In 1990, Congress passed the first Anabolic Steroid Control Act (H.R.4658). This bill defined steroids as:
…any drug or hormonal substance that promotes muscle growth in a manner pharmacologically similar to testosterone.
For all intents and purposes, the effect of the bill has been to ban supplementing the body’s own natural supply of testosterone. Even the Wikipedia page simply defines testosterone as an anabolic steroid.
Within the context of athletic competition, this actually seems pretty reasonable. It is clear that more testosterone makes men better than other men. They are able to train harder, become stronger, and simply out-compete other men. Since testosterone is what makes men men, those men with higher levels of testosterone are more masculine than those with lower levels. Officially, steroids are called “anabolic androgenic steroids,” androgen deriving from ‘andros,’ meaning ‘man.’ Steroids are, by definition, drugs that make you more of a man. In competition, this is a serious advantage.
It isn’t just the unfair advantage, of course. It’s the incentives — where athletic competition is concerned — that create the real problem. The man who injects unhealthy dosages is going to out-compete the man who injects a more reasonable dosage, and there may just be one psycho willing to just about kill himself to win once. In athletic competitions, performance will always reward the men who push themselves too far in the short-run. Within this context, banning steroid use seems reasonable.
But here is the catch: most men aren’t competing at high-level athletics. And most men are deficient in testosterone.
Since the 1980s, male testosterone levels have been declining by roughly 1% a year. That means that todays’ 20-year-olds have 30%-40% lower level, on average, than their parents at the same age.
This is a dramatically important issue because testosterone isn’t just a matter of import for athletic competition. Men like to be manly, even when they aren’t competing. Furthermore, testosterone is linked with healthy sperm production, so generally lower testosterone levels may well have an effect on national fertility. The increasingly common symptoms of testosterone deficiency include:
- Reduced sex-drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Lower energy
- Becoming fat
- Weak muscles
- Weak bones
Conversely, high-testosterone levels are associated with risk-taking, ambition, strength, and decision-making (which is a hop-skip-and-jump away from associating testosterone with intelligence generally). CEOs and executives often have relatively high levels of testosterone.
Given these associations, it seems fair to say that for men, testosterone is happiness.
It is associated with strength, success, energy, sexuality, fitness, cognition, and motivation. Deficiency corresponds with the opposite effects.
Oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin are all great, but if you are a man, they aren’t enough. You won’t be happy as a man without the chemical that makes you a man.
This makes the legislation against anabolic steroids — which the bills themselves clarify as just legislation against testosterone — into a kind of ratcheting weight on men as men, permitting slippage in levels of testosterone, but forbidding any correction, except under highly controlled and often expensive medical contexts. Doctors rarely prescribe steroids, and almost never as prophylactics; only as solutions to severely delayed puberty or to aging decrepitude.
One can understand the justifications of controlling steroids in athletic competition. But given the broad scope of testosterone deficiency and its effects across the entire male population, it is hard to see athletic fairness as a valid justification for illegalization. We all like to watch games, and we all like a fair fight (fair fights are better for viewership and business). But to let an entire nation’s male population slowly waste away into weakness, depression, and sexual oblivion doesn’t seem worth the exchange. And that is what is happening.
1% at a time.
Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) has been used as a defense in criminal cases for women. Wild swings in mood associated with changes in progesterone and estrogen can lead to acts that are criminal but considered involuntary because the woman is not considered to be a competent actor.
Can men with T-levels 30% below normal be considered healthy or sane?
What about 50% below normal?
(To all those parents out there wondering why your teenage/twenty-something lacks motivation and just sits around playing video games all day, this might be related).
I don’t know if legalizing steroids is the solution. Personally, I think it probably isn’t, because steroids are only one example of the myriad ways in which laws written by politicians who know little to nothing of the content of their own laws, constrain the lives of citizens in all kinds of powerful and hidden ways. How could they know? Politicians are dedicated practitioners of the art of developing coalitions and constituencies. As a rule, the successful ones have time for very little else. Legalization would require a bill, and the bill would probably just result in greater controls. And there are plenty of natural ways to increase testosterone levels, such as:
- Eat more meat
- Get more sunlight
- Lift weights
- Sleep more
- Drink less beer
- Lose fat
- Compete in athletics
- Have more sex
- Watch less porn
The point is to be aware of those constraints, and some of their effects. The prohibition on anabolic steroids (the illegalization of supplementary masculinity) is a particularly profound example, given its wide-ranging and important effects, but it is far from the only example.
And with this awareness, perhaps we might move slowly towards a culture-shift in which masters of popular democratic maneuvering are not treated as experts on matters of health, or — really — on anything else.