Study Finds That Fatherhood Suppresses Testosterone

Science is a now kind of thing, but every so often I find a study at least peripherally relevant to the Maker Boulder community study that somehow slipped unnoticed through the cracks of time. Such is the case for a September, 2011 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled, “Fatherhood decreases testosterone in men.”

We’ve known for a while that dads have lower testosterone than dudes, but the question has always been — does fatherhood create lower testosterone or are dudes with lower testosterone more likely to become dads? Which is the chicken and which the egg? And as of 2011, we’ve known the answer.

Here’s a cool opening finding: dudes with higher testosterone are actually more likely than their low-testosterone, single counterparts to become dads. That makes sense: high testosterone makes dudes mate. And so dads’ low testosterone ain’t simply due to more low-T men joining the club. Instead, after fatherhood, the previously high-T men in this 624-person study saw their testosterone plummet by about 30 percent. D’oh! But that makes evolutionary sense too: dads’ lower testosterone makes them less likely to eat their young (though we all know that at times we’re tempted).

And here’s the really cool part: the degree of testosterone decline is relative to the amount of time you spend with your kids. The more kid contact, the more your testosterone drops. Specifically, dads with more than three hours per day of kid contact had lower testosterone levels than dads with less contact. Or stated with a little more bite, the very act of being around your kids hoovers your virility. Double d’oh!

The thing is, as a current dad and presumably formerly virile young man, I don’t actually seem to mind. Is that because I’ve been brainwashed by fatherhood to accept a lower level of masculine pep? Or is this acceptance of parental wussification borne of the relief of never needing to ask for a date ever again? From inside the genial box of fatherhood, is it impossible to see out?

No matter the root of my acceptance, here’s a consolation prize: the researchers also point out that lower levels of testosterone in fathers may explain some of the health benefits dads experience compared to dudes. You’re more likely to live long. You may prosper. But don’t expect your testosterone to be what it was before you had kids.

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