levels rise. In fact, during female orgasm, they have huge surges of oxytocin. The only other time in a woman’s life where she has that much oxytocin, is when she’s breastfeeding to help her bond with her baby.
When men have sex, they have a surge of oxytocin too. Except, they have a much higher surge of testosterone. The testosterone blunts the effect of oxytocin. That’s why men don’t fall in love through sex. A man can have casual sex with a woman for weeks or months and not fall in love. Whereas if a woman does the same thing with the same partner, all that oxytocin means that she has a very high chance of falling in love.
But what’s an optimal level of testosterone for a man? You know, if he has too much, he’s more likely to be a cheater. And if he has too little, he might lose his libido and his energy. If you believe the marketing of some pharmaceutical companies, “Low T is a common condition that must be treated immediately.”
Male: I have low testosterone. There I said it. How did I know? Well, I didn’t really. See, I figured low testosterone would decrease my sex drive, but when I started losing energy and became moody, that’s when I had an honest conversation with my doctor.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: There’s a lot of controversy about a diagnosis of low T. I personally think it was invented by pharmaceutical companies. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that testosterone cream can restore sexual functioning in young and middle-aged men who already have lower testosterone levels. But it has no influence on sexual behavior when hormone levels are about normal.
You know, Mother Nature is a perfect programmer. She knows when to dip down those levels of testosterone to protect women and children. One research study showed that husbands of pregnant women, had a big dip in testosterone during her third trimester. This phenomenon, according to evolutionary psychologists, likely was designed to divert sexual energy and convert it into protecting and providing for, and monogamy can make men’s testosterone levels drop.
One study found that men in long-term relationships for more than a year tested lower in testosterone than single men or men in new relationships. This could be evolutionary, because men with lower testosterone are more likely to be better caregivers and less likely to pursue additional sex partners.
Male: Well, I think it depends on what stage in your life you are too. I think when my girlfriend and I broke up, I was definitely on the higher end of that scale. But you know, after a while, you kind of miss that camaraderie I think a little bit and start to understand the benefits of monogamy. Feeling of having a partner to take on this thing that we call life.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Finally, low testosterone guys are great fathers. A study in 2013 found that slightly smaller testicles were associated with a more nurturing quality among fathers. Reduced testosterone levels and testes volume were associated with higher levels of paternal caregiving.
Male: I love kids.
Male: I just wanted to be married with a family.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: So, what’s a woman to do if she chooses a high testosterone mate? She may have a gorgeous, protective cheater on her hands. And if she chooses a low testosterone guy, she’ll have plenty of help in the daddy department. But what about the bedroom? Well, there are two factors that temper cheating behavior in high testosterone men; religion and intelligence. Men who faithfully follow religious doctrine tend to override their high testosterone urges with good impulse control.
Male: In my family history, faith was really important. I just didn’t have an interest in spending a lot of time or sleeping with a bunch of women, because it wasn’t the way that I was brought up.
Male: One’s slightly longer than the other.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Which one is that?
Male: The ring finger.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: That’s high testosterone. Were you raised with a religion?
Male: I was raised as a Christian. My wife comes from a religious background as well. We met when we were in high school and dated and got married and had our first kids when we were in the early 20’s.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: And some research shows that high intelligence men can be better at committing to family over fun.
Male: The whole everyone dreams of like high school and college and like dating around and all these girls and stuff, and I was just ready to be like a married dad and like have my life in middle school.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: And for those who choose the good guy, stable daddy, there are ways to increase a man’s testosterone. Again, enter my favorite hormone, oxytocin. It’s called the bonding hormone because it helps make people feel connected. Couples who have been given oxytocin nose spray reported more love making, trust and caregiving. But short of an oxytocin lace nose spray, the other way women raise their own oxytocin is through sex. The problem is when a woman’s oxytocin is low, her sex drive goes down. She just doesn’t want to have sex.
As for her husband, his naturally lowered testosterone to divert sexual energy toward providing and caregiving, may make him a low energy couch potato. Or if he’s looking for a way to spike his testosterone, he may be prone to cheating. So, how does a woman raise her husband’s testosterone just enough? And how does a man raise his wife’s oxytocin so she’ll have sex with him?
Couples can keep her oxytocin high by doing lots of bonding behaviors that don’t involve sex, communicating more, cuddling, kissing, having date nights, touch without the pressure of sex can raise her oxytocin enough to make her eventually want to have sex. And that (the sex) will really raise her oxytocin.
How about how to raise his testosterone? Well, to do that, he needs a win and he needs to feel territorial. Even watching his team win can give him a boost of testosterone. So can playing sports, hanging out with his guy friends or achieving at work. And there’s another way that your husband can psychologically have a win – when he feels good about himself. When you compliment him. Yes, when women say nice things to their husbands, their testosterone goes up. As for feeling territorial, when his partner practices good grooming and looks appealing to other men, he’ll naturally want to keep her closer to him.
Is there trouble with testosterone? Hardly. Like all other hormones, they work in concert with a party of hormones, many who temper their effect. And when we look at the nature versus nurture debate, it’s important to remember that thinking and beliefs have as much to do with human behavior as biology.
I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. Thanks for listening to Mating Matters. On our next episode, the God that clubs how religions make rules around sexuality to increase reproductive advantage.