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Masculinity seems to be in a fragile state, with men going to extremes to protect their neck(beard)s from all that is pink, floral, and otherwise lady-like. So every other week, we’ll dive into the ways men are guarding themselves from a feminized society, as we ask, “Are men OK?”
Testosterone is “essential to the development of male growth and masculine characteristics,” including facial hair, bone structure, a deeper voice, and sex drive, according to Healthline. While everyone has the hormone, cis men produce it far more than cis women.
So it stands to reason, according to one ad, if you’re a cis man without enough testosterone, you’re failing America.
I saw this ad the other night, probably on SpikeTV (don’t judge). It is the Make America Great Again of testosterone shills. Men, are you too busy going to the spa to sand some wood? Do you have as much testosterone as your dad? Do you even lay railroad tracks, bro? The testosterone levels are declining, and it’s a national crisis! That’s why you have to buy Force Factor GNC Test X180 Ignite, apparently.
Ads like this play into the insecurities cis men have about the concept of biological masculinity. Testosterone, or lack thereof, does not change one’s gender identity, but it certainly has an effect on the appearance and behavior that many correlate with being superior traits of manhood— assertive, fearless, strong. Also an indicator of high testosterone: male-pattern baldness, which the model in the ad is also representing.
Another thing that the ad gets right is testosterone levels in cis men have been declining over the past two decades. According to one study, testosterone levels in men tend to peak in their 20s and then drop, but “in 1988, men who were 50 years old had higher serum testosterone concentrations than did comparable 50-year-old men in 1996. This suggests that some factor other than age may be contributing to the observed declines in testosterone over time.” It was unclear just what was causing the decline, and researchers said it was “impossible to account for certain health or environmental influences.”
However, that doesn’t mean that men are less “manly” for having less testosterone. In a 2002 This American Life episode all about the hormone, members of the show’s staff decided to take testosterone tests. Based on their personalities, the staff guessed who would have the highest testosterone levels.
Most of the staff guessed that the “manliest” of them—the boldest, the most aggressive, the sports fans—would have higher levels of testosterone. But the results didn’t match their theories. As host Ira Glass put it, the “gay Canadian Jew living in Manhattan” had twice the testosterone as any of the other men. The woman with the highest levels was seven months pregnant. (New slogan: Try Force Factor! Have as much testosterone as a pregnant woman!)
As cis men age, they lose testosterone, which can cause low libido, muscle and bone density loss, and other health issues. Testosterone supplements can help with this, though so can exercise and diet. Shoveling coal and doing burpees are optional.
Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'