1 – Testosterone and Estrogen: So alike and yet so different.
Testosterone and estrogen – miles apart, the yin and yang of human behavior and development, right? Well, they may have different effects, but they sure don't look much different.
Take a look at the graphic below. Testosterone is on the top and estrogen is on the bottom. The molecules are so similar that they could be merged into one three-dimensional figure! The molecules are pretty much identical except for one solitary, extra hard-on of a carbon atom that stands straight up, illustrated in red below.
Doesn't it seem appropriate that Testosterone itself would have a penis?
Science writer James McBride Dabbs describes the similarity between the two molecules as a metaphor for the similarity of men and women:
"Men and women are similar in many ways – in their bodies, their minds, their hopes and fears. We should remember this underlying similarity when thinking about the ways in which they differ."
2 – "Spermatic Economy"
Prior to the isolation of Testosterone in the 1930's, maleness was thought to be represented by that which was visible; in other words, sperm and seminal fluid.
It was commonly believed that male secondary sexual characteristics – like muscle mass and genital growth – were associated with the production of sperm.
This led to the predictable but horribly sad notion that sperm shouldn't be squandered. The medical profession warned men to not have excessive sexual intercourse or heaven forbid, masturbate, lest they deprive the body of this vital substance. Furthermore, sperm was thought to exist in a limited supply. Your tank supposedly only had so much gas, and you'd best not be riding around on the sexual Autobahn burning up that precious bodily fluid and, along with it, your masculinity.
Pity the poor skinny, sickly men who were assumed by every sniggering onlooker to be chronic masturbators who had discharged all their masculinity into their sister's bloomers.
Of course, that's pretty much what we think today when we look at some of the specimens of manhood walking around campuses.
3 – The Primitive Beginnings of Testosterone Therapy
In 1869, a French physiologist named Charles Edouard Brown-Séquard theorized that injecting the sperm of a healthy young animal into the veins of an old man would produce vitality. Twenty years later at the age of roughly 72, the crazy old coot tried it.
Brown-Sequard revealed to a startled audience at the Société de Biologie in Paris that he had reversed his physical decline by injecting himself with the liquid extract derived from the testicles of a dog and a guinea pig. He insisted the injections had increased his strength, improved his mental acuity and even lengthened the arc of his urine stream by 25 percent so he could blast cockroaches off le toilette wall.
The procedure caught on in France and soon spread to the United States, where William Hammond, a former surgeon general, reported that the preparation reduced pain, improved cardiac function, and restored potency.
Meanwhile, Brown-Séquard continued to "refine" his formulas:
"Cut bull testicles into four or five slices, mix with one liter of glycerine, store for twenty-four hours turning frequently, wash in boiling water, pass the liquid through a paper filter, and then sterilize at 104 degrees."
We now know that Brown-Séquard's formulations relied heavily on the placebo effect. Regardless, he inspired laboratory research and clinical applications that led to the discovery of Testosterone.
4 – Testicle Transplants
In 1913, a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago performed the first testicle transplant on a twice-cursed 33-year old man who had lost one testicle through an accident and the other through a botched hernia surgery. It's believed that the donor testicle was purchased from a 3rd party who didn't have the balls to say no.
Four days after the operation, the patient insisted on leaving the hospital so that he could "satisfy his desire."
Amazingly, testicle transplants became relatively common place soon after. In 1918, the chief surgeon at California's San Quentin Prison began "engrafting human testicles from recently executed prisoners to senile recipients."
Soon after, he switched to using animal testicles.
The physician, L.L. Stanley, ended up doing 21 transplants with human testicles and over 300 with animal testicles. San Quentin inmates were literally lining up to get the procedure and recipients reported "a feeling of buoyancy, a joy of living...."
About the same time, and inspired by Stanley's work, a French physician began transplanting monkey testicles into patients who complained of loss of sexual drive. He declared that the procedure promoted physical and mental prowess and advocated that it be performed on children to create a "new super-race of men of genius."
While that never happened, reports appearing much later in 1949 showed that doctors gave oral and injectable forms of Testosterone to premature infants, both male and female. A year later, a study found that methyl Testosterone made babies grow faster with no apparent ill effects.
Probably as a result of the aforementioned study, docs began giving Testosterone to anorexic and underweight children as a "general growth stimulant." This occurred as late as 1961, but luckily, the practice didn't last much longer as scientists became aware of the side effects of relatively indiscriminate use of Testosterone on prepubescents.
5 – Gonad Tablets
The Testosterone craze of the early 20th century led to the development of several over-the-counter formulations of dubious effectiveness. Among the most popular – often prescribed by physicians of the day – was Henry Harrower's Gonad Tablet. It contained 0.25 grams of adrenal; 0.50 grams of thyroid; 1 gram of pituitary, and 1.5 grams of prostate and Leydig cell extracts. The label said it was to be taken 3 to 8 times a day.
Also popular were "Ovacoids" and "Testacoids" (that "curiously strong" bulge in your pants lets you know it's working!), along with "Concentrated Orchitic Solution" that contained tissue from the "small, hard testicular gland of the healthy young, live goat, ram, or monkey," dissolved in alcohol and water.
6 – The Discovery of Testosterone
In 1929, researchers discovered that male urine contained the mysterious male hormone. Two years later, a professor at the University of Gottinggen named Adolf Butenandt, in conjunction with the Schering pharmaceutical company, isolated minute amounts of the substance and named it androsterone.
In 1934, another researcher purified the hormone from cholesterol, and he and Butenandt were later named co-winners of 1938 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work.
In-between those events, in 1935, a professor named Ernst Laquer, with his colleagues and the Dutch pharmaceutical company, Organon, purified the hormone even further from bull testes and gave it the name – queue up sound of heavenly choir – Testosterone!
7 – Horny Baby Boys?
So innocent the baby boy!
We like to think so, but during the first 4-6 months of a male baby's life, his Testosterone levels are almost at pubertal levels! While we're not sure why this occurs, some scientists think that the high levels have something to do with "brain masculinization."
Oh, the baby's crying! He's hungry! Maybe, maybe not. Could be that he just wants to grab some tit. Fortunately, nature, in her wisdom, has designed it so that infants of this age can't walk; otherwise, they'd be humping the family schnauzer and walkin' up to assorted MILF's--tiny, engorged penis in hand--and sayin' "Hey, how ya' doin'?"
Luckily, Testosterone levels decline to normal childhood levels after these first few hormonally tumultuous months.
8 – Athletes and Low Testosterone
It seems counterintuitive, but male athletes typically have lower Testosterone levels than couch potatoes!
Comparative studies have shown again and again that free and total T concentrations in chronically trained athletes (runners, weight lifters, rowers, cyclists, and swimmers) are surprisingly low. In fact, the Testosterone levels of trained subjects were only 60-85% of untrained men.
While FSH and LH levels of trained men didn't differ from untrained men, T levels were significantly affected. Some researchers attribute the discrepancy to alterations in hepatic and extrahepatic (muscles, skin) metabolism of Testosterone, which can't be compensated for by the athletes' gonads.
And, while exercise of any kind for as little as 5-30 minutes results in a significant increase in Testosterone, levels decline below baseline 15-60 minute later. What's more, this reduction below baseline can last up to three days, depending on the duration and intensity of the exercise!
So does this mean that fat bastards are more virile than rock-hard athletes? God I hope not.
9 – Testosterone Levels and Sex Ratios of Children
A student at Georgia State University named Jonathan Bassett had read implications in the scientific literature that indicated that females with higher Testosterone levels gave birth to more boys than girls.
While this doesn't make much sense off-hand, high levels of Testosterone in fertile females might affect the viability of male and female zygotes after conception.
In any event, Bassett decided to do a study of female trial lawyers – a field typically populated by high-Testosterone females – and beauty queens. Using waist-to-hip ratios, Bassett figured that curvaceous figures might correlate with low levels of Testosterone, and that the sex ratio of their children might differ significantly from that of female trial lawyers.
He was right. Fifty-eight percent of the children of female trial lawyers were boys, while former Miss America's had twice as many daughters than sons.
Want some sons to help you with the farm work? Marry the girl on the next farm who looks like Warren Sapp.
Curvy girls make more curvy girls.
10 – Testosterone, Finger Length, and the Isle of Lesbos
Look at your hands. Hold them up in front of you as if you were trying to catch a stripper's just-flung panties. Is your ring finger (the fourth finger, counting the thumb) longer that the index finger (the second finger)?
If it is, and you're male, good for you. In the first trimester of pregnancy, when you were firmly entrenched in momma's womb, hormones started to roll up their sleeves to help build your body. It's this early exposure to T that seems to make a difference between the lengths of those two fingers.
Biologists call this the 2D:4D ratio.
No one really knows why this happens, but it's been known for a long time that some bone growth is determined by Testosterone.
Researcher John Manning of the University of Liverpool has even done studies that indicate that exceptional athletes and math whizzes have extra long ring fingers, perhaps suggesting that they might haven gotten extra doses of T when they were in the womb.
Equally amazing and downright compelling about this whole 2D:4D discussion is the fact that women generally have digits of similar length, with the notable exception of lesbians. They tend to have ratios that are similar to those of men.
It's certainly not foolproof, though. Don't look at your girlfriend's hands, discover that she's got a conspicuous 2D:4D ratio and automatically start rifling through the drawers of her nightstand in a frantic search for a box that contains sexy pictures of J-Lo and a Martina Navratilova signature-model vibrator. What researchers have found, though, is that when they look at hundreds of straight women and hundreds of lesbians, many more lesbians had ring fingers that were longer than their index fingers.
Somehow, these women, like men with similar dynamic digits, might have gotten an extra dose Testosterone during their first trimester in the womb. As a result (and this is just one theory), their sexual preferences leaned strongly toward other women. Were it not for their lack of penises and an affinity for LPGA-sponsored events, they might as well have been men.
- Dabbs, James McBride, Heroes, Rogues and Lovers, McGraw-Hill, 2000.
- Griffin, James, and Ojeda, Sergio, Textbook of Endocrine Physiology, Oxford Press, 1996.
- Hoberman, John, Testosterone Dreams: Rejuvenation, Aphrodisia, Doping. University of California Press, 2005.
- Luoma, TC, Luoma's Big Damn Book of Knowledge, Oxford Press, 2005.
- Nieschlag, E., et al, Testosterone: Action, Deficiency, Substitution. Springer, 1998.
- Rothman, Sheila and David J, The Pursuit of Perfection, Pantheon Books, 2003.