We All Get a “Pause”
Andropause For Men
Shifts in hormones have traditionally been labeled a “woman’s issue”, but everyone goes through hormonal changes throughout their lifespan. For men, “andropause” is the term for the changes in testosterone that affect them as they age. The production of testosterone starts to decline at around age 30 by about 1% per year, so that by age 70 it is around half of what it was in early adulthood.
What is it?
Testosterone is a hormone that is critical for the development of male sex organs and sex characteristics. It also affects sperm production, fat distribution, bone density, muscle development and sex drive.
While hormones are always shifting throughout our lifespan, female hormone levels decline significantly over a relatively short period of time through menopause and then adjust to a new “normal”. Men’s reduction in testosterone is a much slower, more gradual process that never stops. Its small incremental effects thus often go unnoticed. Another significant difference is that men retain an ability to procreate, although fertility decreases, whereas most women lose that option by age 45
What are the effects?
The effects of decreased testosterone in men are varied. What becomes apparent first are generally changes in his sexual life. A decreased libido or desire is common, as are challenges with erections (getting or maintaining an erection, ability to orgasm). There are other physical changes as well, such as in disrupted sleep patterns, shifts in body fat distribution and reduced endurance and muscle strength. Many men also suffer emotional and mental changes such as anxiety or depression or decline in memory function or concentration. Less common but possible symptoms include hot flashes and sweating.
How do you know?
Aging is a complex part of life and involves multiple interacting variables. Just because a man experiences less desire or erectile dysfunction does not necessarily mean that his testosterone levels are the culprit. Side effects of medications, other health issues, depression and regular alcohol or drug use can also produce many of the same symptoms. Diabetes also can contribute to lower testosterone. The only way to really tell is visit your family doctor for a full exam and a blood test to determine hormone levels and rule out any other reasons for the symptoms.
Because testosterone is a hormone that fans the flames of desire, many men at midlife mistakenly believe that they simply have erectile dysfunction and treat the symptoms with medication to produce an erection such as Viagra. While the pill may help with erections for a limited period of time, it will not boost their testosterone and thus eventually the pills cease to work and do not address their other symptoms such as low libido.
What to do:
The first step is to visit your family doctor to determine exactly what is happening. Some men request Hormone Replacement Therapy to bring their symptoms back to “normal”. However, just as HRT is not recommended for all women, testosterone therapy can also increase a man’s chance of developing prostate cancer or stroke. The good news is that many men find lifestyle changes alleviate many of their symptoms: exercise, eating healthy foods, avoiding or reducing alcohol consumption, as well as taking Vitamin C and E and zinc supplements.
As we age, changes in our bodies and sexuality can be difficult to acknowledge, understand and adjust to. Men- and their partners- need to work towards accepting these changes in their sexual performances and responses. Talk to your doctor, your partner, and your friends about the changes that have resulted from a drop in testosterone levels. Recognize that you are not alone and that you can still maintain a healthy sex life through andropause.
Unfortunately men are not taught or encouraged to talk about their challenges with sex and bodies. The emphasis on male masculinity as defined by obedient erections on demand, insatiable sex drive and intercourse as the only “real” sex puts limits on men’s experiences and discussions amongst each other at any age. With andropause, these narrow definitions become even less realistic and often less desirable. Men need to be supported in fully embracing their evolving sexual realities and desires.
Regardless of gender, changes in hormones affect our sexuality and sex lives. If we can learn to embrace the changes that sex brings through our life passages such as andropause, we can sometimes even find a different kind of pleasure and intimacy that lies beyond what we have traditionally experienced. And often these changes are welcomed by a partner who also has changing sexual needs and desires and a body that responds differently as well. Rather than fighting changes brought on by andropause, seek others to help you to understand, explore and develop new sexual experiences. You may be surprised by the different types of intimacy and varieties of pleasure that you never dreamed of before. And enjoy making those dreams happen.
Carlyle Jansen is the founder of Good For Her, a sexuality shop and workshpo centre in Toronto. If you have questions or comments she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or go online to goodforher.com