For the first time in its history, the American Psychological Association released a report to assist psychologists working with men and boys. One of the biggest “takeaways” of the report alludes to a crisis of masculinity: “traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.”
The report alludes to the dangers of men conforming to “masculine norms,” citing a correlation between such conformity and a propensity to engage in risky and unhealthy behavior. While the report is helpful in noting dangerous trends in male mental health, it ignores another crisis of masculinity that may actually be exacerbated by such public shaming of masculinity—rapidly dropping testosterone levels from generation to generation.
The APA report evinces a growing and unfortunate trend within our “woke” society of using traditional masculinity as a convenient scapegoat for a host of societal ills. Instead of considering the complexity of the human condition, we seem compelled to reduce issues of male mental health to question of men merely being too “manly.”
The subtext of the report is that, in order to address male mental health, we must restructure society to reject masculine norms and simultaneously reprogram men to reject their biological inclinations. Given the recent and alarming research regarding dropping testosterone levels among men and the dangerous consequences on both an individual and societal level, such reductionism seems particularly unwise.
Over the past 30 years, men’s testosterone levels have been steadily decreasing. As Craig Cooper of HuffPo put it, “our testosterone levels are under siege.” Cooper cites a heavily referenced 2007 study from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, performed by Dr. Thomas Travison of the New England Research Institutes. The study followed testosterone levels from 1987 to 2004, finding that average levels of testosterone in males had dropped by 1 percent each year, even after controlling for the usual suspects known to decrease T counts.
Translating this statistic into an actual context lends the following shocking result: an average sixty-year-old man in 2004 had testosterone levels that were 17 percent lower than did an average sixty-year-old man in 1987. There are, quite literally, generational gaps in testosterone levels that are not the product of increased age (a natural and predictable driver of declining testosterone levels).
But why should we care about declining testosterone levels? For men themselves, decreasing testosterone levels can result in reduced sex drive, reduced fertility, lower muscle mass, increased body fat, reduced memory, mood swings, and increased risk of osteoporosis, to name just a few side effects. On a societal level, the implications could be far direr.
Some scientists have suggested that the dropping testosterone levels may be closely related to and contributing to reduced sperm counts, which have also been steadily decreasing over the last 40 years (a precipitous drop of 59 percent between 1973 to 2011, according to an analysis of 185 studies involving more than 40,000 men). As renowned epidemiologist Dr. Hagai Levine emphasized in Newsweek in September of 2017, “Reproduction may be the most important function of any species…[and] something is very wrong with men.”
There are several explanations for why testosterone levels seem to be dropping so measuredly between generations, but scientists have struggled to determine which variable is most to blame. Some have cited increased rates of obesity; others have pointed to reduced rates of smoking in men (which ironically can lead to lower testosterone levels). Still others have alluded to environmental factors, including various chemicals that may act as endocrine disruptors, resulting in below-average testosterone levels.
Other behavioral factors may be at play. Anthropologists at Harvard University found the testosterone level of a man decreases significantly when he holds an infant and that “married men, whether fathers or not, have markedly lower testosterone levels than single males.” Experts have reasoned that such a trend, for the purposes of a biological timeline, makes sense. Decreasing testosterone levels—and thus, a decrease in competitive mating behaviors—is better suited to the stability of home life. Yet fewer young men today are married and parenting their own children than in previous generations, meaning this can’t be driving the overall trend. But it could be related to men mimicking more feminine behaviors.
Conversely, several studies have shown that engaging in “traditionally masculine” behavior, such as competitive or aggressive activities, can increase testosterone levels. In fact, a study performed at University of Michigan at Ann Arbor indicated that just assuming a position of power can increase the testosterone levels of both men and women. A similar study showed that competitive games can increase testosterone levels in men. That is, by engaging in the traditionally masculine behaviors now shamed by the APA, men may actually increase their testosterone levels.
As the above discussion indicates, having too much or too little testosterone may be undesirable from both an individual and societal perspective. However, shaming the traditionally masculine behaviors often associated with sustaining testosterone levels seems incredibly foolish and potentially dangerous. There should be—and can be—a happy medium that emphasizes the importance of men seeking emotional support when needed without shaming the very behaviors needed to sustain a society.
If we were to suggest that the answer to women’s mental health issues would be to undermine and reject “traditional femininity,” there would be public uproar. But alas, the woke brigade has picked its scapegoat for 2019, this time by undermining the mental health profession. There is a crisis of masculinity taking place, but it may not be the one many think.