Euphoria. A heightening of the senses. A feeling of invincibility. Stamina. And raw unadulterated sexuality. It’s the Gay Drug. And it’s starts with a T. No, not that one. Testosterone. No one talks about it, but it’s epidemic, especially among gay men. What exactly is it, and why do we want it so bad? It’s addicting, intoxicating, and it’s the drug we don’t talk about.
So why is it being called the “Gay Drug’? Testosterone has long been the drug of choice for professional athletes due to it’s ability to build muscle. But among gay men, it wasnt vanity, but health reasons that the community began to embrace the drug. In the early 1980s, doctors began prescribing anabolic steroids as a way to fight AIDS-related weight loss and muscle-wasting. And so began our Gay Muscle Culture. HIV-positive men are still being prescribed testosterone today by necessity, but anabolics have now become the ‘drug of choice’ just as often for their muscle-building, energy, and increased sex drive abilities.
Although statistics are sketchy, studies suggest one in seven gay men admit to steroid use in the past year, but more likely estimates put the figure at 50%. In a study done in London, half of all needle exchanges were found not to be from intravenous drug users, but gay men using steroids.
Why are gay men using this drug at much greater rates than their straight counterparts? One recent study may hold the answer. Researchers at the Fenway Institute in Boston interviewed over 17,250 men and youths across 14 states and found alarming results. Of those that identified themselves as gay or bisexual, over six times as many said they were more likely to use steroids than their straight counterparts. Or to put it another way, 21% of gay/bisexual men and boys admitted to using steroids versus 4% of the straight-identifying guys. This ratio carried through to those admitting to moderate-to-heavy use (those that had taken steroids over 40 times). 8% of gay/bisexuals fell into that group as opposed to 2% of straight males. The survey went on to search for patterns in behavior that might explain the difference. They found that fear of victimization, or fear of being bullied was a common denominator. The reasoning may not just be wanting to bulk up to protect oneself, but may harbor more complex psychological elements about self-worth, along with scars from being thought of as weak or different.
One Bay Area man says he has put on 20 pounds of muscle in the four years since he started on a mixed testosterone regimen. “When I look in the mirror I think “I want to get bigger” he says. ”I have an image in my head of the man I want to attract and I need to look the same way to attract him.” The demographic of users may surprise you, however. The average user isn’t a 20-something gym bunny, but the 30-to-50s aging professional. A lot of them think it’s now or never. The last hurrah. A way to compete with the younger crowd and keep their youthful bodies.
But what exactly IS injectable testosterone? It’s the synthetic version of the male hormone which our bodies produce. It increases the capacity of the muscles to build protein, store energy and absorb oxygen. We’ve heard some of the side-effects: A thickening of the blood, an enlarged prostate, and accelerated hair loss. Testicles shrink, and breast can become feminized as the body tries to compensate by over-producing the female hormone estrogen. A very common psychological side-effect is a condition called “Bigorexia” in which muscular men see themselves as thinner than they really are and are scared of weight loss. We’ve all known a gym buddy with this type of body dysmorphia.
The other common condition is the “Downer Syndrome”. After a cycle of steroids, there is a plunge in the user’s psyche, a lag-time in which the body begins to realize it must start producing the hormone on its own. This can often take months, and during this time, depression and loss of sex drive can be so profound that the user wants to immediately begin another cycle instead of letting his body rest until production kicks in again. It begins what is a vicious cycle for many gay men.
While too much testosterone is a problem, so is too low testosterone. According to the National Institutes of Health, 5 million American men have low testosterone. Low testosterone is defined as less than 300 nanograms per decileter (ng/dl). What can cause low testosterone? As men age, their bodies begin to produce less testosterone. And if its true that men think about sex once every minute, the pressure on men, especially gay men, to feel vibrant, youthful and full of, ahem, spunk is is a real problem. Additionally, certain medical conditions, genetics and lifestyle choices can add to this decline in a man’s T levels. Men with low T experience decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, and fragile bones among other health conditions. But testosterone also plays a vital role in a man’s mental health. Strong testosterone levels promote a sense of well-being and help maintain energy levels.
A UCLA research study found that men given testosterone injections experienced a decrease in anger, sadness, fatigue and nervousness, and an increase in energy and friendliness.
Unfortunately, too much testosterone is also problematic. High testosterone levels (anything above 1,200 ng/dl). can produce a condition known as Androgen Resistance, in which men take on female characteristics. And cancer of the testicles is also common due to prolonged high doses. Because high testosterone has been linked to aggression (or “Roid Rage”) the increase of heart disease is more pronounced. Most doctors suggest that any cycle of steroids, (whether prescribed, or on the black market) should only be undertaken with blood work to monitor it’s effect on the body.
Is this epidemic of drug use something to fear, or something to embrace? Is it part of our Gay Culture, or just a sub-section of us that’s highly visible? Some believe the issue is being overplayed. Richard Smith, a Senior Editor at Gay Times says the Muscle Culture makes up only a small part of our diverse gay community. “Not every gay man goes clubbing and to the gym. That’s only a tiny minority” he says.
TEN THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT TESTOSTERONE
1. WOMEN IN LOVE HAVE MORE OF IT Women in love have higher testosterone levels for a few months after starting a relationship than women who are single or in long-term relationships. The exact opposite is true for men: Those newly in love have lower testosterone then single men, or men with long-term partners.
2. IT CAN SHRINK YOUR BELLY Men whose levels of testosterone were below normal often lose their ‘spare tire’ when treated with testosterone. “Studies show there is a reduction of abdominal obesity in men who are given testosterone” says Adrian Dobs, MD., Professor of Medicine and Oncology at Johns Hopkins University.
3. MAKING MONEY AFFECTS TESTOSTERONE LEVELS Young men who work as Futures Traders get a large spike in T levels on days when their profit levels also spike. And on mornings when these men’s T levels were higher than usual, their afternoon profits were also higher than usual, suggesting a cause-and-effect relationship.
4. A MAN’S HANDS DON’T LIE The more testosterone a male fetus is exposed to during pregnancy, the shorter the right index finger is in relation to the ring finger. And the more testosterone this male fetus receives, the longer his… member… So the hands can give an incite as to how hung a man is. And 1,2,3.. as everyone checks each other out…
5. LOW T LEVELS ARE LINKED TO SLEEP APNEA Men with sleep apnea are more likely to have low testosterone, and treating sleep apnea can help to return it to normal.
6. IT’S HARD TO MEASURE TESTOSTERONE LEVELS ACCURATELY Men are often misdiagnosed with low T levels after a single test. If blood is taken from a man and sent to 3 different labs, you will get 3 different levels. Efforts are now underway to standardize blood tests, but in the meantime testosterone should be checked more than once. And remember that testosterone levels change throughout the day, and are at their highest in the morning.
7. FAT CAN LOWER T LEVELS Obese men have lower T levels than thinner men. This is thought to be because obesity promotes a widespread inflammation throughout the body. When there are fat cells, inflammation suppresses testosterone synthesis.
8. SPORTS FANS GET “WINNER’S BOOST’ Before any competition, whether it’s wrestling or chess, a man’s T levels rise. And after the game, the winner’s T levels will rise even higher. This is also true of sports fans. In a group of 21 men watching a Brazil vs. Italy World Cup match, the Brazil fans’ testosterone levels increased after their team won, but the Italy fans’ testosterone fell.
9. THE LUMBERJACK LOOK There is evidence that lumberjacks truly have thicker beards and more masculine characteristics than the average man. It was found that one hour of chopping timber increased testosterone levels by a whopping 50%! It seems chopping down trees is as manly as it gets, fellas!
10. A FEW EXTRA HOURS OF SLEEP CAN DOUBLE YOUR TESTOSTERONE! 3 major factors lay the foundation for your daily testosterone levels: Sleep, Diet, and Exercise. As I mentioned, your testosterone levels peak in the morning then slowly plummet toward evening. And when you’re in the REM stages of your sleep, the endocrine system comes to life. Your brain starts sending signals down to your balls, telling them to produce massive amounts of testosterone, preparing you for the day ahead. A study was done with a group of healthy men. They each were monitored to see how long and how well they slept. Every morning their T levels were checked. The results showed that the guys who slept for only 4 hours per night had a T level of 200-300 ng/dl. The men who slept for 8 hours per night had levels of 500-700 ng/dl. The results are simple to understand. The more you sleep, the more testosterone your body produces. Now get to bed, men!