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Testosterone — The Elephant in the Room

I intended this to be part IV, but it demanded to be written before “A Good Man.” So here you go. And my continuing apologies to the two men who are still patiently waiting for me to get around to using the interviews they gave me.


It begins with testosterone.

That’s an oversimplication, of course. It begins there but doesn’t even remotely end there. You have testosterone. I have testosterone. Everybody has testosterone. We all also have some share of other male and female hormones.

That doesn’t erase the dominantly binary expression of sex and sexuality. Can’t discount all those DNA differences, for one thing. And men — or as they might be known these days, persons with testicles — have a lot more testosterone and are physically and mentally affected by it in countless ways, good, bad, and well … just different.


I have a friend who calls himself a testosterone addict. He should know. He was gifted (or cursed) with levels of testosterone that are nearly off the charts.

He has also been forced at times to undergo chemical treatments that temporarily reduce his “Big T” to nearly nothing. So he knows what it’s like practically to OD on testosterone and on the other hand what it’s like to go cold turkey.

On testosterone, he is competitive, decisive, highly sexual, unflappable, intellectually rigorous, and a successful scientist, engineer, and entrepreneur. Because his body originally grew under the influence of high testosterone, he’s also big, strong, hairy, built like a porn star (I’m not saying that on a PG-rated blog), and has many of the other traits we associate with macho men.

But when doctors zap his Big T nearly to zero — different story. His motivation dissolves along with the most powerful part of his sex drive. His thinking gets fuzzy. His spelling and grammar go from excellent to dubious. He hates his life. He apologizes for everything. He gets weepy over all manner of things. At the same time, he also becomes more empathetic. He develops both “women’s intuition” and gaydar. (Side note: The worst of the two testosterone-zapping drugs he’s been subjected to is now frequently given to adolescent or pre-adolescent boys who believe they want to be girls. Think on that, if you can bear to.)

My friend is just one small example of the power of testosterone.

Here are more examples from the transcript of one of the most popular episodes ever produced by the NPR show This American Life.

Scroll down to the segments “Life at Zero” and “Infinite Gent,” respectively about a man who lost his testosterone due to a medical condition and a woman who transitioned to male and immediately became not only more libidinous but — in mind, if not action — predatory toward women. (And that was actually one of the less dramatic impacts of a sudden testosterone rush.)

In a final segment of that episode, the entire staff of This American Life, male and female, had their testosterone measured. If you’ve ever endured the twee little voice of host Ira Glass or slogged your way through one of TAL’s often drivel-driven broadcasts, you won’t be at all surprised to learn that every male crew member had below-normal testosterone, some shockingly so. Also, fellow crew members were able to predict which female staffer had the most testosterone simply by observing her behavior.


Of course testosterone isn’t the be-all and end-all of manhood. But here are just a few of the (mostly) positives it grants its best-endowed bearers:

  • Bigger size relative to women
  • Enhanced muscle mass and less fat
  • Heart health
  • Body and facial hair
  • Stronger bones
  • Enhanced brain power
  • Uplifted mood
  • Physical strength
  • Courage and willingness to take risks
  • Higher sperm counts
  • Impressive sex organs
  • Greater self-esteem
  • Competitiveness and a desire to dominate
  • An urge to protect and defend
  • Libido libido libido

I call those (mostly) positives, but it’s also easy to see a flip side to them all. Never underestimate testosterone’s power or its influence on male physicality and behaviors, but ultimately it’s what men and boys DO with their Big-T-driven selves that make the real difference.


But what is this mysteriously powerful substance?

Right off the bat, first line of its entry on the subject, Wikipedia proclaims, “Testosterone is the primary sex hormone and anabolic steroid in males.”

Yep, it’s one of those eeeeeevil anabolic (muscle-building) steroids, the very chemicals that lead pro wrestlers to bulk up, overtax their bodies, get all ragey, and die young of heart attacks or acts of violence. You’ve heard of “roid rage”? Well, its precursor is built right into the masculine body. (Modern feminists, if any are lurking about, will stop reading right here, having heard exactly what they want to hear about the inborn evils of men.)

According to Dr. Harry Fisch, a noted expert in the subject, “Testosterone is a sex hormone produced by the testes that stimulates the development of male sexual characteristics, such as the penis and testes, muscle size, vocal cords and bones, pubic hair, facial hair and the Adam’s apple. Production of testosterone in the testes is controlled by the brain and pituitary gland.”*

Also according to Fisch, low testosterone (less than 300 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl), a condition called hypogonadism) has the symptoms of:

  • low interest in sex
  • tiredness
  • muscle weakness
  • small or soft testicles
  • erectile dysfunction
  • weight gain, particularly around the waist
  • reduced bone density
  • depression
  • anemia

Low testosterone can lead to cardio-vascular problems. And men with low T are commonly (though not always, of course) non-confrontational, inhibited, physically weak, underdeveloped, tend to run to fat, and have little interest in sex.

On the other hand, low-T men are (stereotypically, but accurately) quite often artists, intellectuals, gentle souls, expressive, and easy to like.

High-T men are … generally what you picture them as being. Sometimes in a great way. Sometimes in a not-so-great way.

There are links, or at least reasonable suspicion of links, between testosterone levels and criminality, alcoholism, infidelity, recklessness, and other problem behaviors. Autism is five times more prevalent in males than females, and although no one has pinned down a cause, high testosterone in the womb is one suspect.

But there are quite a few myths about testosterone, too (for instance, dosing yourself with more of it doesn’t enhance fertility and according to Fisch athletes who take too much of it may actually become sterile). Here’s more from Fisch.

Testosterone levels in any given individual rise and fall with time and circumstances. Here’s a useful chart of averages for men.

“Normal” testosterone for men can range from 300 ng/dl to around 1,200 ng/dl, depending on which expert is weighing in.

Contrast that with us women. If our Little-T soars all the way to 75 ng/dl, we’re probably in our horniest years of adolescence. Before and after that, we’re looking at female levels like 8 or 20.

In the weird facts department, marriage drops a man’s testosterone, and fatherhood drops it even farther (particularly in cultures where fathers are highly involved with child-rearing). Yet the pheromones given off by ovulating women seem actually to increase testosterone levels in men.

Sexual activity, in person or virtual, can raise testosterone. Guys who watched a porn flick as part of a research project saw their testosterone levels rise 35% shortly thereafter — and they reported greater motivation, competitiveness, and energy. Falling in love decreases men’s testosterone levels, but increases women’s. And women with higher-than-average levels of testosterone tend to have higher sex drives than less T-driven women, too.

It’s complicated.


But what’s all this trivia in aid of? Why is a freedomista writer going on about sex hormones?

Well, go back up and take a look at those contrasting testosterone levels between men and women. Men and women are different — and not simply (as the woke like to claim) as a result of social conditioning.

We were created different by evolution to perform different tasks. And we were created that way for the survival of our species, even if our personal differences are sometimes a giant pain in the backside to us as individuals trying to navigate through a complex and civilized world.

Are we always stuck with the particular tasks Mother Nature stereotyped for ue? Nope — and thank human progress for that. We are, however, stuck with the biological consequences of being evolved primates.

Those biological consequences, widely and unquestioningly acknowledged even before anybody knew what testosterone was, are in sharp conflict with modern ideology and inclinations.

Before I ever began this series, when I had merely mentioned the title “In Praise of Men,” a commentor who I’m guessing is a young woman landed a comment filled with fear, prejudice, distortions, and considerable ignorance about men. Some of her examples of male bad behavior are probably accurate (for high school and college jocks), but she doesn’t balance those observations against the better behavior of a wide variety of men. Some of her examples, if they’re accurate (which blog regulars questioned), say she’s been hanging out with vicious sociopaths, the kind of creeps that real men would call out on the spot. Some of her examples simply show she’s ignorant of biology.

But from her lack of experience and probably her modern “education” she concludes with complete confidence that all men — every one of them in the world! — “are all sex offenders, if not full-on pedophiles.” Not merely potential rapists, sadists, and pervs, but actual, active rapists, sadists, and pervs.

Anybody expressing the equivalent bigotry toward any other group would be hounded off the Internet. But it’s okay to view men through the distorting lens of universal hatred.

In the course of writing his book Drop Dead Healthy (which showcases his two years of trying to live by multitudes of different kinds of health advice) the humorist-journalist A.J. Jacobs got tested by the above Dr. Fisch and discovered his testosterone was low (though not as low as Ira Glass’s). He debated whether that was a good or bad thing, contemplated testosterone-enhancing treatments, asked his wife (who gave him a resounding NO), then tried a very conservative form of therapy, which immediately increased his libido, made his gym workouts easier, gave him more energy, and caused him to be distracted by pictures of a pretty model on the site of Esquire, the magazine he writes for. After two months, he ended up with testosterone in the mid-normal range or, as he said to his wife, “somewhere between lumberjacks and Italian prime ministers.”

But ultimately he concluded

[I]t occurs to me, maybe this is the worst time in history to be upping my testosterone. As Hanna Rosin points out in The Atlantic, “For the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs … The attributes that are most valuable today — social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus — are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true.”

True, perhaps. But all that assumes that today’s prosperous, relatively safe, historically unprecedented conditions are a permanent part of human progress.

Not a safe assumption, that.


* In females, testosterone is produced by the ovaries. In both sexes, the adrenal glands also contribute.


  1. John Wilder
    John Wilder December 3, 2020 7:45 pm

    The time and place for manly virtue will be returning.

  2. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge December 3, 2020 8:32 pm

    Mr. Wilder – Perhaps sooner than later.

  3. larryarnold
    larryarnold December 3, 2020 10:51 pm

    Anybody expressing the equivalent bigotry toward any other group would be hounded off the Internet.

    Sort of.
    Our probable future POTUS said, “If you don’t vote for me, you ain’t Black” and “Unlike Blacks, Hispanics have a rich and varied culture.”
    “White Fragility” is full of racial stereotypes, yet it’s the go-to-text for social justice training.

    You just have to be the right left kind of bigot.

  4. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge December 3, 2020 10:55 pm

    Larry – Yeah, that unfortunately sounds right.

  5. Claire
    Claire December 5, 2020 2:36 pm

    I’m surprised at the dearth of comment on this installment of IPoM. I thought I’d at least get some hate mail. 😉

    So what’s up? Bad timing on the post? Uninteresting info? You already knew all this? You’re all into early holiday cheer? I’ve lost my touch? Aliens have kidnapped half the Commentariat?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  6. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge December 5, 2020 3:25 pm

    Claire – Don’t worry – I got PLENTY to share on this topic. Will be back at earliest opportunity!

  7. Claire
    Claire December 5, 2020 3:26 pm

    Oh good. I’m delighted to know you’re on the case.

  8. Just Waiting
    Just Waiting December 5, 2020 8:23 pm

    Claire, I don’t think it’s you or even the topic. I’ve noticed a marked decline in posting and commenting on most of the places I visit where people participate in meaningful intellectual discussion. But there’s still plenty of stuff to see on CWII or election fraud,

  9. Joel
    Joel December 6, 2020 7:44 am

    I just don’t know enough about testosterone to rate an opinion.

  10. -s
    -s December 6, 2020 8:28 am

    “Men and women are different — and not simply (as the woke like to claim) as a result of social conditioning.

    “We were created different by evolution to perform different tasks.”

    This echos ancient wisdom:

    “If men and women are beings of the same kind, and are engaged in bringing about the same results, why should they have different works to do?

    “(T)he ways of working as well as the consciousness of pleasure in men and women are different. … And from this difference in the ways of working follows the difference in the consciousness of pleasure, for a man thinks, ‘this woman is united with me’, and a woman thinks, ‘I am united with this man’.”

    The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana ~300 AD
    Sir Richard Burton, translator (1883)

    Men and women ARE different – delightfully and profoundly so.

  11. -s
    -s December 6, 2020 11:34 am

    More recently, this meme appeared around 2016:

    Hard times create strong men,
    Strong men create good times,
    Good times create weak men,
    Weak men create hard times.

  12. Brook James
    Brook James December 7, 2020 8:08 am

    A character in a Louis L’Amour book said something like “a woman who tries to be a man becomes something much less than a man, and much less than a woman.” Spot on. I think it might have been Shalako. Great book, that. The converse is also true about man trying to be women. When I was in high school in New Jersey, my best race was the two mile in 10:08. Lest anybody think that was a particularly fast time, there was a guy on my team who did 8:45 his junior year. I was not competitive. I was not winning races. Out of curiosity, I looked up the fastest time for a girl in New Jersey in 2019. My time was faster by about 4 seconds, after converting to the metric 3200. I sent a letter to the NCAA board of governors, telling them that if even a schlub like me could beat every single girl in the state, they should not be pushing states to allow boys to compete as girls. Surprisingly, they did not respond.
    Men and women are most definitely different, in delightful ways. As the French would say, Vive la difference!

    Jim Brook

  13. Brook James
    Brook James December 7, 2020 8:20 am

    “Mapping sex-differential gene expression we found more than 6500 protein-coding genes with significant SDE (sex-differential expression) in one tissue or more.” – “The Landscape of Sex-Differential Transcriptome and Its Consequent Selection in Human Adults,” Moran Gershoni and Shmuel Pietrokovski, BMC Biology, (2017) 15:7. Differences were found in gene expression not just in the obvious places like breast tissue and muscle, but in a wide variety of tissues including spleen, lung, kidney, etc. Surprise, surprise – the limbic system, which processes emotion, contained lots of genes that expressed differently. Now who ever could have guessed that women and men process emotions differently?

    Jim Brook

  14. Claire
    Claire December 7, 2020 10:09 am

    Dr. Jim. Thank you for two excellent comments — particularly your elucidation on gene expression.

    Letting boys or men compete in athletics against girls is definitely a farce. The rules IIRC, usually require that the boy in question have taken treatments to reduce his testosterone. But that just shows a total refusal to understand that testosterone forms male bodies from the womb onward. Artificially lowering testosterone at some point after or just prior to puberty doesn’t even remotely undo its many effects on body type, muscle mass, etc.

    I’m not surprised that the NCAA ignored your communication.

  15. Claire
    Claire December 7, 2020 10:10 am

    -s — From the Kama Sutra to contemporary politics. Testosterone and you cover a lot of territory.

  16. Jeff Allen
    Jeff Allen December 7, 2020 1:51 pm

    this (buried) cite from Hannah Rosin:
    … in The Atlantic, “For the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs … The attributes that are most valuable today — social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus — are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true.”

    and your conclusion for this installment:

    “True, perhaps. But all that assumes that today’s prosperous, relatively safe, historically unprecedented conditions are a permanent part of human progress.

    “Not a safe assumption, that.”

    And true again. Would I be anticipating the next section to ask, what positive role for men, or even distinction in roles between men and women, do you see going forward? I’m hoping your assumptions are not predicated on a thesis of societal collapse.

  17. SH
    SH December 7, 2020 2:15 pm

    Sorry to rain on the parade here , but I don’t get it. Why are supposed libertarians so worked up about the life choices of other people?

    You lament women trying to become men. Which means what? Being transgender? Choosing a career in the STEM field? Being athletes? Driving cars? Wearing pants?

    Once you go down this slippery slope, where do you stop? Or do you end up like the Taliban?

    I follow the advice of Thomas Jefferson: if someone else’s acts or beliefs neither break my leg nor pick my pocket, it’s none of my business.

  18. -s
    -s December 7, 2020 2:44 pm


    You’ve missed the point entirely. The post isn’t about other people’s life choices – of course they are free to choose whatever they want to do with their own bodies.

    The issue is a growing cancer in our culture that treats men as inherently flawed and dangerous. Normal and appropriate masculine behavior is being re-defined as toxic masculinity. Read the linked comment in Claire’s post. It’s a non-stop screed of ignorance, hatred, fear, and prejudice.

    These twisted beliefs are doing immense physical harm to generations of little boys, who are drugged into submission for the crime of acting like males. They are also depriving young women of their ability to compete in fair athletic contests. Countless male college students have been deprived of years of effort, tuition, and opportunities by grotesquely rigged tribunals designed to find them guilty of rape based on any accusation, with no evidence at all. Whomever paid for that young man’s tuition had their pocket picked – and the young man’s life is changed forever, and not for the better.

    Claire is exceptionally brave to take on this issue in the era of cancel culture and radical feminism. She is speaking important truths – to those who have ears to hear.

  19. Claire
    Claire December 7, 2020 3:56 pm

    SH, will you please point out the place where I’ve advocated banning or punishing what any adults to with their own bodies or with other consenting adults?

    Oh. You can’t. Because I didn’t.

    -s is right that you’ve totally missed the point of this whole series of posts. You’ve also missed the whole point of libertarianism if you think it means that freedomistas should be so self-absorbed that we don’t even have opinions about what’s happening in the larger world. I can have all kinds of opinions without ever wanting to force them on anybody.

    Also, my writing has nothing to do with wanting to deny progress to women (as you’d know if you read closely).

  20. Claire
    Claire December 7, 2020 4:08 pm

    “I’m hoping your assumptions are not predicated on a thesis of societal collapse.”

    Jeff Allen — You make a good point; thanks for raising it. Societal collapse, or at least societal struggles, will be part of it. But only part. You’re right that the next installment(s) will focus on positive roles for men and ways for boys to grow into good men.

    I’m not likely to get too much into distinctions in roles for men and women because those are so individualized and there’s so much room for variety (and in the single point on which commentor SH was correct, the roles individuals choose aren’t my business).

    My main aims are to tackle some mind-blowingly ignorant current concepts (e.g. that the only differences between males and females are cultural), to state why we need both traditional male and traditional female strengths for a healthy society, and to stand up for people who are being subjected to bigotry.

    With some luck I may manage to achieve about 1/10th of that.

  21. SH
    SH December 8, 2020 11:57 am

    Claire, I did not just direct my comment solely to you, but to the general train of thought expressed here, including by commenters. It just sounded like too many people want to go back to the bad old days when women had few rights. I don’t.

    I won’t bother you with any more comments, as it appears folks here only want to hear those who agree with them.

  22. Ted Dunlap
    Ted Dunlap December 8, 2020 4:56 pm

    I am appreciating the series. It is easy for rational people to write off the current agenda-driven gender-benders. It takes a bit more thought to separate cultural norms from natural behaviors. People like me think we are on our own in this task. It is nice to have a female philosopher (90% points for the latter) thoughtfully address the issues.

    Thus far I think Claire has nailed it.

  23. Myself
    Myself December 8, 2020 5:29 pm

    “I won’t bother you with any more comments, as it appears folks here only want to hear those who agree with them”

    I take you don’t read much here, people disagree all the time, if fact the only one who seems to not like it when someone posts something that they disagree with is you.

  24. jabrwok
    jabrwok December 9, 2020 6:02 am

    One point I don’t see addressed in the comments here: women are a larger part of the workforce because employers are forced to hire them. Eliminate the EEOC and Title IX and anti-discrimination legislation, and let employers set whatever criteria they want regarding employment, and then if women actually *are* better in the workforce than men then the results will speak for themselves. As it, women’s representation in the workforce is largely an artifact of governmental interference on their behalf. Hardly a matter of women being “strong and independent”, let alone equal.

  25. larryarnold
    larryarnold December 9, 2020 7:51 am

    I follow the advice of Thomas Jefferson: if someone else’s acts or beliefs neither break my leg nor pick my pocket, it’s none of my business.

    There’s a bill prefiled for the Texas Legislature next year, HB 73, “Relating to a limitation on the use of a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation as the basis for a defense in the trial of a criminal offense.”
    Basically it says discovering someone has different equipment than you were anticipating is not a justification for use of force in self-defense.
    While I approve of the concept of the law, I can still say that waiting to reveal such until you’re climbing into bed is extremely rude.
    And calling a potential partner bigoted because they aren’t physically attracted to what you believe you are instead of what equipment you present is, at best, naïve. But that’s what we’re beginning to have to deal with.

  26. Kevin Wilmeth
    Kevin Wilmeth December 9, 2020 2:54 pm

    I’ve been pondering this post for a few days now. (I strongly suspect that the slowed rate of discussion may have a lot to do with simple fatigue.)

    This passage struck me:

    But from her lack of experience and probably her modern “education” she concludes with complete confidence that all men — every one of them in the world! — “are all sex offenders, if not full-on pedophiles.” Not merely potential rapists, sadists, and pervs, but actual, active rapists, sadists, and pervs.

    Of course, this wokester-approved sort of universal, identity-based smear is just childishly facile, right out of the agitprop warrior’s “let’s you and him fight” playbook, and deserves to be ignored into the oblivion it deserves. The five-year-olds I know can see immediately through the absurdity of “logic” like this.

    Reading that, though, did trigger an idea I do think is interesting, and I think relevant to this greater examination of “testosterone”, not just as mere biophysical chemical but as an important player in human nature up and down the line from individual to society to individual. It’s the idea of the psychological “beast within” being a central and necessary conundrum of human mental health. That a well-balanced human psyche acknowledges its own innate capacity to do great harm, and then makes the affirmative choice (and it has to be a choice) not to do that. Importantly, to deny the capacity, or actually not to have the capacity to do great harm, essentially nullifies any balanced capacity to do any good, rendering the person ineffectual and powerless.*

    The idea is immediately recognizable in contexts many of us understand very well. For example, by gunnies who take their martial art seriously: at some point, in developing confidence in one’s ability to wage and survive a lethal fight, it occurs to you that you actually command the power of life and death over one or more people, and it is only your choice that prevents you from exercising that power arbitrarily. (It sure as hell ain’t the law, as anyone can see on a daily basis around the world.) This is a pretty startling realization to confront–once you confront it honestly.

    Not just gunnies, either. How many of us have wondered, while driving on a two-lane highway, how crazy it is that we could, at any moment, just twitch the wheel five little degrees and immediately cause the death of the occupants of at least two vehicles? Even crazier, the guy coming the other way has exactly the same choice available to him! And yet we don’t. Happens all day, every day, with millions of people. People functioning normally, with at least a hindbrain level understanding of the beast within in that context.

    Anyway, I think this idea–this idea of the capacity for both good and harm needing to be acknowledged, instead of shamed, denied, disappeared, ridiculed, deplatformed, censored, etc.–is very much a part of the “testosterone” examination, if not merely an actual superset thereof.

    So, then: “the beast within”. Trivialized by Wokester Nation into a weapon to use against us (and roll that idea itself around for a minute), but a real conundrum that would seem to have relevancy in a time when the dehumanization and agitation campaigns are reaching a fever pitch.

    Claire, you may not have meant that at all, but part of what I love about your thought pieces is that it often gets me going on tangents…which turn out not to be so tangential after all. 🙂

    * For those new to the mechanics of this discussion, there are a number of video clips of Jordan Peterson presenting this idea through the lens of Carl Jung, that I would say are at the very least thought-provoking.

  27. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge December 9, 2020 3:23 pm

    Mr Wilmeth – GREAT POST! – and Wokester Nation – That’s rich!!!!!!!

  28. dogsledder
    dogsledder December 10, 2020 12:15 am

    I often read your posts but never comment if someone else has said my piece or if I lack knowledge in the area being discusses. Nevertheless I am always in your audience.

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