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Lets Talk About Testosterone #577
On the Regular version of today’s show …
I’m joined by Dr Carole Hooven, a Harvard Lecturer, as we discuss her study and work on the science of testosterone.
Why is it that this hormone is so important and so divisive?
Learn more about Dr Carole here – http://www.carolehooven.com/
On the Xtended version …
Dr Carole and I continue the conversation only get more personal. She even turns the tables on the interview!
Enjoy the show!
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Speaker 1: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio, passionatelymarried.net.
Corey Allan: Welcome back to another episode of Sexy Marriage Radio, where each and every week I'm joined by my lovely wife, Pam.
Pam Allan: Glad to be here.
Corey Allan: We help try to answer what's on the nation's mind or go into topics that we believe, and have been informed by members of the nation too, that it's worth exploring.
Pam Allan: That would be The Sexy Marriage Radio nation, right?
Corey Allan: That would be the nation.
Pam Allan: Everyone that's listening.
Corey Allan: Yeah, the SMR nation. If you are a listener of the show right now, or at any point in the past or in the future, you're a member of the nation. Welcome to the nation. The way you can let us know what's going on with you is give us a call, 214-702-9565, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Add your voice to the dialogue that happens each and every week, because when more voices are added to these conversations, everybody just is better. Because we've always wanted the feedback and the input and the questions, and even the, "Hey, I think you missed that ones. What about this?" Because that makes us better, as those behind the microphone.
Corey Allan: We also ask the nation to help us spread the word. You can do that just by jumping on iTunes, rate and review, leave a comment, subscribe and follow, whichever means you listen to, Spotify, iHeart, Amazon. Anywhere you can follow us on there, help us climb the charts and spread the word that married sex is the hotbed for sex.
Corey Allan: Well, coming up on today's regular free version of Sexy Marriage Radio, this is fun because last week we did an encore presentation.
Pam Allan: With Lori Mintz.
Corey Allan: ... with Lori Mintz, focusing on clitoracy so it was female focused. Well, this week we're going to go male focused, a little more, with a guest that was on with me, Dr. Carole Hooven. She has published a book that's called T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us. It's a fabulous conversation, she's a Harvard lecturer, and it was a fun conversation, she's talking about how she got into this topic and what it means. And then on the extended content today, which is deeper longer, and there are no ads, you can subscribe at passionatelymarried.net/smracademy.
Corey Allan: She and I get into a conversation that's a little more personal on what did she learn and how her study of the world of testosterone and how it plays out, how it's impacted her marriage. But then this was what was even more enjoyable for me, and maybe it was just me, I think the audience will like it too, but she turned the tables and started asking me questions about, "Okay, so hold on. My husband and I," and she just turned it into a little bitty mini, "I'm going to get some help from a therapist time."
Pam Allan: Good for her.
Corey Allan: Absolutely. It was a lot of fun. And so all that's coming up on today's show.
Corey Allan: So joining me today for today's episode of sex, marriage radio is Dr. Carole Hooven. She is a professor at Harvard. You actually work in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. Am I correct in that, Carole?
Carole Hooven: That's right. I'm actually a lecturer just to clarify.
Corey Allan: A lecturer. Perfect.
Carole Hooven: Hierarchy's important at Harvard.
Corey Allan: Hierarchy is important everywhere, as your book talks about. So she has a book called T: The Story of Testosterone, The Hormone That Dominates and Divides Us. I am fascinated by this topic, Carole, so thank you so much for joining me today.
Carole Hooven: Thank you so much for having me and I have really been looking forward to talking with you because while you think testosterone and marriage are important, I do too. I've been thinking more and more about my marriage and how that relates to differences between men and women. So I'm really excited to have the opportunity to be able to talk about it in more depth and maybe learn something in the process.
Corey Allan: Well, let, let's dive right in, because with this topic of testosterone, this is one of those things that's interesting. It's so much more prominent than maybe what society wants to think it is or talk about and your work seems to uncover. Yeah, it's everywhere. So how did you get into this?
Carole Hooven: Yeah, [inaudible 00:04:22] me, I guess.
Corey Allan: Yes. Well, how did you get into this actually, just real quick?
Carole Hooven: So, you're coming at it, your interest is in relationships, right, in primarily male, female relationships, but also I assume other kinds of relationships. No matter what kind of relationship you're in, it helps to understand people who are different from you and maybe different from birth. Even I'm going to say it, different in their genes. And that means when it comes to male and female, different in hormone levels, which impact who we are and how we experience the world and how we grow and how others treat us and what our drives are and how we express ourselves. And so, you're interested in relationships, I've always been interested in people and what makes people tick.
Carole Hooven: And since I spent time out in Uganda, following wild chimpanzees around before I went to Harvard for my PhD, that is the moment when I really became interested in the biology of sex differences and what makes males and females different. Because the chimps, in so many ways, paralleled human sex differences in terms of obsession with hierarchy and higher levels of aggression, and even some aspects of sexual behavior and relationships and we don't have any shared culture. So for me, that really got me interested in what is the biological source of these differences. These basic aspects of sex differences have to be coming from some shared biology. I think that ultimately is testosterone. And of course, culture plays into that and reinforces the differences that are there and we have a very gendered culture. So I acknowledge all of that and that's really important, but that's how I came to my interest. It's just basically understanding people who aren't like me in some really important ways.
Corey Allan: No, and I like that and I like how you're distinguishing. Because the phrase I've come across in the past couple years that I think matters with what you're describing is, something isn't everything, but everything is something, right?
Carole Hooven: Yes. It took me a little bit, but yeah.
Corey Allan: No, but it is that idea of, there's not a, "here's the causality." That it's not just testosterone. It's not culture. It's not binary, right?
Carole Hooven: Yep.
Corey Allan: It's a system and so there's so many different factors that are in play. But just so that everybody's kind of up to date, because I was learning a lot just getting prepared to talk to you and that's why I'm really looking forward to the conversation today, so when you're just talking about this whole idea of testosterone, where does it come from? How does it evolve? Just so we're all on the same page and then I'd love to get deeper into what is it that makes men, men, women, women, relationships, dynamics that they are, and we'll go from there.
Carole Hooven: Okay. Since you asked me a question, that's like my entire book, you're going to have to stop me at some point and I'll just try to make it as concise as possible.
Corey Allan: Perfect.
Carole Hooven: So there's two ways to look at it. Why do we have differences in hormones? Why do males and females have different hormones? And then where does it come from and what does it do? So just really quick, if you look around the animal kingdom ... I like birds. I was just out this morning, watching birds, the males look different and behave differently than the females and it is testosterone differences that are ultimately responsible for the fact that they may be bigger or have much brighter coloration because that's a way that they compete against each other for territory, which humans also do. And the reason they compete for territory is because better territory means more or "better" females, which just means more able to get pregnant basically.
Carole Hooven: So in the breeding season, testosterone goes up, sperm production goes up because females are fertile, and it coordinates the sperm production with the competitive coloration and behavior. So that's simple, but that is what it does, something like that in humans. So all these different animals have either, mammals have testosterone and other kinds of animals have some means they tend to have to compete for females on average. There's tons of variations.
Carole Hooven: So males have, on average, a sort of evolutionary, I don't want to say programming, but bias towards competition for mates in a way that females don't. Males can benefit from competition, but it tends not to be this intense mating competition. It would tend to be for nesting sites or really good food, or really good place to live or something like that and hierarchy too matters. But testosterone coordinates all these traits so that males are more motivated to ascend a status hierarchy that have higher libidos on average. They tend to want more sexual partners and that can sometimes be attention in marriage, obviously, and in relationships.
Carole Hooven: And testosterone, the one really interesting thing that people tend not to appreciate, is that it's really high, almost at pubertal levels, in male fetuses. I have a 13 year old boy, so when he was growing inside of me, his little testes were pumping out very high levels of testosterone and males need that to develop their reproductive system, to grow basically a penis. Females have labia, but males, the structure that gives rise to labia is the same structure that gives rise to the scrotum and that's testosterone. That develops all of that internal and external stuff.
Carole Hooven: It also acts on the brain, which is why little boys are different in behavior, in these really basic ways, all over the world from little girls, that we also share with non-human animals. That's testosterone. That's rough and tumble play, tackling each other, pinning each other to the ground. Two girls tend not to do that. That's just not how they want to play, social reinforcement or not. There's no evidence that those differences are caused by social influences. They may be reinforced socially. So, that's all testosterone. That's practice for aggressive status competition.
Carole Hooven: And then you have testosterone in puberty, of course, that just elaborates all that stuff and jacks up the libido through the roof, in a way that can be overwhelming to teenage boys. And girls need to know what the heck is going on there because that's when they're learning about the opposite sex, primarily, in a sexual environment. I think we really need to understand how different the sexes are at that point and give voice to the challenges each sex faces and not stigmatize or judge anybody for who they are. Actions, for sure, but feelings we have to really be patient with and open to, I think,
Corey Allan: Yeah. I mean, you've touched on this and we were talking on this right before we started the recording today of both having adolescent boys in our homes. My wife came across an article that was given to her from a friend years ago about ... We talk about kids, because we've always had this strategy with our kids, if we're going to talk about some of the basic biology as you evolve and you grow, and we're going to talk about the parts and have conversations. I mean, in the Allan household, dinner table conversations can have sex as a part of the topic.
Carole Hooven: Yep, sounds like our dinner table.
Corey Allan: Shocking, because we do a show called Sexy Marriage Radio, I know.
Corey Allan: So Pam, we all could use a little help in the bedroom from time to time. Agreed.
Pam Allan: Agreed. Sure.
Corey Allan: And even a little help outside of the bedroom from time to time when it comes to what happens in the bedroom.
Pam Allan: Okay. Yes. Where are you going with this?
Corey Allan: I'm not talking about a little blue pill and I'm not talking about lube or toys. I'm talking about the Adventure Challenge in Bed Edition Book, who was one of our sponsors.
Pam Allan: Gotcha.
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Pam Allan: That's a deal.
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Corey Allan: But one thing we haven't done or we didn't do until she got this article, was recognize we need to start talking about the mental and the emotional component that comes along with these changes. Because our son at times, he's got no clue what's going on and what he feels and why. He just knows he feels different and he's off and it's weird. How do we help giving voice and a language to it? That's what you're describing because it will change him. He won't evolve like our daughter did.
Carole Hooven: That's right.
Corey Allan: He will in a lot of ways, but not a lot of the ways too. So it's just, how do you create uniqueness of this, but have a language that helps people understand as a society and as families more importantly, "Wait, this is a biological thing." This is a normal aspect of boys becoming men, women, becoming women interrelating with each other. And the more we can give room for that without overreacting and trying to make it all same, I think the better society is.
Carole Hooven: I love what you're saying and I love how you put it. Because when people that say teenage boy, interests or behavior or masculinity itself is socially programmed, that it's people are performing masculinity. I hear this all the time, I think that makes it acceptable to call it toxic because if society's doing it, then we can undo this toxic performance and I think that's all garbage.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Carole Hooven: It bothers me and because it makes those teenage boys feel some shame. This is where I always get ... This is really upsetting to me because I don't want anyone to feel shame about who they are and how they've been put on this planet. Boys are different from girls and like you said, it's a biological fact. That doesn't mean that all actions that boys take that might be harmful or insulting to girls are okay, but it means they do have those feelings. It's beautiful to become a man. Let's celebrate that just like we celebrate becoming a woman. That's totally equivalent to me and becoming a fully sexual being is like a beautiful thing for people to discover. I think that's how we should talk about it. We should talk about the power of that libido and how it might be difficult to manage because girls don't have the same kind of libido and the sexual attraction is not of the same nature.
Carole Hooven: And I just want to say that part of what I've learned in writing the book and talking to lots of transgender people who have lived as women and then taken male typical levels of testosterone and started living as men. And then some of them transitioned back because they weren't happy necessarily with their transition. Most are happy, but some are not. They have unanimously told me, and this is confirmed by the research, and I should say, there's a lot of variation, this isn't everyone's experience. But what they've told me is not only does their libido go basically through the roof, but they are shocked by it. So these are female people who are transitioning. They have lived as women and most of them, many of them, a lot of them were lesbians who in particular did not like the male gaze.
Carole Hooven: When they took testosterone, they had a male gaze. They started viewing the other, it could have been women or men, it depends sometimes sexual orientation changes, which is interesting, but they became more interested in body parts and the body almost as disassociated from a relationship or the personality of the individual. And when I heard women saying this to me, I found that to be the most powerful insight into male sexuality. Like, "Oh my God, they're not being jerks, necessarily. I mean, if they act on it-
Corey Allan: Well they can be. Yeah. There's variations here.
Carole Hooven: ... and if they look at the wrong part of your body for too long, that's jerky. However, this seems to be a natural part of male sexuality, is in fact to objectify to a certain extent. And as long as males don't feel shame about it, can recognize it, understand it and say, "This is happening and it's okay. I'm going to talk to my dad maybe about," or some male role model, "How do I deal with this? When I have this feeling about a woman, how do I learn to interact with who she is and pay attention to that, when I know I'm really drawn to this physicality."
Carole Hooven: And that's something that you have to open up a dialogue so that there's no shame there and there can be discussions like, "Yeah, that's happening. It's okay and here's what it means and how to-"
Corey Allan: I think that's also where you add in some of the other stuff that you've got in the book that I've heard you talk about, is the idea of the other aspect of masculinity that are components that aren't sexual. They're the go out and create and build and conquer.
Carole Hooven: And protect.
Corey Allan: There you go. I think that's the one thing I keep coming across with the work we do with couples is just recognizing the uniqueness of your design. That yes, you could take an aspect of this story. You could take the male gaze within the libido and see that as, "Oh, that is so, so bad." But if you cover the rest of it with the goodness of masculinity and the power and the goodness of them and who they can be, that's just a smaller aspect. That's not then deviant that's-
Carole Hooven: Well, if I may say, because the women who are listening to you, are not going to think it's a smaller aspect.
Corey Allan: Fair enough.
Carole Hooven: So for you-
Corey Allan: Thank you for that. Yeah. Thank you for that, because this is two different side, two different genders talking about it.
Carole Hooven: I think for a lot of women, it's tough because you want to be attractive. A lot of women want men to look at them. They want that to go through the world to be attractive as possible, but you got to figure out how not to be ...
Corey Allan: You can't go too far.
Carole Hooven: ... attractive in a way, I mean, it depends who you want to be and how you want to define yourself. But generally, and it depends on your sexual orientation also of course, but that's something that a lot of women do strive for. But you don't want to take it too far. You don't want unwelcome attention. You don't want to be felt to be objectified or sexually harassed or touched in a way that makes you uncomfortable or sexually assaulted.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Carole Hooven: Yeah. So for women, I think, especially women who are very down on men, that part of masculinity is like 99% of the problem, or percent of it. But I think what we do need to do is realize that women, we have our own issues. We're not perfect beings either. We can be brutal to each other in ways that are incredibly psychologically harmful, as you probably know, as a therapist, in ways that men tend not to be to each other. If a guy has a problem with another guy, he's likely to get in his face and say so or do something physical, but at least it tends to be resolved. There may be a little shift in the hierarchy, people get along.
Carole Hooven: Women tend to have a lot of trouble resolving conflicts and they don't tend to confront each other directly. I think women have to acknowledge that there's, I don't want to call it toxic femininity. I also think women need to realize they could have been born male and nobody should feel superior to anybody else. This has helped me in my marriage, honestly, because I do think that there's this idea that women are morally superior because we approach ... We are softer, we do have more empathy. That is a fact, in general. Men are in fact more physically heroic. They're more likely to risk their lives for strangers in a way that women don't. But yeah, I could have been born male and I don't think I'd be any different than most of the men that I know. I know a lot of great guys, but they're still guys and they still have that guyish aspect to them, or whatever, that can be bothersome. But I'm bothersome to my husband and to men, I'm sure in ways that have to do with me just being a woman and being super emotional or whatever it is.
Corey Allan: Right. No and I think that's what's so fascinating is just to think about it when you take some of this stuff that it's just biology. I mean, your world is this, of the evolutionary biology. I love the correlation between what's going on in species as well as humans, because there are so many semblances that we can at least take that data and ask better questions, get some understanding, possibly. Make me, "Oh, I wonder if," and then who knows where that leads us to, because we're learning different things from it. But it's recognizing that when you put that together in a relationship of one of each kind of these species, if you will, or genders when it comes to humans, it's a recipe automatically for, "We're not going to understand each other."
Carole Hooven: Yeah. Can I just interject something because you're talking about animals. So it's really rare among mammals to have pair bonds and to have both male and female care for the offspring. That's 5% of mammals. So males generally are donating sperm and then taking off and the females are doing the parental care. So you don't have this great need to work together and understand each other. We're doing something really exceptional in humans. Especially in the complex society we live in and we have all this language and it gets more and more sophisticated at all the time. That's where I think that's a great benefit, but it can also pose all kinds of interesting challenges.
Corey Allan: Absolutely. And so before we wrap up just this segment, I'm interested Carole, when you're talking about just the overall of your work and then this book, what would be some of the primary you hope people would get from it? If you were to wrap it up on the idea of testosterone does, and it's important that we know this.
Carole Hooven: Yeah. So I would say, you talked about understanding basically humans in a comparative perspective. That's what the biologist would say. I look at humans as animals because we are. We are in fact primates and we are a weird ape. I know people freak out about that, but that's an evolutionary biologist primatologist perspective. We have bi parental care of our offspring, which means if we want our offspring to do really well, it helps to form strong bonds with the other parent. So, that's the positive part. We have this need to come together and work together.
Carole Hooven: And in fact, I just have to throw out, in these species where both parents work together, like in birds, in many birds ... Because I'm watching the birds outside in my yard right now, we have a nest, and we have a Cardinal nest and a house wren, both nesting. The male is going back and forth all day long with worms and insects and I can watch him go back and forth, back and forth. He's working so hard. And the mom is there mostly taking care of the kids, sitting on the nest and they're working in this really intense way. His testosterone is reduced. He has to have it suppressed or the kids will die of neglect because he's out looking for fighting with the neighbors and looking for sex, basically. That is what testosterone does.
Carole Hooven: When the sperm is made in humans, in puberty, that is a signal to the brain that competition and libido need to be jacked up. And that's basically what testosterone is doing in a way because that fits and suits what males need to do to be reproductively successful. So testosterone increases sperm production and it coordinates it with the behaviors that are necessary for males to produce. Which in today's world means, to some degree, having a little more striving for position on the hierarchy, acquiring resources, which now we don't do through physical competition and through desiring higher number of sexual partners, which helps to explain why pornography is so much more popular among men than it is among women. You don't have to go out and have the actual partner.
Carole Hooven: So that's basically what it does and when you understand what it does ... I give some examples in the book. I traveled to Scotland to study red deer and look at how the males with their testosterone induced antlers compete for their harems. You just really get a good idea of what it's doing in animals and you can start to see humans who are subject to the same forces in how society then can make a difference, it depends what we do and what we allow.
Corey Allan: And I think it also then comes down to the individual people involved because as humans and as primates, we are evolved further with the prefrontal cortex and the ability to make meaning out of things and the ability to ascribe things to our behaviors and our choices.
Carole Hooven: And to reflect on our actions [inaudible 00:30:11]
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Carole Hooven: ... our actions, right.
Corey Allan: I think if I can look at it as our whole conversation in my mind, I'm just thinking of, okay, these are just good data points for me to then build on-
Carole Hooven: That's right.
Corey Allan: ... to now be a better male or be a better female or just be a better human. I mean, come on.
Carole Hooven: Yeah that's what it's all about, is just understanding yourself and understanding others. And when you understand, I do think that helps us become more open and compassionate. Have more data, like you said, to guide our decisions about how we behave.
Corey Allan: Perfect. Well, Carole I'd love for people to be able to find more of you and be able to get the book if they're interested in diving deep into the world of T, so how can they find you?
Carole Hooven: I don't have a huge social media presence, but I am on Twitter, which I'm getting more and more, I don't want to say addicted to, but interested in. I'm at Hoovlet, H-O-O-V-L-E-T. And yeah, the book is T: The Story of Testosterone, The Hormone That Dominates and Divides Us. And I tried to write it in a way, pretty much like I'm talking to you right now.
Corey Allan: Yeah. That's perfect. And then you can find that on Amazon, anywhere books are sold.
Carole Hooven: Yeah, that's right.
Corey Allan: Well, Carole, thank you so much. And I'm looking forward to the conversation after the jump into the extended content of how this whole work and how it's played out and you've seen it in your marriage.
Carole Hooven: Great.
Corey Allan: Thanks so much so far.
Carole Hooven: Thank you.
Corey Allan: So once again, it's so enjoyable to keep coming across all the different voices that are out there, that are just helping people be better people and helping marriages be better. And what's interesting in this, I didn't say this at the outset so if somebody's listened all the way through, this is one of those episodes that we might get some feedback from. Feedback, sexymarriageradio.com or 214-702-9565. Because again, Carole's a researcher and so her data is applicable to a lot of evidence. And so some of the things she's mentioned in the show, they're not going to be in line with some of our thread that we've had on just the way she's used the data with the research and the people she's interviewed, transgendered or the world we live within though. I love the fact that we still can take good research and take good data and apply it, which is what I hope, this whole journey into the world of T helps everybody understand how we can utilize the aspects of who we are and what makes us all quintessentially unique, to just be better in our situation and circumstances.
Corey Allan: Well, this been Sexy Marriage Radio. If we left something undone, let us know 214-702-9565. Our feedback is sexymarriageradio.com. See you next time.
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