There’s a common argument out there that gender differences are just the product of socialization. Implicitly and explicitly, the argument goes, culture tells men and women how men and women should behave.
My guest today argues that the drivers of male and female behavior are little more complex than that. In fact, about 50% of the differences between men and women are rooted in our biology, beginning with how our respective brains form in utero.
Her name is Louann Brizendine. She’s a neuropsychiatrist, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of two books: The Female Brain and The Male Brain. Today we discuss that latter work, and the trajectory the male brain takes from prenatal life through old age.
We begin our conversation discussing how a megadose of testosterone in the womb wires a male brain differently from a female brain and how that influences how boys socialize and learn during childhood. Louann then discusses how the male brain is re-structured again with another megadose of testosterone during puberty and the impact that has on a teen’s behavior. She then walks us through what happens to the male brain when a man falls in love, has kids, and enters mature adulthood.
Consider this podcast an intro guide to how your brain works (assuming you’re a dude listening to this, though female listeners will also get some insights into why the males in their lives act the way they do).
- Are gender differences biological or cultural or both?
- How little girls and little boys play differently
- What is “infantile puberty”?
- The hormones that influence male and female brains
- What are these hormones doing during childhood?
- How do boys learn differently?
- Why are little boys more sensitive than little girls?
- How do boys and girls socialize differently?
- We know the physical changes that come with puberty, but what about changes in the brain?
- Boys and natural social hierarchies
- Why do boys tend to disengage in school more than girls?
- Why parents should actually let their teenagers sleep in
- How video games get boys’ attention
- What happens to the male brain when he falls in love? Why do men fall in love faster?
- What happens to the male brain when he becomes a father? Why does testosterone drop?
- Testosterone in older men and “andropause”
- Testosterone Replacement Therapy in older men
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- How to Protect Your Sperm (and Sperm Count)
- The Vast Influence of Testosterone on Our Bodies and Minds
- AoM series on testosterone
- Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do to Help Them
- What Navy SEALs Can Teach You About Raising Kids
- The Wonder of Boys
- Boys Adrift
- The ADHD Explosion
- Don’t Waste Your Twenties
- Love Is Overrated
- Prairie voles vs montane voles
- What Every Man Should Know About Sleep
- The lowdown on testosterone ads
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded with ClearCast.io.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. There’s an argument out there that gender differences are just the product of socialization. Implicitly and explicitly the argument goes culture tells men and women how men and women should behave.
My guest today argues that drivers of male and female behavior are a little more complex than that. In fact, about 50% of the differences between men and women are rooted in our biology, beginning with how our respective brains form in utero. Her name is Louann Brizendine, she’s a neuropsychiatrist, a Professor at the University of California San Francisco, and the author of two books, “The Female Brain and the Male Brain.”
Today we discuss the latter work, and the trajectory the male brain takes from prenatal life all the way through old age. We begin our conversation discussing how a megadose of testosterone in the womb wires a male brain differently from the female brain, and how that influences how boys socialize and learn during childhood. Louann then discussed how the male brain is restructured again with another megadose of testosterone during puberty, and the impact that has on a teen’s behavior.
She then walks us through what happens to the male brain when a male falls in love, has kids, and enters mature adulthood. Consider this podcast an intro guide to how your brain works assuming your dude listening to this, though female listeners will also get insights on why the males in their lives act the way they do.
After the shows over, check out the show notes at aom.is/malebrain. Louann Brizendine, welcome to the show.
Louann Brizendine: Thanks for having me Brett.
Brett McKay: You published a book a few years back called, “The Male Brain,” which is this fun narrative, scientific narrative of what happens to a male brain from fetus, all the way to elder hood. There’s a lot of discussion out there about the basis of gender and sex, right? Is it biological? Is it cultural? What’s your take? Is it all biological, or does culture play a role in how men and women behave and think?
Louann Brizendine: Well, there’s been a big discussion for many years between psychologists and biologists. The psychologists look at culture and upbringing, and the biologists tend to look at the biology, the hormones, the genetics of everything that they look at, but including gender. If you ask a biologist, “What part is biology, and what part is culture and upbringing?” Biologists will tell you it’s about 50-50 from their point of view.
If you ask psychologists how they look at it, which is culture, and which is biology, they will say, “It’s about 50-50.” Really there is no disagreement, there may be disagreement in the details, but in a broad sense there’s no disagreement that culture has a huge part, if not 50% to play in how our behavior is shaped by our culture, how our behavior is shaped by our family and upbringing and our schooling, etc., etc.
Things that boys are, “Encouraged and allowed to do,” versus things that girls are, “Encouraged and allowed to do,” are somewhat different. Girls and boys tend to … Left to their own druthers, they will actually segregate during grade school years, and enjoy playing with same-sex more than they do playing with opposite sex. That seems to have something to do with just the actual interests that boys have in things that make a lot of noise, and explosions, and the come on guys, let’s go get them, the team effort in fighting off the enemy.
Girls will do that for a while with the boys, but then they get bored with that, and they would like to do more of the category of play called role-play. They like to play you be the doctor, I’ll be the patient, or you be the mommy, I’ll be the daddy, and then role-play these roles that also are in relationship to the other. More than, come on guys, let’s go get them.
There’s a big difference, and that’s just a brief summary of a type of thing that boys will do that with girls maybe for one play 15 minutes, and then they want to go off running with the boys. Come on guys, let’s go get them, or whatever they’re doing that’s more active. That is a stereotype, but actually in all of Eleanor McAbee’s studies from kids age is about five to age 9, 10, 11, 12, they really prefer to play the games that their same-sex peers want to play.
That’s something that’s noticed, and of course then things start to shift when the hormones of puberty start to blast in.
Brett McKay: Right, well let’s talk about the hormones. I like at the beginning of the book, you list this cast of characters. What are the hormones that influence both male and female brains?
Louann Brizendine: If we start from the very beginning Brett, on terms of like at the moment that the sperm meets the egg, and that sperm is carrying an X chromosome, the baby will be a girl, if it carries a Y, it will be a boy. Right at that moment our gender is set genetically, and at about 8 to 10 weeks of fetal life, the tiny testicles in the male fetus start to pump out huge amounts of testosterone already, and they marinate the body and brain and change it into male.
In the girl, there is no testosterone, and so her system develops without testosterone, and ends up being female at birth. By the time we’re born, if everything goes according to plan, we’re either male or female. At birth, from about one month to 12 months in a boy, his testicles continue to pump out almost adult male levels of testosterone during that first year of life.
Girls, it’s about from age 1 month to 22 months, so her ovaries are pumping out estrogen for those first two years of life. We call that phase of hormonal development infantile puberty, because of these huge levels of their sex determined hormones. We don’t really know much about infantile puberty in terms of what it’s doing, and how it’s really developing brain and body circuitry, but biologists continue to think that it’s most likely to do with it’s priming the whole fertility system in humans.
Other animals do not have infantile puberty, so that’s something particular to us humans. Then of course, we have that pause called the juvenile pause, or in the vernacular, it’s called childhood. Childhood is a time when female hormones and male hormones from the ovaries or testicles are very, very low level. Basically females and males during childhood have about the same amount of estrogen, testosterone as the opposite sex.
That’s a time of quiet hormones with very, very low levels. Until the ramping up of puberty, and males, at about 9 years old, 9 to 11 years old, their testicles start to respond to signals from the pituitary and brain that tell the testosterone making cells to turn on. Between ages of 9 and 15 males go from a very low level of testosterone, up to 200 times as much. You’re up at the 200, 300, 400 level by the time you’re 13 or 14, at the time when the first wet dream happens.
That basically is an indication that the system, the male reproductive system is primed and ready to go.
Brett McKay: Okay, let’s talk about, so you’re born, you go through this infantile puberty. We’re not exactly sure why, or what’s going on, but there’s an indication that there’s some structural reorganization going on in the brain and the body priming it for that fertility period later on. Let’s talk about some of the differences that we see between boys and girls during childhood. They have the same amount of hormones, testosterone and estrogen, but as you said there are differences.
You mentioned the different ways that boys and girls socialize and play. What are some other differences between boys and girls during childhood?
Louann Brizendine: Well one of the things that researchers have found, is that they’ve had several studies where they’ll take boys at age 6, 7, they’ll let them play together for 30 or 40 minutes, and then the observers rank them according to who ended up being the alpha boy all the way down on to the bottom of the group. That’s called establishing hierarchy, and girls don’t tend to do that.
They have other types of play, and different types of aggression than boys do, but it’s a little bit harder to establish a real hierarchy like boys do very quickly. If you bring those boys back together at about age 11 or 12, they haven’t seen each other in years and years, so they have a couple of studies where the boys basically reestablish the same hierarchy as they had at that younger age at 6 or 7, which is remarkable if you think about it.
There’s this hierarchical play that’s different in boys and girls. They just basically, it’s not clear whether those boys just have more hormones, more aggressivity, more charisma, or all of the above that end up being the leaders of the pack. There is a very clear leadership hierarchy established in boys pretty quickly, that’s not the same in girls.
Brett McKay: How do boys say learn different? How do they interact with learning, or paying attention that’s different from girls?
Louann Brizendine: The learning difference between boys and girls is one that’s of course had a lot of airplay in a lot of schools that are trying to address this. An example is his math, and they were basically there’s study looking and trying to how to get girls to learn math more easily or more quickly, or learn math more like boys learn math. In the studies that were looking at that, they basically discovered that the way the boys learn, boys fidget and wiggle and when they’re learning math, they wiggle and actually embody if you will.
They embody the equation, so they embody the concepts in some way. If you can’t … They stopped asking the girls to sit still, and had the girls start wiggling around and doing some of the same embodiment movements that the boys were doing, and show that actually the girls learned math much more quickly. That’s an interesting study that a lot of people have made a lot of, that we really still do not understand very well.
I think that the idea that you want to have boys sitting still all the time in a classroom. You remember that one of the things is, is that most teachers of elementary school age kids are female by and large. There’s been a big emphasis on the girls who can sit still and draw and write and be not jumping up and out of their chairs all the time, are the students who get praised by the teachers the most.
It’s usually the boys who are being considered to being disruptive, etc., so they’re getting a lot of negative feedback in the classroom about their lack of ability to sit still. People have started thinking, “Well maybe this isn’t such a great idea to have everybody sitting so still. You need to let each kid, but in particular boys need to be able to move around to learn better.”
Brett McKay: One of the interesting insights I got from your book, was the mood and emotions of boys and girls. Traditionally males in most cultures are expected to be stoic, and females are allowed to be emotional. You highlight there’s research that suggests that infant boys, and even young boys, they tend to be more emotionally, I don’t know, what’s the word? Sensitive than girls, they get upset more easily, and take a little longer to calm or soothe.
Louann Brizendine: Yeah, so an interesting thing is, it’s a little bit of a reverse in adulthood, but little boys basically get their nervous system more jangled, and are more sensitive to many things than little girls, and it takes them a little bit longer to calm down and to soothe them. Lots of moms certainly notice this, and they just behave accordingly in terms of the soothing of little boys.
It’s interesting that their systems are wired to be more reactive and more sensitive in childhood in little kids, than maybe we’re talking about under age 5 or 6.
Brett McKay: I guess they learned how to … That’s where we see the interplay of culture and biology. The culture expects them to be stoic, so they learn how to tamp that down?
Louann Brizendine: Well, I think the most well-known adage is boys don’t cry. Suck it up, let’s stop the crying, there’s no use in crying. Act like a man, right?
Brett McKay: Right.
Louann Brizendine: The fathers tend to be the ones who carry that culture to the boys. Mothers don’t say that kind of thing to their boys. They don’t say stop that crying, why don’t you man up? Stop acting like a baby. Mothers don’t tend to say that, it’s usually fathers who enforce that mandate on their sons, because it upsets the fathers to see that maybe their sons will be shunned, because they’re, “A crybaby,” and it makes the father look bad.
Brett McKay: You mentioned boys tend to socialize in teams, they establish hierarchies, they’re interested in math, they embody that through fidgeting, becoming the equation physically. What are some other differences? I think you highlight that boys tend to be interested in things or objects, and girls, people.
Louann Brizendine: The idea that boys are interested in things, and especially in toys that move. Even they’ve done some studies in young primates, little male primates prefer toys that actually have wheels and move. Little girls will play, they’re not so particular as little boys are about things that move and things that are active. The toy choice in boys and girls, you might have 1 out of 10 boys preferring more girls things, and 1 out of 10 girls preferring more boy toys.
It’s important to realize that the male and female brain are more alike than different. We are the same species after all, and there’s huge amounts of overlap, so we’re talking about some things that are quite amount of stereotype here.
Brett McKay: Right, okay, so we’ve gone through childhood, hormones are about the same between boys and girls, but despite that similarity, there are some differences that show up. I’m guessing, I know you said they don’t know why the differences. It could be the surge of testosterone that you received in the fetus and when you’re an infant might play a role.
Louann Brizendine: Somehow that, remember from eight weeks of gestation, the testicles are working overtime to make testosterone. Testosterone is the really important sculptor, the sculptor of manliness, of manhood, of the male brain circuits, of the male body. Testosterone kills off any of the female parts of the organs, because we have both organs, we all have both organs in us at some point, and then testosterone kills off all of the female organs, like the tissue that would become a uterus, or a vagina, that is killed off by testosterone.
The male organs are stimulated, so testosterone is quite a biological sculptor if you will of the male model.
Brett McKay: Okay, so it goes through that sculpting process in utero shortly after birth, but then there’s another reconstruction that happens at puberty that we all know about. We all know the secondary, I guess is that where the secondary sexual, what is that called?
Louann Brizendine: Yes, like the deeper voice, hair, mustache and beard, and general hair.
Brett McKay: All the stuff that you start feeling awkward about right around 12 or 13.
Louann Brizendine: Yeah, the kids are embarrassed about, yes, I know. We used to have a grandson, and actually for a while he would talk to us on Skype about various things as he was going into puberty. He used to count the number of pubic hairs and report back to us about how many. Then it was very noticeable though, when he was counting at about 25, he stopped, we didn’t hear from him anymore on that count.
It was all lots of fun and exciting at the beginning, and then all of a sudden it was like, “Oh, I don’t think this is too cool.”
Brett McKay: Not cool anymore. Okay, well let’s talk about what happens in the brain, because that’s what the focus of your book is. What is going on in this reconstruction of the male brain during puberty?
Louann Brizendine: Basically, you can just imagine it’s a tsunami of testosterone just starts to hit the male brain. It hits those areas that have been primed in his brain to do what they … The most important thing from a genetic perspective for a male to do, is to go sow his seed, right? The idea is to get your DNA into the next generation, which requires seeking out fertile females, and inseminating them.
That is the basic mission of the male, and it’s important to realize that, because that’s just how a lot of the wiring that’s all turned on during puberty, which can be quite confusing to boys. I’m sure most guys I talk to remember this vividly, and all of a sudden every pair of breasts that walk down the street, and every kind of buttocks or sexual innuendos, it all of a sudden just blares out at you.
I can remember my son when he hit that age, I’m writing part of this book, and he was about 13. I said, “What do guys your age say about when girls come to school in very skimpy clothes in the spring and summer?” He says, “Well mom, pretty soon you feel like you can’t take your eyes off them. At first, you feel like a perv, and then you realize that all the other guys are thinking the same thing.”
I think that boys go through this period where they’re really doing what their biology tells them to … Biology and hormones tells them to do, and yet they have a lot of awkward feelings about what that means about who they are. That’s just a part of the unfolding of this process in early adolescence.
Brett McKay: Besides the amplification of sex, what other behaviors does testosterone start to encourage or promote in boys?
Louann Brizendine: I think another fascinating area that I think we don’t know enough about yet that’s very interesting, is that the male facial features, and the male looking at other faces. The testing of looking at faces, and then while you’re in a brain scanner. If males start to look at faces that are happy, they’ll report that they’re happy. If then they start to report faces even that are what are called neutral faces, and they report in adolescent boys, they report them to be angry faces.
Of course, a really angry face, they’ll report as angry. All of a sudden, even neutral faces are starting to look a little angry to them. As an adult you’ll say, “Well, they’re misreading that a little bit,” and the misreading of that, is because something is happening in their brain to be looking at other faces to see them as being a bit angry. That may be something to do with self-preservation, that’s probably old, old wiring in the male brain from …
Our most successful great, great, great, great grandfathers were the ones who survived, and the ones who didn’t get killed off by somebody else, and were able to procreate and have us be their offspring. It’s really important to know what ancestors, the way they survived, and what characteristics in the male brain allowed them to survive.
Brett McKay: We mentioned boys even as children are very hierarchical. I imagine this only gets amplified during puberty?
Louann Brizendine: Yes, it continues to play out, and I think that because some boys reach their full height not until they’re in their early 20s on the other end of the spectrum, and some boys reach their full height at 13 or 14. Something about the rapidity of their growth, and their muscles, and their height certainly allows certain boys to be much more … To maybe change their place a little bit in the hierarchy.
The testosterone is making them much more noticing … Any micro aggressions, micro aggressions from others. I remember when my son first started driving 16, 17, micro aggressions from other drivers that I didn’t even notice when I had to be his copilot there for a while. Micro aggressions from other drivers drove him crazy at that stage. Those things play out in the classroom, they play out on the playground, they play out in their lives, so that’s part of the hierarchical.
Just how boys start noticing, and maybe what we call hyper cathecting, or hyper noticing, and being vigilant about negativity, or maybe angry intents of other people.
Brett McKay: Right, so here’s an interesting question that I was thinking about. You have all this testosterone coursing through boys at puberty, which testosterone is supposed to make you more ambitious, have more drive, take more risk, yet high schools across the country, teachers are reporting that this period of time, boys become very disengaged from school. What’s going on there? Why is it that have this milieu of hormones that’s driving them to be the best, so they can pass on their seed, sow their oats as you said, but they’re disengaged from things like school, or other aspects of life.
Louann Brizendine: We don’t entirely understand what that’s about, but what we do know, so I’ll tell you what we know is going on in the brain at that time. The brain is having a huge … What’s called the second largest brain development in the human growth pattern is in teenage years. What’s happening is, as if branches on a tree are just sprouting all through the brain.
There’s so many more connections than you’ll eventually need. There’s all this brain growth that’s going on like mad, probably related to growth hormone, and a lot of other types of growth. Not only is the body growing, but the brain is actually growing, and it’s over growing. One of the things that happens that a lot of schools are trying to address right now, is that the wake cycle changes hugely.
The going to sleep doesn’t happen until later in the evening, you don’t get sleep, you don’t want to go to sleep till midnight maybe, and then really you need more sleep at age 14 then you did at 10. Most teenagers really need between 10 and 12 hours sleep a night, because of all this growth and brain growth that’s going on. Growth hormone is secreted at nighttime, so it’s a really important time for that.
Boys may be sitting in classrooms, actually their brain is still asleep, it hasn’t woken up yet. It probably won’t wake up till 4 o’clock in the afternoon, or something. What’s happening in the brain under the hood, if you look under the hood, the apathy, and just not being able to focus and pay attention, and actually that thing is shifted a whole hour later in boys than in girls.
Girls go to sleep earlier and they can wake up earlier, boys go to sleep later and that will reset itself to be matched between males and females at about age 30.
Brett McKay: Interesting, what I understand about testosterone, is that it also promotes dopamine production, which makes you want to do things. I guess if you have too much dopamine, you need more dopamine to get motivated. Boys might actually be bored, right? They need a lot of stimulation to get excited about something.
Louann Brizendine: Yeah, and I think that’s the compelling parts of video games. The video games that are the single shooter games, where you’re basically just all … You have to be alert all the time in every moment to see who’s coming from which side. I think that, that’s an example of things that really get boys attention, gets their brains attention. Honestly the stuff that’s going on in the classroom cannot hold a candle to that, it’s so slow, it’s just so boring, it’s not getting their attention.
You’re right, it’s not that they have attention deficit disorders, it’s that they’re not interested in paying attention to how the material is presented. That’s a big problem in how we teach lessons, and you’re right about wanting to do well, wanting to be excellent, being ambitious, which the testosterone makes huge amounts of dopamine in the brain.
There’s lots of shall we say seeking excitement, so teen boys really want to seek excitement sometimes to the exclusion of caution. There is no excitement in the classroom generally for most teen boys.
Brett McKay: All right, so the puberty, the surge of testosterone reshapes the brain. It’s priming it for fatherhood basically, but let’s talk about before fatherhood. You had a chapter about what happens to the male brain when a guy is in love? What goes on when a guy sees a girl, falls head over heels in love, what’s happening to his brain?
Louann Brizendine: If he’s found someone that he feels like is his partner, his match. He’s sexually attracted, emotionally attracted, and his whole brain is like all of a sudden takes on every little bit of the things that she likes, and how she is. We call it an emerging of your two egos, and that he takes her into himself and his own mind as his love object. He’s like they say head over heels, he’s head over heels for her.
The dopamine is surging, and the oxytocin, the love hormone, starts to get going, because touching, caressing, kissing really releases lots of oxytocin in both male and female brains. He has basically bonded with her, and it’s almost some people describe it almost as being psychotic, because you have a whole different reality. Your reality is through the lens of her, everything has to do with her, spending time with her, what she likes, etc., etc.
The whole male brain and body gets overtaken by love as the female does.
Brett McKay: Well I thought it was interesting too, you note that men … There’s this idea that women grow more attached, and they’re quicker to fall in love. The research shows that men actually fall in love faster than women do.
Louann Brizendine: It’s interesting, because the visual cortex, that part of your brain that’s back there at the base of your skull right on the top of your neck, the visual cortex in males is very stimulated all the time by testosterone. It’s seeking out curvaceous females, and so once he’s found the one … He can have love at first sight much more easily.
Brett McKay: Yeah, well and also from a genetic perspective, from evolutionary perspective, sexual selection perspective, there’s this idea that the males of a species want to reproduce with as many females as possible, because that increases the chances of them spreading their seed. You highlight research that in some species, particularly in humans that there is that, but also there’s some men or males who are predisposed to monogamy. What’s going on there?
Louann Brizendine: Right, so I think monogamy, in our species there’s a wide variety between those males who tend to be primed to have many partners, and those who are primed to be monogamous. I think it’s also somewhat cultural in that what is acceptable in your culture or not. We think that, that has to do something with both testosterone level, because the testosterone level between 400 and 1000 is a long range. Adult males are in range, and males that are at the very top of that testosterone range, have a higher likelihood of being promiscuous, and of having lots of mates.
Those in the middle and in the lower end have a greater tendency to be monogamous. Some of it may have to do with testosterone level, some of it might have to with culture. Some of it may have to do with … I talk about that vasopressin receptor gene, in that there seem to be in the little prairie vole studies that we look at, there’s a vole that is called the prairie vole. The males in that species are very monogamous. They pair bond, they take care of the pups.
His cousin, the montane vole, is just the opposite. He’s a hit-and-run guy, he’s very promiscuous, and inseminates many females, doesn’t do anything to take care of the pups. Probably doesn’t even know who his pups are, so they’re very different. They’ve discovered that the vasopressin receptor gene, which is another hormone in the brain in those ones that are monogamous, are a long receptor, and the ones that are promiscuous, are very short.
Humans have that same vasopressin receptor gene, and in some males it’s long, and in some males it’s short. Actually it’s at 17 different lengths in humans, so there’s a very large range. Some studies have looked at that, a big Swedish study looked at that, and found that the males that are the longest vasopressin receptor gene, and would be hypothesized to be more monogamous, actually have the longest long-term marriages.
There’s something to do with genetics, culture, and hormones all wrapped up into that, which I think that’s just fascinating that we humans would have that type of diversity and propensity.
Brett McKay: That is really interesting, okay, so a guy falls in love, all these hormones are bathing his brain and his body to pair up with a female. They do, and a baby results, right? The woman gets pregnant … What happens to the male brain when he becomes a father?
Louann Brizendine: The fascinating thing about the fatherhood hormones, the testosterone drops by about 30%. Then a hormone that we call male the parenting hormone both in males and females, the prolactin hormone in males goes up by about 25% or 30%. Males, when they into fatherhood, it’s not just the female body we know is changing like mad. She’s going through pregnancy, she has huge hormonal changes. It was a big discovery to find out that the males have a whole fatherhood set of hormones, which decreases their testosterone, and increases this parenting hormone called prolactin in males.
Now prolactin, the word prolactin, lactation means milk formation. Not that males breast-feed, and that is the hormone in females that makes breast milk, so we don’t really know what that hormone prolactin is doing in males. We think it probably has something to be doing with the parenting hormone in males.
Brett McKay: Does this decrease in testosterone occur even before birth?
Louann Brizendine: It starts to a little bit, it starts to drop, and then for the first six months after birth, that’s when it’s noted to be 30% down. Then after about six months it starts to climb back up to the set point for that individual. Interesting, when the infant is most in need of care from both parents, that testosterone level that might say drive him … Some hypothesis says it might … If it was still higher, it would drive him to maybe not stay as close to home, maybe drive him to seek out other partners.
Some of the thought is it basically decreases the sex drive in the male.
Brett McKay: Couldn’t the testosterone decrease, because you’re not sleeping? I remember when I had my kid, for the first six months, I hardly got any sleep. Testosterone, most of it’s produced while you’re asleep, so maybe the kid’s crying, keeping you up, is reducing your testosterone, so you stick around.
Louann Brizendine: Yeah, it might just be from total exhaustion, which every parent … I think the biggest deficit of every parent is sleep, please let me sleep.
Brett McKay: Right, those babies, they’re decreasing your testosterone.
Louann Brizendine: Exactly, they do, the babies decrease your testosterone, so you’re correct.
Brett McKay: Okay, we’ve gone through puberty, what happens in adulthood from 30 to 50? Do things stay the same for men, is it a stable period?
Louann Brizendine: The counterpart in females is … Females have something called menopause at 50, where their ovaries stop producing estrogen, because they’ve run out of eggs. Males never run out of sperm, and so you guys continue to have production of sperm and testosterone for your entire lives. It does decrease, I think the peak of male testosterone is between the ages since 19 and 29, so that’s when the sperm production is at its height and testosterone production is at its height.
Then after about age 30, the testosterone level starts to decrease between 1%, and 2%, or 3% per year. It goes down, by about age 50 males are only producing about half of the testosterone that they produced at age 25.
Brett McKay: What happens to the behavior, because of that decrease in testosterone?
Louann Brizendine: About age 80, the testosterone levels gone down enough, that I know that George Bernard Shaw always said, “Oh yes, thank goodness, that I’m not being driven by that anymore.”
Brett McKay: I think Cicero said something like that too.
Louann Brizendine: Yeah, so it’s a well-known comment of men who have been driven sexually all of their lives. Not that it’s a negative thing, but it’s certainly something that … Sometimes you wish that it weren’t there. I think that so, the what’s called andropause, is a gradual decline in testosterone that’s normal with male aging. It’s still plenty to have muscle strength, muscle, it’s still plenty to have energy and some sex drive, but not nearly the amount that you had when you were 19 or 20.
Brett McKay: I guess men start to mellow out a bit at this age as well?
Louann Brizendine: Yeah, and I think that, that thing about seeing others faces as being possibly aggressive, and that thing about being more a hair trigger to I think the tendency to road rage, or the tendency to taking things wrong and feeling aggressive about it. That whole tendency starts to decrease.
Brett McKay: Yeah, when I’ve talked to my friends who are about the same age as me, like 35, talking about the difference between our dads when we were kids, and then them interacting with our kids, with their grandkids. I remember your dads were on edge, right? They’re work, and they seemed grumpy and peevish, right? Then they’re in their 60s, and they just seem like a completely different … They’re mellow and calm, and just …
Louann Brizendine: I know, they seem like a happy puppy.
Brett McKay: Right.
Louann Brizendine: It’s just very different, and I think it’s quite shocking to most, all of us, even the girls, to watch your parents with your … Especially your fathers with your kids, because they’re just like a big teddy bear.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and what do you think is happening? You see a lot of men, older men these days starting to take TRT, testosterone replacement therapy. How is that going to change things?
Louann Brizendine: I’m working on a new book called, “Female Brain 2.0,” which is about women aged 50 to 100 plus. A lot of the females I’m interviewing, their husband in their 50s are taking testosterone replacement. It’s quite interesting to talk with these … Of course, I’m seeing it through the women’s eyes, and talking to of course some of the men as well. You probably see these ads on TV that called do you have low T?
Brett McKay: Right.
Louann Brizendine: Of course, you have low T after the age of 50 or 60, it’s supposed to be going down. You’re supposed to becoming that big teddy bear grandpa. That’s the lifestage you’re supposed to be at. Indeed, there are some men that medically lose too much testosterone, and have such a little amount, that they need to have a replacement. By and large medically, this idea of low T would apply to every man going through his …
He’s not going to have the testosterone he had when he’s 25. Lots of men these days I think are finding it … I think maybe it’s also a very American phenomenon, that you just don’t want to lose your edge, right? You don’t want to lose your edge, and you don’t want to lose your energy. You don’t want to lose your ambitious, aggressive, creative, whatever the edge is that you have.
I think it’s seeking the fountain of youth a bit. The answer to your question about what it’s doing, so the women I talk to are postmenopausal, their husbands are getting their testosterone injections, and they know for the first two or three days he’s just going to want sex as much as possible at the age of 60 or 65. They are really frankly just not that interested, it’s not like they’re never interested, but not at that level.
It does cause some marital problems.
Brett McKay: Interesting, and I imagine too, if you take T, you might lose that generative stage of your life, right? When you’re old and you’re sealing up your legacy, you might lose that. You’re thinking, you just have that edge again, where you’re not, I don’t know, I guess nostalgic is the right word maybe.
Louann Brizendine: I think the correct word you said was generative, the word generative in that you’ve reached a stage where you may have done not everything you’re going to have to do in your life, but you’ve done a huge amount already in your life, and your productivity, and the things that you’ve accomplished. It’s your turn to get to smell the roses a little bit, but also to give back and mentor the younger generation.
I think that, that urge to teach others, and become a mentor, and become a wise elder I think is wonderful, lovely thing for men. If you’re just completely putting your testosterone back up to where it was when you’re 25, you’re creating a conflict in yourself between those two. I agree with you, I think it becomes a conflict, and so I’m asking myself the question of like okay, I can see why they want to do that, and they want to maintain their edge, because there’s a feeling of the youth culture in the United States, that if you aren’t part of the youth culture, you’re out of it, you’re cast off to the side.
It’s something that every person goes through in their own change and identity and development as we all get older. Some people just aren’t willing to let that happen.
Brett McKay: I see a future think piece in the Atlantic or something about this topic, or something.
Louann Brizendine: Good, I hope you write it.
Brett McKay: Right, well Louann, this has been a great conversation, where can people go to learn more about your work?
Louann Brizendine: Well they can go on either the male brain, or the female brain I would say is a fabulous way to start, because as you noticed from the back of the book, there’s many, many, many other articles that it refers to. They can just start to pick all of those apart, and do a deep dive into what it means biologically and emotionally to be male.
Brett McKay: Awesome, well Louann, thank you so much for your time, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Louann Brizendine: Likewise, thank you for doing what you do. We all appreciate your giving voice to this whole area of manliness.
Brett McKay: Thank you, my guest today was Dr. Louann Brizendine, she’s the author of the book, “The Male Brain.” It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can also find out more information about her work on our show notes at aom.is/malebrain. Well that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast.
For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoyed the podcast and got something out of it, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support, until next time this Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.