Riding the Testosterone Elevator

Breathes there a man with eyes or ears so dead who has not yet seen or heard one of those “Low T” commercials or infomercials? Probably not. But what do you really know about testosterone, other than the fact that more is usually preferable?

The famed male hormone is responsible for secondary sex characteristics, libido and sexual function. Testosterone also affects energy levels, tissue growth, muscle mass, fat distribution, and stimulates blood flow. Also, it aids concentration and visuospatial abilities. The amount of testosterone produced in the testes is controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.

Like blood pressure, serum testosterone levels fluctuate. Also, like blood pressure, testosterone can be problematical as men age. “Normal” has a wide latitude: 300 ng/dl (nanograms per deciliter) to 1,200 ng/dl. Famously, the level is highest in the early morning hours when “morning glory” erections occur.

But there is more. Let us explore the variable nature of serum testosterone levels by turning to a book called Testosterone and Social Structure by Theodore D. Kemper (Rutgers University Press, 1990). Kemper studied testosterone levels in men and discovered – surprise, surprise! – that levels of serum testosterone are boosted when someone achieves triumph or dominance in one pursuit or another. It could happen after the attainment of a long-sought goal or besting an opponent in some sort of competition. Women, who have lower levels of testosterone (produced by the ovaries), may experience surges of their own as they take on male roles in an egalitarian society.

Sports, of course, are Exhibit A when it comes to testosterone boosting. We’ve seen any number of videos of triumphant athletes exulting in their victory. High fives, fist pumps, handshakes, dogpiles, and various other rituals are captured regularly on video. But there are far more spectators than athletes in this world. What about them?

Well, it turns out that spectators’ testosterone levels are affected by how their team of choice performs. If the home team wins a thriller, the fan experiences a boost in serum testosterone. If the home team loses a thriller, the fan experiences a drop in serum testosterone.

When TV first became commonplace in the late 1940s, sports programming was limited. You might get the Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon or a limited number of telecasts of your local teams, college or pro.

Not so today. Is there a sports event, big league or big-time college, anywhere in the land that is not televised? Is there no limit to the amount of TV screens at a sports bar? Or how many sports bars the local market can bear? It is worth noting that many people can receive these same sports channels at home, but watching in the isolation of one’s living room is not the same thing. Better to watch the big game in a group at a sports bar, thus simulating the crowd at the stadium, feeding off each other’s enthusiasm, and revving up testosterone levels…unless the home team loses.

When Kemper’s book came out, televised sports were relatively manageable. This was 11 years after the 1979 founding of ESPN. Now we have ESPN2, ESPN3, and by the time you read this, maybe ESPN4. There’s the all-baseball MLB network, the all-football NFL network, the all-hockey NHL network, and the all-basketball NBA TV. There’s even a Golf Channel, for God’s sake! Can a curling channel be far behind?

Speaking of the media, let’s not forget the perpetual chatter on sports talk radio or the mind-numbing proliferation of statistics and analysis pertaining to sports. One wonders why so much attention is paid to something that, when all is said and done, is so trivial.

Live attendance at pro sports venues waxes and wanes, but the overall trend is upward. Hard to explain, but even in dire economic times, tickets to sporting events are in big demand. For example, in Detroit – the municipal poster child for rust belt decline – the Tigers have drawn more than 3,000,000 fans four times from 2007 to 2014. They “bottomed out” at 2,461,237 in 2010. Given the inflated prices of tickets, parking, concessions, etc, it is hard to comprehend how so many denizens of the nation’s most depressed metro area can afford to shell out big bucks for mere entertainment…unless it’s more than mere entertainment.

When testosterone levels rise, according to Kemper, a man has “a sense that the world is fully responsive to oneself….The world is brought into harmony with one’s self and one’s needs or desires.” In other words, it’s like a drug! And people will pay whatever the market will bear for a reliable high.

Well, there is no shortage of antidepressant medications out there, so what makes testosterone different? If watching sports was just another form of do-it-yourself feel-goodism, it would not be worthy of attention, but the matter is more serious than that:

My view is that males who experience testosterone surges in sufficient number . . . will be relatively contented with the existing social order. . . . Conversely, lacking sufficient surges of Testosterone, males are more likely to become restive and alienated from the institutions that undergird the social order and to become available for experiences that negate that order. . . and make one ripe for social change.1

So spectator sports are more than just a waste of time and money. Marx might call them the opiate of the masses; Aldous Huxley might call them soma. Spectator sports serve the state not only by enhancing alcohol tax revenues, but by keeping the dolts from revolting. Maybe that would explain why professional sports salaries have skyrocketed. The athletes are being paid not just for their athletic skills, but because they’re helping to keep the pot from boiling over.

Kemper’s book was written 25 years ago when video games were fewer in number and not as sophisticated. I’m not a gamer, but I’ve watched people play games, and the emotional response is very similar to that of people (athletes or spectators) heavily involved in a sporting contest.

Gaming is not as passive as watching sports on TV, but it is a form of virtual reality. Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome after too much Mortal Kombat. Virtual or otherwise, if a competitor comes out on top after a hard-fought victory, the results can be positive, in terms of a testosterone surge.

As is the case with so many other phenomena, it’s a matter of nature (a man’s natural testosterone level) and nurture (how his testosterone level is manipulated, or how he manipulates his testosterone level) locked in a feedback loop, which Kemper refers to as the “socio-bio-social chain.” In other words, social structure and biology are inextricably intertwined. Two men with equally active ‘nads may end up with different serum testosterone levels depending on circumstances.

For example, a Viking living in Scandinavia (or sailing around the known world) 1,000 years ago may have had DNA similar to that of a contemporary man living in Sweden, but their testosterone levels are likely very different.

Of course, in Viking days, there was no virtual reality to boost testosterone. There may have been some sort of limited competitive sports during festivals, but there were no professional sports leagues. The life span was shorter but life was more physical, so testosterone could be boosted by exploring, plunder, pillage, rapine, looting, sailing, and other methods of exerting dominance over the environment. How much potential for dominance does a modern-day Swedish guy in a cubicle have?

Well, today that guy in the cubicle might come across MGTOW while surfing the web during his lunch break, but he has probably never heard of Theodore Kemper. Kemper’s book, of course, was published before the rise of the internet. He did not predict the rise of MGTOW, but he did anticipate it:

Given that this is an educated group [white collar males] with some insight into organizational processes, it poses a problem in the theory of politics. Why does this group not act in its own interests? Why does it not express its discontent in movements?1

Well, testosterone boosters like spectator sports and video games are two reasons. From what I read on MGTOW web sites, however, MGTOW men are frequently gamers but rarely sports fans.

If attendance at sporting events starts dwindling, if sports bars start closing their doors, you’ll know that MGTOW has gone mainstream. And if gamers give up on gaming, then the men’s movement, however you define it, could really pick up steam.

That wouldn’t mean abandoning testosterone boosting. After all, shouldn’t hard-fought victories in the social, political, and culture wars also boost testosterone? As a bonus, they might even reduce or eliminate tyranny in its various manifestations!

Rooting for your home team would never achieve that.


[1] Testosterone and Social Structure by Theodore D. Kemper (Rutgers University Press, 1990)

Recommended Content

Skip to toolbar