On the same day a Wall Street Journal headline proclaims, “Are Alpha Males Healthy?” comes a news report on the involved parenting and testosterone.
Testosterone, that most male of hormones, takes a dive after a man becomes a parent. And the more he gets involved in caring for his children — changing diapers, jiggling the boy or girl on his knee, reading “Goodnight Moon” for the umpteenth time — the lower his testosterone drops.
It appears that all of our fears, or at least taunts by manly men, have been confirmed: if you spend too much time in the nursery, you might as well put on a dress and hand over your trousers to the missus.
However some researchers are pointing to an opposite conclusion. What if is this is what nature intended? What if men are meant to settle into the role of good parents and caregivers at the point they have kids? What if they are meant to turn over “the hunt” to the childless men in both the psychological and physical interests of their babies? As a similar article in the Wall Street headlined, “Men Biologically Wired to be Nurturing Fathers.” In fact, the data seems to support what many of us “modern men” have been saying for a while: men have been unnaturally distracted from being the active parents they are meant to be.
This study tested 600 men both before and after they had children, and as such can answer the question of whether testosterone is lower among dads because only lower-testosterone men have kids or if having kids lowers testosterone. The study shows that nature intends for men to put down the bow and arrow and help with the kids.
This is both good news and bad news for dads in this story. First, testosterone level fluctuations are highest in the first month of the baby’s life and appear to rebound as the child gets older and more self-sufficient. None of the changes are so far outside the norm that there are noticeable difference in sperm count, chest hair, or voice range. Second, higher levels of testosterone in older men are linked to prostate cancer and the effect of fatherhood and this type of cancer may be linked, hopefully to helping prevent this type of cancer. Third, and more troublesome, is that lower levels of testosterone are linked to plaque in the arteries, heart disease and/or stroke, still the leading cause of death among men (and women).
Overall the good news is that men can feel less guilty or insecure about loving their roles as parents. Lowered testosterone, at least at the decreases shown in the study, shouldn’t really have an effect on energy or libido. If you feel these types of effects you should alert your doctor and find out how much your testosterone has decreased. It may not be related to your role as stay at home dad.