Testosterone poisoning

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Testosterone poisoning is a pejorative metaphor for stereotypically male behavior. Various authors have used the phrase to criticize aggression in men, including war. The concept of testosterone poisoning is based on the association of masculinity with harmful behaviors[1]; for example, from 1980 to 2008 males were convicted of the vast majority of homicides in the United States, representing 90.5% of the total number of offenders.[2] The term capitalizes on the perception that masculinity is controlled by the hormone testosterone.


An early printed reference to "testosterone poisoning" came in 1975 from actor Alan Alda. In a parody of self-help writing, Alda diagnoses the "ailment" of masculinity and offers methods for its "cure".[3] He writes:[4]

Everyone knows that testosterone, the so-called male hormone, is found in both men and women. What is not so well known, is that men have an overdose... Until recently it has been thought that the level of testosterone in men is normal simply because they have it. But if you consider how abnormal their behavior is, then you are led to the hypothesis that almost all men are suffering from testosterone poisoning.

Ten years later, that same sentence from Alda's article was quoted in the 1985 book A Feminist Dictionary.[5]

Carl Sagan gave the phrase more publicity when he praised Moondance magazine writer Daniela Gioseffi's American Book Award winner Women on War:[6]

A book of searing analysis and cries from the heart on the madness of war. Why is the half of humanity with a special sensitivity to the preciousness of life, the half untainted by testosterone poisoning, almost wholly unrepresented in defense establishments and peace negotiations worldwide?

Some took offense at this phrase. A Los Angeles Times op-ed piece referred to Professor Sagan's use directly:[7]

Carl Sagan even pompously informs us that the whole planet is imminently endangered by "testosterone poisoning".

Bruce Tremper used the term in The Avalanche Review, stating that being "a man" is best proven by dying "a stupendously violent death".[8]


Elaine Weiss writes in Family and Friends' Guide to Domestic Violence that "deadly testosterone poisoning" (DTP) is one of "many misunderstandings about abusive men". She continues: "this is not a war of the hormones, an inevitable biological clash between estrogen and testosterone. If it were, then there would be more of it; every heterosexual relationship would be abusive".[9]

A 1996 Psychology Today article refers to the phrase as "only a joke", but notes, in reference to several studies about testosterone and male employment, that testosterone levels were lower for successful new male employees at a southern U.S. oil firm.[10]

Mazur et al. (1998) stated that males with higher testosterone levels tend to be slightly more aggressive, and argue that this appears to be due to the way acting aggressively raises testosterone levels rather than the reverse.[11]

Berenbaum et al. (1997) stated that exposure to high levels of androgens in utero are associated with higher levels of adult aggression.[12][13]

McDermott (2007) found a significant positive relationship between levels of testosterone and aggression.[14]


References to testosterone poisoning are often used to criticize men.[citation needed] Magazine editor Tina Brown uses the phrase thematically in a 2005 Washington Post essay about the downfall of Harvard University president Larry Summers and the problems of Disney's former embattled CEO Michael Eisner.[15] Beth Gallagher's Salon.com essay "Road Sows" about the drawbacks of sports utility vehicles describes those vehicles' growing popularity as having spread beyond testosterone-poisoned men to soccer moms.[16] Dr. Karl Albrecht makes testosterone poisoning a synonym for male chauvinism in his 2002 book The Power of Minds at Work: Organizational Intelligence in Action, where he describes it as one of 17 basic syndromes of dysfunction.[17]

Occasionally this perceived moral decadence of men turns against women, as in Kay S. Hymowitz's sarcastic reference to Western feminists in a 2003 Wall Street Journal essay chiding them for neglecting the rights of Third World women in Muslim countries:[18]

There is no need, in their minds, to distinguish between Osama, Saddam, and Bush: They're all suffering from testosterone poisoning.

Several readers submitted "testosterone poisoning" to a 2001 Atlantic Monthly competition to find a male equivalent for hysteria (which was originally regarded as a female-only condition).[19]

National Public Radio's popular show "Car Talk" has used the term repeatedly.[20]


Antonia Feitz has protested the use of the expression in a 1999 essay in the Australian Daily Issues Paper, calling it hate speech.[21]

According to a study published in Nature, "a single dose of testosterone in women causes a substantial increase in fair bargaining behaviour, thereby reducing bargaining conflicts and increasing the efficiency of social interactions. However, subjects who believed that they received testosterone—regardless of whether they actually received it or not—behaved much more unfairly than those who believed that they were treated with placebo."[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Testosterone Poisoning Isn't What You Think". Big Think. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  2. ^ "Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980–2008". United States Department of Justice (2010).
  3. ^ Rainbolt, Martha; Fleetwood, Janet, eds. (1984). On the Contrary: Essays by Men and Women. SUNY Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-87-395720-5.
  4. ^ Alan Alda, "What Every Woman Should Know About Men", Ms., New York, October 1975.
  5. ^ A Feminist Dictionary, ed. Kramarae and Treichler, Pandora Press, 1985.
  6. ^ Daniela Gioseffi. "Women On War".
  7. ^ Patrick M. Arnold (14 May 1990). "In Academe, Misogyny Meets Its Match: Misandrosy : Behavior: The uproar at Mills College illustrates a nasty new trend: man-hating. What parent would send a son into such an environment?". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 March 2015. It is the shadow side of the extreme feminist movement, an ideology of hate whose name is not yet found in the dictionary. I term it misandrosy (Greek: "hatred of men"), the mirror opposite of misogyny. Misandrosy, not yet as widespread or harmful as misogyny but not yet as well recognized, either, is beginning to show itself mainly in liberal circles in the arts, literature, religion, media and academia. [...] Carl Sagan even pompously informs us that the whole planet is imminently endangered by "testosterone poisoning".
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-11-08. Retrieved 2005-11-12.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Weiss, Elaine (2003). Family & Friends' Guide to Domestic Violence: How to Listen, Talk, and Take Action when Someone You Care about is Being Abused. Volcano Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-88-424422-3.
  10. ^ Doskoch, Peter (December 1996). "The Trouble with Testosterone". Psychology Today. Archived from the original on 31 January 2013.
  11. ^ Mazur, Allan; Booth, Alan (June 1998). "Testosterone and dominance in men". The Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 21 (3): 353–63, discussion 363–97. doi:10.1017/S0140525X98001228. PMID 10097017.
  12. ^ Reinisch, J. (13 March 1981). "Prenatal exposure to synthetic progestins increases potential for aggression in humans". Science. 211 (4487): 1171–1173. doi:10.1126/science.7466388.
  13. ^ Berenbaum, Sheri A.; Resnick, Susan M. (October 1997). "Early androgen effects on aggression in children and adults with congenital adrenal hyperplasia". Psychoneuroendocrinology. 22 (7): 505–515. doi:10.1016/S0306-4530(97)00049-8.
  14. ^ McDermott, Rose; Johnson, Dominic; Cowden, Jonathan; Rosen, Stephen (September 2016). "Testosterone and Aggression in a Simulated Crisis Game". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 614 (1): 15–33. doi:10.1177/0002716207305268.
  15. ^ "Why Can't a Man Be More Like a Woman?" by Tina Brown, The Washington Post, Feb. 24, 2005.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-11-13. Retrieved 2005-11-12.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "Detour". karlalbrecht.com. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  18. ^ "The Women Feminists Forgot", by Kay S. Hymowitz, The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 7, 2003. Archived 2013-10-11 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ The Atlantic, "Word Fugitives", Barbara Wallraff, June 2001.
  20. ^ "Some Other Stuff to Think About". web.archive.org. 7 June 2004. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  21. ^ "Demonizing Men", by Antonia Feitz, The Australian Daily View, Feb. 9, 1999.
  22. ^ Eisenegger, C.; Naef, M.; Snozzi, R.; Heinrichs, M.; Fehr, E. (21 January 2010). "Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour". Nature. 463 (7279): 356–359. Bibcode:2010Natur.463..356E. doi:10.1038/nature08711. PMID 19997098.

Further reading[edit]

  • Archer, John (February 1991). "The influence of testosterone on human aggression". British Journal of Psychology. 82 (1): 1–28. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1991.tb02379.x.
  • White, Roderick E.; Thornhill, Stewart; Hampson, Elizabeth (May 2006). "Entrepreneurs and evolutionary biology: The relationship between testosterone and new venture creation". Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 100 (1): 21–34. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2005.11.001.