This summer's release of an easy to use form of the androgen sex-steroid, testosterone, has some sociologists, physicians and psychologists worried. Apparently, enough isn't known about male hormonal physiology. Much of what is known is mythical, not factual. Though testosterone is not a substance to take lightly, even women are calling their physicians and asking for prescriptions for the new form of testosterone known as Androgel®.
Four million men in the US currently take some sort of doctor-prescribed synthetic version of testosterone. The hormone can be taken in two ways, injections and a dermal patch that is worn on the scrotum. Those men with proven testosterone deficiency will welcome an ointment that is purportedly as easy to use as tanning lotion, odorless and colorless. Still, scientists are worried about how such an easy to use and powerful drug might effect men who abuse the substance.
Men in their mid-thirties who have taken the injectable testosterone report that in the days directly following their injections they've felt stronger, more energetic and more aggressive. If the drug becomes easy to use and pervasive, psychologists worry that society itself could undergo changes. Testosterone use could become a cultural phenomenon and focus unwelcome debate on the nature of gender.
Women's groups have spoken out against the hype surrounding Androgel, complaining that attributing male behavior to a single hormone will have a negative impact on society.
The debate wages, but there is very little hard evidence that aggressive, energetic or overtly sexual behavior is directly related to testosterone. Much of the information on the hormone is antiquated. Endocrinology is one of the few specialties in medicine where research on men lags behind that on women. For this reason, the NIH is sponsoring several studies on male androgens hoping to gain a better understanding. (Read Testosterone, Brain & Behavior in this Vidyya Issue.)
Most of the men who will ask their physicians for a prescription for Androgel are not expect to show pathologically low levels of testosterone. Practitioner's are largely on their own when deciding who should and should not receive the drug. Women are expected to ask for the hormone for the relief of postmenopausal complications, such as a lagging libido. The drug is expected to be heavily marketed on the Internet and appeal to body builders.