Testosterone is often treated as synonymous with masculinity. Although testosterone is known as the male hormone, it exists naturally in women in smaller quantities too.
Its levels rise and fall in men, from year to year, from hour to hour, and even from circumstance to circumstance. Suggesting that men are more or less masculine as a function of these hormonal levels is as chauvinist as thinking that women have no sex drive at all.
Testosterone is related to sex drive in both women and men, but only in the latter does simple manipulation of levels make such observable changes to a person’s libido. It is also related – in males only – to aggressiveness, weight, abdominal fat, muscle, hair loss and hair pattern.
The obvious and direct relationship between testosterone levels and libido have spawned the use of synthetic supplements – legal and not quite legal ones – which can have very nasty health effects.
Because testosterone, or anabolic steroids, leads to muscle build-up, it has become one of the most abused drugs in sports. It increases a sportsman’s endurance but will also increase his aggression, on the field and off. In high levels, it will quite ironically shrink the testicles, lower the sex drive, reduce the sperm count and cause life threatening tumors and liver damage.
Testosterone in the Life Cycle
Testosterone makes its first appearance in the womb of male fetuses, where it creates the developmental changes that differentiate males from females physiologically.
Newborn males have high levels of the hormone, but it quickly flushes out of their bodies. Levels remain low during childhood. When boys enter puberty, testosterone levels rise and trigger the changes that adolescence brings. Testosterone initiates male features as well as some of the behaviours associated with masculinity, including what develops into a powerful sex drive.
What has helped conceptualize testosterone as the male hormone is its part in the growth of the penis, scrotum and prostate, the appearance of facial and pubic hair, and the deep voice and muscle structures that develop. It is not pure testosterone that brings about these changes, but rather testosterone interacting with the male genes.
Levels of testosterone typically are at their highest in late adolescence and early adulthood. It is often said that this is the male sexual peak, but this is a total misconception. Even though many men experience their highest physiological drive around age 18-20, their lack of experience, emotional immaturity and perhaps limited sexual opportunity, make this time far from the best they can expect to experience.
A guy’s testosterone will tend to drop in a slow, consistent fashion as the years go by, unlike women who experience menopause as a relatively sudden hormonal decline. While the waning in male hormones does not affect fertility, it will probably have an effect on some measures of sexual performance.
Fortunately, from a female point of view, the most important areas of performance potential should not be affected.