After a father confesses that he can’t stop crying, a daughter does a little research on male menopause.
I recently went home to visit my father, and he confided in me that he couldn’t stop crying. He added rather flippantly, yet seriously, that he was beginning to lose his testosterone. My honest, perhaps inappropriate response was a smirk that progressively turned into a chuckle. I may have even brushed off this rather intimate remark with a sarcastic “Yeah! OK, Dad!” Though in the face of my father whom I love dearly and with whom I have a very close relationship I may have seemed insensitive and dismissive, this testimonial, “I can’t stop crying,” has deeply touched me and has been haunting me ever since.
My initial reaction was surely due to the fact that I have never witnessed my father cry and thus by some faulty logic assumed (or wanted to believe) that he just didn’t. Even as an adult, I continue to see my dad through the eyes of a child. Though it’s true that the little girl in me wants to continue to believe in his invulnerability, my incapacity to react seriously to his confession involves more than a daughter not wanting to see her father cry. The fact that my dad half-jokingly declared his low testosterone levels indicates that even he had trouble taking himself seriously.
Society says that men are supposed to be strong, brave, virile … and though men and women are becoming increasingly more aware of the impossibility to fit perfectly into these gender molds, we are nevertheless continually affected by them. My father’s half-cracked smile at his mention of hormonal decline was probably an effect of his parallel thinking with menopause. Though in a saddened state (he couldn’t stop crying), he was still somewhat amused to think he could be experiencing menopause, a woman’s condition.
Behind this bewildered amusement, he surely felt shame and embarrassment. Telling a man he’s going through menopause may be on a par with saying he throws like a girl or he has his period. Because I don’t want my father to feel emasculated, and because I want him to stop crying, I decided to do a little research on male menopause to see if it exists, and if so, how it differs from female menopause.
Male menopause is a misnomer for two reasons: meno means month and pause implies a stop—men do not experience the stopping of a monthly cycle. Some doctors use the term andropause, but even this word is misleading as men’s testosterone levels never come to an abrupt stop. Thus, preferred terms for the decrease in men’s testosterone are androgen decline, testosterone deficiency and late-onset hypogonadism. Hormone decline is something that occurs naturally with age. According to the Mayo Clinic, most men experience a gradual loss of testosterone, about 1% or 2% a year after age 30. Unlike women who become infertile after the onset of menopause, men who experience androgen decline never stop producing the testosterone necessary to reproduce (unless certain diseases or illnesses are present). Some symptoms include depression, fatigue, mood changes, sleep disturbance, erectile dysfunction, hair loss and decreased sex drive. Yet, some men with decreased levels of testosterone experience no such signs or symptoms.
Because some of the effects associated with testosterone decline are normal symptoms of aging, a series of blood tests are required to diagnose androgen deficiency. So, what’s the prognosis? There has been a steady increase in men seeking testosterone replacement therapy as a means to reverse lowering hormone levels. In “Are Testosterone Drugs the Next Viagra?” Shannon Pettypiece reports in Business Week “the U.S. market for testosterone replacement therapies was $1.6 billion in 2011, according to Bloomberg data … sales are expected to triple to $5 billion by 2017, forecasts Global Industry Analysts.” I immediately become weary when symptoms that naturally occur with age become medicalized and possibly exploited as part of a business venture.
Ads promoting testosterone replacement therapy play off the insecurities felt by aging men and offer them a drink from the fountain of youth. Pettypiece cites an enticing publicity that taunts men with questions such as “feeling like a shadow of your former self?” Shouldn’t all men (and women for that matter) answer yes to this question? We are all aging, and with that age comes changes in our identity. We are not forever young and nor should we try to be with hormone elixirs that induce side effects which include but are not limited to: overproduction of red blood cells (polycythemia), which can increase the risk for heart disease; enlargement of breasts (gynecomastia); decrease in sperm count or even infertility; testicle shrinkage; and stimulation of prostate tissue or exacerbation of existing prostate cancer (information provided by Man Up About Health).
I do not wish to belittle those men suffering from androgen decline who have found hormone replacement therapies successful. There are surely circumstances where effects of testosterone deficiency are chronic and such therapies are the best possible option. In fact, if such treatment were necessary to stop my dad from crying, how could I possibly say no? Then again, if we lived in a society where aging was not treated as a disease and where aging people were not devalued, he may have not started crying in the first place.
Portrait of a man courtesy of Shutterstock