Us Soy Boys should be relieved

It’s an odd thing how some people are scrabbling to invent markers for maleness, as if it is the sole defining feature of their existence, and yet must be constantly validated with sciencey affirmations of invisible phenomena. So we get statements about the utter certainty of the Y chromosome being the definitive factor in being male, from hordes of people who’ve never seen their own karyotype, some small fraction of whom might well have curious chromosomal abnormalities. Will it change who they are if a variation is found? No, not at all. We live in a fairly modest culture, too, and yet we want to declare possession of a penis to be the one great truth behind masculinity…yet I’ve never seen any of your penises, nor have you seen mine. We make demeaning jokes about small penises, but we don’t actually inspect them.

There’s another invisible attribute I’m seeing touted as important to your masculinity: testosterone levels. I’ve seen the silly commercials that try to sell supplements to correct that bane of men’s lives, Low T.

Well, that’s blatant. I better buy me a case of them there pills, lest I suffer the pity of a woman.

The thing is, most of us don’t know what our testosterone levels are. I get twice yearly checkups and get tapped for buckets of blood, and I’ve got reports on levels of triglycerides, HDLs, LDLs, CPK, all that important stuff that matters if you’re concerned about heart disease, but darn, they never bother to check my T levels, and I always forget to ask. Except for certain serious extremes, T levels don’t matter that much, and they certainly aren’t a major factor in that indefinable thing called “manliness”. I also note that half the population seems to function just fine with incredibly low T levels.

But now you’ve got shady companies trying to sell you supplements, and to them it’s really important that you consider T levels vital. The latest round of silliness from the alt-right has them accusing SJWs of being “soy boys”, that consuming products containing soy reduces their T levels. They don’t know! Testosterone levels vary within populations, to no obvious discernible effect, so it amounts to one group of people sneering at another group of people over their blood chemistry in complete ignorance of what it actually is. I feel like the only rational response in such an argument is to whip out a rubber strap and a syringe with a wicked sharp 21-gauge needle and offer to take a sample.

Or, I suppose, we could just have some medical professionals do a clinical assessment of the effects of testosterone. Oh? It’s been done?

So researchers set about designing the Testosterone Trials: double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials—the gold standard in medicine. They went looking for thousands of men over 65 with low T and at least one of its supposed symptoms. When the first findings came out in February 2016, one thing stood out from the start: Of the more than 51,000 men who had been screened, fewer than 15 percent had testosterone levels low enough to be enrolled, even after the researchers relaxed their testosterone threshold. The widely held idea that low T is rife among older men seemed to be a myth.

All told, the studies found that T did not improve men’s physical function or vitality. Nor did it help with age-related memory impairment. It did help with anemia and bone mineral density. It increased sexual desire and activity, but the effect was modest; men were better off using Cialis or Viagra. The most worrisome findings came from a study on cardiovascular risk: In men with certain risk factors, T accelerated coronary atherosclerosis, possibly increasing their chance of heart attack.

If you want to argue with this, I’m going to accuse you of having low aldosterone levels. Or was it cholecystokinin? One of those things neither of us ever bother to actually measure, anyway.


  1. christophervarner says

    Thanks to multiple surgeries and radiation to deal with a pituitary cyst, my testosterone level is too low to measure. I’m sure that men using the topical T replacements are not following the protocols to avoid contaminating the women and children in their lives. Hell, the men would have to do their own laundry!

    I stopped using T replacement. It had no real benefit and too many risks.

  2. blf says

    T levels? It’s not that, it’s C, V, M, and P levels — Cheese-, Vin-, and MUSHROOMS!-levels (the higher the better, says the mildly deranged penguin, especially if they break the meter), and Pea-levels (anything greater than -∞ is dangerous, and for safety, measurements are best made in a self-contained mini-Universe which auto-implodes if a higher value is detected). Excepting ramping loons with nuclear weaponspenises, and perhaps walruses, the importance of C, V, M, and P levels is independent of species, sex, and sentience, or so she says. Especially the C levels.

  3. pocketnerd says

    I doubt MRAs and SJEAs will be impressed by the cited study. They have a long history of ignoring, denying, or simply failing to understand anything that contradicts their beloved BioTruth™.

  4. Ragutis says

    If soy reduces virility and fertility, why am I constantly running into more and more vegetarians and vegans?

  5. says

    I’ve seen the silly commercials that try to sell supplements to correct that bane of men’s lives, Low T.

    Isn’t that just the good old American principle of selling snake oil to make a buck?

  6. jrkrideau says

    If soy reduces virility and fertility, why does China have a population in the 1.1 billion range? The soy sauce does not count?

  7. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 chigau
    Shouldn’t that be “We Soy Boys…”?
    REAL MEN use “US”.
    There is also the possibility that PZ has been living in rural Minnesota too long. If it is anything like rural Ontario, it can do horrible things to one’s language.

  8. blf says

    (For some reason — probably a word meaning “scornful laugh” which starts with s and ends with the n-word — multiple earlier versions (plural) of this comment triggered poopyhead’s filter, hence the perhaps odd-seeming redactions / edits…)

    Loosely related — at least in the sense of imaginary markers (for females) plus the shaming plus “inspections” — is today’s column by Hadley Freeman writing in the Grauniad, I can chart my life by the things random men have told me about my body:

    [… W]hen a man feels entitled to tell a random woman how he sees her face, her body, her hair, this sends a very different message. It says that women exist to be observed and appraised, that they are decorative background players while men are the lead roles. So a female stranger might ask me where I got my coat from, but a random man on the train will tell me that I should smile because it would really brighten his day.

    In fact, I can chart my life by the comments men have made about my physical appearance. (Not included: daily insults from strangers on the internet. Thank you, modern world!)

    Age 13: at summer camp in Maine, three boys sit next to me and see I am reading a page of Hebrew. I say it’s my Torah portion for my batmitzvah next month. Don’t you mean your barmitzvah? one of the boys says, and the others [laugh scornfully]. Barmitzvahs are for boys and the point is that I am so [boyish-looking] I am basically a boy. I promptly enter a decade-long period I call The Padded Bra Years.

    Age 16: I am on weekend leave from hospital where I am being treated for [eating disorder]. I go for a walk on our local high street. Oy, [insult based on eating disorder]! Eat a sandwich! a pair of men shout at me as I walk past the bus stop. I go home.


    Age 25: I am working as a fashion writer for this paper and I’m talking to a male journalist at a party. If you cover fashion then why don’t you sort your hair out? he says. I tell him most of my hair fell out as a teenager because of [eating disorder]. He is annoyed I can’t take a joke.


    Age 37: I am nine months pregnant with twins, and London is in the middle of a heatwave. Less than comfortable, I go to a pharmacy for advice. You look like something from a nature documentary, the chemist laughs. My mood is not improved.


    Age 39: I mention to a male friend that I am going to write this column. Maybe you’ll miss those comments when you’re older and men act like you’re invisible, he says. I assure him I absolutely will not.

  9. Ragutis says

    If soy reduces virility and fertility, why does China have a population in the 1.1 billion range? The soy sauce does not count?

    Actually, I think it’s 1.4 bil, but anyway, they’ve been fuckin for thousands of years. We’ve (the U.S. of A) amassed a quarter of their population in just a couple of hundred on our diet of BEEF and POTATOES. McDonald’s may well be the single largest factor in Amurican fecundity to date.

  10. wcaryk says

    According to a New Scientist article on fatherhood, “…once the baby arrives, a man can expect his testosterone levels to nosedive. This change is permanent. “It might go up a little bit but it will never, ever return to where it was before he became a father,” says [Oxford evolutionary anthropologist Anna] Machin.”

    New to me, but if true, disastrous news for all those alt-right types who urge us to crank out White babies as fast as we can, because WHITE GENOCIDE!!! Make a baby, turn into a tragically low T soyboy — what’s a poor neo-Nazi to do?

    Edit: apparently true:

  11. says

    When I looked it up, it seemed to me that a basic ingredient in the manufacturing process of testosterone supplements was soy beans!

    (I was fantasizing about product tampering, and decided my favorite target would be consumers of Alex Jones’ male enhancement products. I swear I went no further than looking up the basic T-pills’ manufacturing process.)

  12. gijoel says

    I take testosterone, due to chronic low levels, and my libido is as flat as a tack thanks to the antidepressants I’m on.

  13. bachfiend says

    I know someone at the local park who’s overweight and has been told that he has to lose 20 kg to protect a recently inserted total hip replacement. He’s also been diagnosed as having a very low testosterone level, but has also been told that giving him testosterone is contraindicated for some reason or another (it’s difficult to know the reason from third hand information), but that he needs to build up muscle bulk, so he’s drinking protein supplements (which to me sounds like ‘woo’).

    He really just needs to lose weight by reducing his calorie intake (he often appears at the park drinking from a can containing a cola/alcoholic spirit drink) and increase his physical activity (his dog gets a lot of exercise chasing a ball, but he walks little more than 200 metres – it’s not invariable that having a dog increases the owner’s physical activity too).

  14. llyris says

    @ 13 wcaryk
    That’s am interesting article, but serves to tell those terribly manly neo-nazis that looking after the kids they sired is women’s work that will emasculate them. Better keep impregnating women and ignoring the result. Truly the pinnacle of white male man-baby privilege.

  15. Mrdead Inmypocket says

    Testosterone levels vary within populations, to no obvious discernible effect, so it amounts to one group of people sneering at another group of people over their blood chemistry in complete ignorance of what it actually is.

    This brings to mind, I was reading some very deep literature to one of my great gandkids about two weeks ago.
    “Now, the Star belly Sneetches had bellies with stars.
    The Plain belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
    Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
    You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.”

    Sylvester McMonkey McBean really cleaned up with that lot. The kid is six and she got it easily enough. So smart that one, she made my heart ache when she explained it back to me. Given that a six year old could understand that principle, you’d think that people wouldn’t still be falling for the snake oil supplement scams.

  16. =8)-DX says

    The funky lefty YouTuber “Hbomberguy” who does occasional reviews and laughs at rightwing idiots did a few very entertaining videos on the “soy boy” myth (also looking at some studies).

    The most entertaining was the fact that as #14 @just jone says, one of the more visible online idiots complaining about “soy boys” was Paul Joseph Watson of InfoWars, who also happens to sell “Brain Force Plus” a Manliness™ enhancer which contains soy and multiple soy derivatives…

  17. billyjoe says

    Apart from gels that are rubbed onto the skins with the risk of getting it onto other people who don’t necessarily need or want it, there are testosterone injections. They used to last three weeks, but there is now a injection that lasts three months.

    In Australia it became so popular that the government reduced the threshold for subsidy under the PBS from 8 to 6 (normal range 8-30; don’t know the units). The number of prescriptions plummeted.

    Apparently many men just had borderline low levels and studies had shown no evidence of benefit at these levels. When the subsidies stopped, many men just decided to do without them as see what happened and most that found nothing changed.

    (The initial response was likely a “placebo effect” – yet another demonstration of “The Powerful Placebo” myth – but let’s not go there again!)

  18. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    [friendly snark]

    Actually, I think it’s 1.4 bil, but anyway, they’ve been fuckin for thousands of years.

    It’s #FACTCHECK TRUE: China has a larger population because FUCKING WAS INVENTED IN CHINA. #ScienceNinjasFTW #WhyWouldILie
    [/friendly snark]

  19. suttkus says

    Speaking as someone who knows his testosterone levels, er, well, I have a piece of paper in my files with the number on it, I can’t claim that number is in my head… let me start over.

    My testosterone levels are slightly high! Or would be high if I was female. I’m not, so they’re positively microscopic.

    I was on hormone replacement therapy for a while, but I honestly hated every minute of it. I’ve spent my entire life with near-feminine levels of testosterone and frankly that’s the “me” that I’m used to. I hated the feeling of being on the replacements, hated having my sex drive ramped up to, what I presume is how normal people feel. STUFF NORMALITY! I never signed up for normal and I want no part of it! I would certainly like some of the effects of normal testosterone levels (heightened metabolism making it easier to lose weight, supposedly, reduced risk of osteoporosis and breast cancer), but it’s not worth the frustration. And I’ll take the reduced risk of arterial problems as a bonus!

  20. jazzlet says

    llyris @ #17
    The article I read said it made no difference whether the father was inolved or completely absent, the testosterone still dropped, so no way out for our manly neo-nazis by fucking and dumping.

  21. Matt G says

    A study published a few years ago claimed that you can delete all but two genes in the Y chromosome and still have viable mice. I remember that sry was one of them.

  22. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Most of the “Soy Boys” nonsense arises from the presence of phytoestrogens in soybeans, and a reduction in reproductive rate of sheep which graze on red clover which also contain these substances. Of course, phytoestrogens are not the same as mammalian estrogen, and sheep aren’t the same as humans, but these facts don’t stop them.

    I guess no one has told them about mycoestrogen yet. Don’t eat mushrooms or grains – they also contain estrogen compounds! They’ll be left with nothing to eat by the time they discover that meat and dairy also contain it.

  23. blf says

    Don’t eat MUSHROOMS!
    The mildly deranged penguin is not only wondering how one — following this advice which is so ludicrous even hair furor in teh Wacko House might bellow it — would obtain, or maintain, their M levels, but also on the similarly amazing delusions suggesting peas are edible (leading to non  -∞ P levels), or that there can be cheese left for others to eat.

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