Porn or prescriptions?

Trying to find the best cure for dudes with the middle-aged blues.

Published May 21, 2009 5:22PM (EDT)

Hey, all you middle-aged guys. Are you feeling fatter, meaner, slower and less dashing in bed than usual? While your father may have just taken these symptoms to be the telltale signs of “grumpy old man syndrome,” the makers of AndroGel, a "testosterone foam" that can be rubbed directly onto the skin, would like you to know that you might just be suffering from “Low T” disorder -- a “treatable condition” that -- surprise! -- is best treated by their product.  But, as this Newsweek article points out, other researchers think an ancient home remedy might do just as well. Take your pick, guys: “Porn or prescriptions?” Or, if you’d prefer: “Rx vs. XXX.”

Reporter Tony Dokoupil lays out (ha!) the advantages that "manual labor of the most private kind” might have over meds: "Porn is cheap, readily available and has the added benefit of helping you to reach cloud nine.” (Is this really how Newsweek reporters describe the end result of masturbation?) And it’s organic, too! With no nasty chemical side effects! AndroGel might make you slimmer, happier and hornier, but alas,  according to our reporter, it may also lead to: “possible acne, sweating, dizziness, gynecomastia (breast growth in a males), unseemly hair, sensitive testicles and an intriguing yet unexplained 'penis disorder.' Oh, and maybe fewer visits to cloud nine.” (Hey, Tony: Do they serve little shrimp-and-avocado thingys on Cloud Nine? Cause we totally dig those).

So with the meds, you could ending up wanting more sex, but become sweaty, hairy, breast-y and significantly less attractive to your partner, and risk not being able to complete the task anyway. Porn’s looking mighty fine! But here’s a few downsides:  “Your wife probably won’t appreciate it (a third of women consider porn to be cheating), you can’t do it at work (at least 40 percent of employees busted for misusing the Web are looking at porn) and it could be habit forming (more than one in 10 users develop an addiction.” These dire consequences come courtesy of Wendy Maltz, the author of “The Porn Trap,” who also throws in  “rampant self-loathing, alienation from one’s partner and a penchant for dangerously rough sex,” and says she would prefer that the extra kinky stuff get slapped with a “hazard” sticker. I take it she’s not a fan.

While your boss might not appreciate it if you spend 40 percent of your work day on Extreme Fisting sites, and your partner might get a little weirded out if you spend all day cruising dating sites for Japanese school girls, I don’t have any problem with the idea that both men and women like porn and -- gasp! -- pretty much all of them dig masturbation too, even when they do have a partner around to help them reach -- ah, what is it? that’s right! -- cloud nine. 

But when I took a closer look at the piece, it sounds like any old erection will up the testosterone, suggesting that having sex with one’s own partner might be just as effective as getting down with Jenna in the rec room. And yet when you read the part of the story that tells you how these “Low T” dudes get there in the first place, you’d be forgiven for coming away with the impression that good old-fashioned family values leads to a low sperm count.

You must have already guessed that part begins with the monkeys, right? According to researchers, “monkeys that see sexually active females register as much as a 400 percent jump in testosterone.” To go on: “It makes no difference whether a man is watching sex on screen or having it in real life, his testosterone levels will go up.” Doesn’t that seem to imply that the “sexually active female” -- or male -- in question might just as well be the person whom one is actually sexually active with?

Nevertheless, says Dokoupil, sex researcher Helen Fisher took the same research to mean that men in a "'captivity situation’" -- her term for married with kids -- "go on the Internet and look at porn as a kind of hormone replacement therapy.” Furthermore, she asserts that kissing one's wife or hugging one’s kids will actually drive testosterone levels down.  What?

The piece doesn’t mention whether those “captive males” demonstrate markedly different signs of aging from their bachelor, gay or childless peers. I guess we’re just to assume that getting a gut, getting cranky and not getting any is synonymous with being a straight suburban dad? And while I don’t have a problem, per se, with suggesting that guys look at porn, from what I can tell, the headline may as well have read: “Feeling Low? Have Sex With Your Wife! Or Boyfriend! Or Mistress! Or That Cute Guy at the Leather Bar! Or Take a Super Sexy Shower!"

By Amy Benfer

Amy Benfer is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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