There are many safe, natural steps a man can take to make himself potent again. Smoking is devastating to male potency, since it damages the tiny blood vessels in the penis that must enlarge to allow the substantial rush of blood during an erection. Diet matters: High cholesterol levels can clog arteries. Alcohol abuse over 10 to 15 years actually kills the nerves in the penis. Taking medication for hypertension doubles the risk of impotence. And stress may be the final straw.
“We now believe that some of the symptoms we call aging are really due to hormone deficiencies,” says S. Mitchell Harman of the National Institute of Health. Indeed, researchers have discovered that just as estrogen production drops during female menopause, so testosterone production in men diminishes markedly in many men over 50.
About a third of men over 50 have a testosterone deficiency, estimates Dr. John Morely, a professor of geriatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine and one of the leading researchers in the field. By age 65, according to his colleague endocrinologist Fran Kaiser, at least 40 percent of men produce such low amounts of testosterone that their health may be compromised. “Males have been unwilling to recognize that they lose their sexual hormones and the sexual prowess that goes with it,” says Morely. “They are much readier to study female sex hormones than to look at themselves.”
The late Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan, a pioneer sex researcher, cautioned that without clinical hormone tests “no physician can tell if the lack of desire is due to psychological inhibition or a hormonal deficit.”
What is most surprising in researching the effects of testosterone is that its primary action is not on our sexual drive. Testosterone is the leading hormone for metabolism in both males and females - the very fuel that burns the proteins that keep us going day to day.
“If a man has a low testosterone level,” Kaplan told me in an interview, “you can do all the psychotherapy in the world, but you are much better off replacing his hormones. Then it’s magic. But if there’s no deficiency, it is dangerous quackery to give it.” Kaplan urged that men make the same sort of risk/ benefit calculation that women must make in considering whether to replace estrogen.
The real relief for men in making the passage to the second half of adult life is that they no longer have to keep proving themselves as young studs. On the contrary, nature provides relief for a man who is patient enough to take his place in the cycle of generations. He becomes the Great Father.
I once interviewed a famous entertainer who was overcome in his mid-50s with a craving for youth, until the experience of holding his first grandchild in his arms. “It all came in a flash,” he says. “This tiny girl. I was young again with her, but when she grows up, I’ll be gone. So it was the experience of rebirth and death all in the same overpowering moment.”
Men who continue to try to drown their stress in sexual hedonism will predictably have the rockiest passage into their 60s, just as the women most miserable upon reaching menopause are those who were always heavily invested in their looks.
But the man who has cultivated new roles - replacing his retired mentor, become a “father” to his community and a grandfather to his family - may be able to relinquish the status of his professional role, when the time inevitably comes, without feeling extinct. If he has prepared himself with an image appropriate to his 60s and found a passion he’s eager to pursue, even being brutally forced out of a job can occasion not impotence, but an opening up of creative potency.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Gail Sheehy Universal Press Syndicate
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