A Hormone from Hell

The force behind hairy chests and bald heads should perhaps carry a warning label that reads CAUTION: Testosterone may be bad for your marriage.

Men with greater testosterone production are less likely to marry, but when they do, they are more likely than other men to divorce, reports a Penn State sociologist after examining the hormone levels and relationship histories of 4,462 men. Once married they are more likely to leave home because they have trouble getting along with their wives.

They are also given to having affairs and to hitting or throwing things at their wives. The higher the hormone level, the worse the marriage, according to Alan Booth, Ph.D.

Testosterone, many studies show, leads men to aggression, antisocial behavior, dominance, fighting, arrests, drug use, and sensation-seeking. Aggression and dominance "are not conducive to the cooperation and mutual support essential to intimate heterosexual relations, especially those of an egalitarian nature."

High testosterone levels, for example, may push men into early marriage due to sensation-seeking and aggressiveness. But it may also push them to early divorce due to an unwillingness to maintain a sexually exclusive relationship with one partner.

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There's not much a guy can do about hormone production -- it's genetically set -- but testosterone-stimulated behavior is subject to control. "Since testosterone levels are established early in life," Booth and a colleague report in Social Forces, "we propose the control of testosterone-related impulses is also learned early in life." It takes "parents who provide a great deal of support and a moderate amount of control."

Of course, testosterone has its value, agrees Booth, who has found that testosterone levels shoot up before competition and after a victory. "Short-term elevations of testosterone are useful in dealing with a status-threatening environment, but continuous high levels are not conducive to sustained intimate relations."

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