Dads, Kids & Testosterone
It’s always refreshing when the latest parenthood headlines focus on fathers instead of mothers. Last week, the front page of the New York Times read: “Fatherhood Cuts Testosterone, Study Finds, for Good of the Family.”
Regardless of exactly why the New York Times editors consider this front page news, or exactly what the data shows, it’s inspirational that expensive research resources, and newspaper ink, recognize how critical dads are to raising kids. Unlike so many sensationalist headlines stirring moms’ guilt and our hormones, this headline suggests fairly that good parenting is not all about us moms.
The findings, interestingly, show that the male hormone testosterone - responsible for chest hair, sex drive and prostate cancer - decreases when a man becomes a father, regardless of age. And the more involved a dad is in his children’s daily lives - the more diapers he changes, the more trips to the playground he takes - the lower the hormone dips. Experts believe that men’s bodies have evolved to encourage men to commit to their families once children are born.
“The real take-home message,” says Peter Ellison, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard who wasn’t part of the study, “is that male parental care is important. It’s important enough that it’s actually shaped the physiology of men.”
Experts also believe the adaptation signals that women are not meant to raise kids alone - that perhaps, no matter our education levels or organizational capabilities, we do indeed need help in the monumental, intensive mission of bringing up human babies (the most helpless infants in the animal kingdom). I’ve done my own research. My conclusion: oh, yes. As much as I love my kids and find being their mom exhilarating, raising them is a job that is too massive and too exhausting, for me to pull off alone.
Perhaps unduly concerned about men’s egos, the experts behind the study stressed that men who are involved parents still want to have sex. "You don’t need a lot of testosterone to have libido,” explained co-author Christopher Kuzawa, a Northwestern University anthropologist. And other good news: it's possible that the lower testosterone will decrease men’s risk of prostate cancer, which is linked to high lifetime levels of the hormone.
All this research leads me back to my own data. Like so many women, I loved bad boys in high school and college. They were deliciously irresponsible and risk-seeking, the drug dealers and sports car drivers of my youth. But when it came time to have kids, suddenly those quieter, gentler men I’d foolishly ignored throughout my teens and 20's began to hold a fierce, seductive attraction for me.
If you were a baby doing the choosing, a little voice told me during dates and phone calls and kisses with these men, you’d want him for a dad.
I bet they had lower testosterone, even then. Thank goodness my own hormones told me back then what years of experience, plus this impressive research study, have now confirmed.