The Truth, Mainly - 01/03/2005

The Testosterone Wars revisited
by Leon Satterfield

"It's time, my little wifey-poo," I say to my spouse, "that we have a talk about your laptop computer."

"You call me your little wifey-poo one more time," she says without looking up from her crossword puzzle, "and I'm going to go live with mother."

"But you can't move out on me," I say. "Remember our sacred vow, 'till death do us part.' What about that, Miss Smarty Pants?"

"I forgot," she says. "Okay, for the 247th time, I'll give you one last chance. And what does my laptop computer have to do with all this?"

"Look," I say, thrusting a clipping from the Dec. 14 Journal-Star at her. "Note the headline: 'Laptops may pose male fertility threat.' Whaddya say to that?"

"Is this another of your little male menopause phobias gurgling to the surface?" she says.

"Itís not a phobia," I say, "and I don't even know what male menopause means. This is about science. Says laptop computers 'after only an hour of laptop use' can increase 'male testes heat' by 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit."

"Oh no!" she says more loudly than necessary. "Inform the Pentagon! Alert the FBI! Call up the Boy Scouts!"

"And raising male testes heat by 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit," I say, "may create, it says here, enough heat 'to impair fertility'! And that's going to get in the way of male sexual destiny."

"You," she says, "are a boob, and to steal a line from James Thurber, I'm going to have you put in the booby hatch."

"Hah?" I say.

"Has it occurred to you," she says, "that impairing male fertility might be a good thing? Or is this just your testosterone talking?"

"But," I say. "But…but…."

"I know," she says, "that you can't engage in rational conversation about such a touchy subject, but isn't this really about living up to the male self-image?"

"Hah?" I say.

"It's a self-image," she says, "forced by testosterone to seek superiority more than cooperation. Cooperation is for what the governor of California calls 'girly men.' Superiority is for testosterone-besotted jocks and warriors and it gets all mixed up with religion."

"But," I say. "But…but…."

"It's that crazy male impulse," she says, "that General Boykin was following when he said he was certain he could win a battle against a Muslim warlord because 'I knew my God was bigger than his.' Testosterone run amok."

She's shifted into high gear now and she whips out a book she's in the middle of reading, Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene."

"You want to know how dumb testosterone makes males?" she says. "Listen to this." Then she reads a passage about how the male praying mantis is totally defeated by his own testosterone:

"When they mate," she reads aloud, "the male cautiously creeps upon the female, mounts her, and copulates. If the female gets the chance, she will eat him, beginning by biting his head off, either as the male is approaching, or immediately after he mounts, or after they separate. It might seem most sensible for her to wait until copulation is over before she starts to eat him."

I blanch visibly. I say "Arghh."

"And listen," she says, "to what Dawkins says next."

She reads again:

"But the loss of the head does not seem to throw the rest of the male's body off its sexual stride. Indeed, since the insect head is the seat of some inhibitory nerve centers, it is possible that the female improves the male's sexual performance by eating his head."

I cross my legs in horror.

"Did you get that?" she says. "The head—the brain—is so disconnected from the mating act that the sex goes just fine, maybe even better, when the head isn't there anymore."

"But," I say. "But…but…."

"And," she continues, "so does the human male brain get disconnected from logical thought when the testosterone takes over—whether in pursuit of sex or other male conquests. Consider the way sons often get into testosterone competition with fathers. Say the father was a genuine war hero who became president. Say the son later becomes president himself. To show his father what real testosterone is, he invades a country whose border his father refused to allow his armies to cross 12 years earlier. Does that father-son testosterone competition make any more sense than what the praying mantis does?"

"Hah?" I say.

"So," she says, "donít talk to me about laptop computers getting in the way of male sexual destiny. If a laptop can change male sexual destiny, more power to the laptop. And if you don't like it, I may bite your head off."

At which point in the discussion, I abandon logic, cross my legs again, and grow strangely quiet.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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