Book Review: The Virility Paradox by Charles J. Ryan

The title sounds like a paperback thriller but it’s the subtitle that hooked me; The Vast Influence Of Testosterone On Our Bodies, Minds, And The World We Live In.

And of course the book proves its point, I’m astonished at the effects of testosterone. What’s most interesting is when you give test to low test people they become more focused on systems and less on feelings.

People with what Chuck calls the Virility Triad (high fetal testosterone, high androgen receptors – meaning the body’s ability to receive test -, as well as high testosterone itself) get tunnel vision, collect things, love to win, track numbers, etc.

The thing is, it’s true regardless of gender. In fact if you simply give a woman with baseline female levels of testosterone a bunch more she’ll become more systematized and less empathetic. And feel an increased love of winning.

Testosterone and dopamine are closely linked and there’s a feed-forward mechanism with both, the more you get the more your body designs itself to receive. So winning at something gives you a boost of testosterone which makes you more likely to win, and to want to win, at something else. You want to know who has high levels of testosterone? Trial Lawyers. Makes sense now doesn’t it?

Now of course female athletes have more than average testosterone and success tracks upward with it, some even have T levels that are naturally as high as if they were doping and are so successful the sports don’t know exactly what to do about that. It’s a natural advantage like height or muscle fiber so you don’t want to dampen it but if no amount of training will get other women up to that level then should they be allowed to supplement?

Maybe in the future instead of gender-based divisions in sport it’ll go by base-testosterone.

Just when the book has you convinced that boosting your testosterone would be inherently great it gets into the effect on rape and massacres so don’t go running to your pharmacist. But a little boost, by working out or priming with virile images, can help you get stuff done.

It’s also interesting that lowering testosterone, which happens naturally to men as they age, makes one more nurturing and interested in the feelings of others. The book has a bit to say about the role of grandfathers from an evolutionary perspective that’s quite touching.

Speaking of touching, oxytocin causes T levels to drop as well, which again makes sense because evolution wouldn’t favor someone being organized and aggressive when cuddling his mate or offspring.

All in all, great book. Read it if you see it.

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