Chapter 12. Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
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by Erika Engelhaupt Twerking is so 50 million years ago. In fact, it’s probably much older than that. Today, the provocative, butt-shaking dance move is enough of a social phenomenon to merit a word in the dictionary (with twerking defined about as tastefully as possible here by actor Morgan Freeman), but animals have been shaking their hindquarters for ages, for a variety of purposes (more on that below). Black widow spiders are the latest documented twerkers. In their case, it’s the males that shake their rears. Black widow females are aggressive predators and will immediately kill any prey detected in their webs. This presents a problem for males approaching a female to mate; in this case a literal misstep means becoming the female’s dinner. To figure out how the males avoid being eaten (at least before mating), researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada measured vibrations created by males and by prey in webs of western black widows (Latrodectus hesperus). They compared the vibrations, and the females’ responses, to those of the hobo spider (Tegenaria agrestis), a species in which females rarely attack courting males. To capture the details of small vibrations, they used a fun tool called a laser Doppler vibrometer, which measures small changes in a laser beam aimed at a surface. Sure enough, black widow males appeared to have a death-avoidance strategy. They produced vibrations different from thrashing prey by means of “lengthy andrepeated bouts of abdominal tremulations” averaging 43 wiggles per second, the researchers report January 17 in Frontiers in Zoology. You can see a male's moves in this video: © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014
|By Stephanie Pappas and LiveScience Even water tastes sweeter when you're in love, new research finds. But not every emotion heightens the senses. Jealousy fails to bring out bitter or sour tastes, despite metaphors that suggest it might, researchers report in the December 2013 issue of the journal Emotion. That love alters one's sensory perceptions and jealousy does not is important to psychologists who study what are called "embodied" metaphors, or linguistic flourishes people quite literally feel in their bones. For example, studies have shown that people induced to feel lonely rate the temperature of the room as colder than do their unprimed counterparts. And the idea that important things have heft plays out physically, too: When someone believes a book is important, it feels heavier. But "just because there is a metaphor does not necessarily imply that we will get these kind of sensations and perception effects," said study researcher Kai Qin Chan, a doctoral candidate at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. After seeing previous research on emotional metaphors, like the studies linking loneliness to coldness and heaviness to importance, Chan and his colleagues wanted to expand the question. "We always say, 'love is sweet,' 'honey baby,' this kind of thing," Chan told LiveScience. "We thought, let's see whether this applies to love." © 2014 Scientific American
By CARL ZIMMER The term “X chromosome” has an air of mystery to it, and rightly so. It got its name in 1891 from a baffled biologist named Hermann Henking. To investigate the nature of chromosomes, Henking examined cells under a simple microscope. All the chromosomes in the cells came in pairs. All except one. Henking labeled this outlier chromosome the “X element.” No one knows for sure what he meant by the letter. Maybe he saw it as an extra chromosome. Or perhaps he thought it was an ex-chromosome. Maybe he used X the way mathematicians do, to refer to something unknown. Today, scientists know the X chromosome much better. It’s part of the system that determines whether we become male or female. If an egg inherits an X chromosome from both parents, it becomes female. If it gets an X from its mother and a Y from its father, it becomes male. But the X chromosome remains mysterious. For one thing, females shut down an X chromosome in every cell, leaving only one active. That’s a drastic step to take, given that the X chromosome has more than 1,000 genes. In some cells, the father’s goes dormant, and in others, the mother’s does. While scientists have known about this so-called X-chromosome inactivation for more than five decades, they still know little about the rules it follows, or even how it evolved. In the journal Neuron, a team of scientists has unveiled an unprecedented view of X-chromosome inactivation in the body. They found a remarkable complexity to the pattern in which the chromosomes were switched on and off. © 2014 The New York Times Company
by Susan Milius For springtails, sex can be an Easter egg hunt. Many males of the tiny soil organisms sustain their species by leaving drops of sperm glistening here and there in the landscape in case a female chooses to pick one up. “The male never meets the female,” says Zaira Valentina Zizzari of VU University Amsterdam, who studies a species of these extreme loners called Orchesella cincta. Just about every degree of mating intimacy, from unseen sperm donors to elaborate courtship and internal insemination, shows up in springtails. That makes the ancient group — which may not belong to the insects but to another set of six-legged arthropods on its own evolutionary trajectory — a treasure trove for biologists studying sex. In O. cincta, little brown-and-white males roam the leaf litter making no apparent effort to find a female. Instead, males pause here and there for a few seconds to leave behind white stalks topped by a shiny-coated globes, each holding more than 1,000 sperm. Sperm on a stalk is still viable after sitting two days in the lab. Outdoors it may not last so long. “You have a lot of rivals searching for sperm just to destroy it,” Zizzari says. Males eat rivals’ sperm. Given the rivalry, it wouldn’t be surprising if males engaged in an arms race to produce more sperm stalks than their competitors. But Zizzari was surprised to discover that male O. cincta make fewer sperm packages when a competitor is sperm-dotting the neighborhood. Maybe he’s enhancing the few he makes with extra sex appeal, Zizzari mused. To test the idea, she offered lab females a choice of globes from males with rivals or those made by an uncrowded guy. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014
Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 19152 - Posted: 01.20.2014
Dan Hurley Forget mindfulness meditation, computerized working-memory training, and learning a musical instrument; all methods recently shown by scientists to increase intelligence. There could be an easier answer. It turns out that sex might actually make you smarter. Researchers in Maryland and South Korea recently found that sexual activity in mice and rats improves mental performance and increases neurogenesis (the production of new neurons) in the hippocampus, where long-term memories are formed. In April, a team from the University of Maryland reported that middle-aged rats permitted to engage in sex showed signs of improved cognitive function and hippocampal function. In November, a group from Konkuk University in Seoul concluded that sexual activity counteracts the memory-robbing effects of chronic stress in mice. “Sexual interaction could be helpful,” they wrote, “for buffering adult hippocampal neurogenesis and recognition memory function against the suppressive actions of chronic stress.” So growing brain cells through sex does appear to have some basis in scientific fact. But there’s some debate over whether fake sex—pornography—could be harmful. Neuroscientists from the University of Texas recently argued that excessive porn viewing, like other addictions, can result in permanent “anatomical and pathological” changes to the brain. That view, however, was quickly challenged in a rebuttal from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, who said that the Texans "offered little, if any, convincing evidence to support their perspectives. Instead, excessive liberties and misleading interpretations of neuroscience research are used to assert that excessive pornography consumption causes brain damage." © 2014 by The Atlantic Monthly Group
By Felicity Muth Whether there exist differences between boys and girls is passionately debated (for example, see this debate about gender disparity between Stephen Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke). Some studies have found that girls are more sociable than boys, but prefer to play with just one other person, while boys prefer a larger group to play with. However, it is very difficult to say whether differences that we see in boys’ and girls’ behaviour has a biological basis, as boys and girls are also treated differently. Even before a baby is born, parents have often painted its room pink or blue, and bought gender-differentiated toys. A mother is more likely to under-estimate her female baby’s crawling abilities, and over-estimate her male baby’s (he’s a boy, of course he’s going to be stronger and better at crawling?!). Perceptions on the personality and abilities of a baby also differ depending on whether the adult is told that the child is male or female. Given these differences in how people treat male and female children, it can be difficult to say whether the behaviours we see are have a biological basis or not. However, we can look for certain clues to biological differences in child behaviour from our ‘cousins’ the chimpanzees. Chimpanzees live in communities of 20 to 180 individuals, with sub-groups within this. One recent study looked at the behaviour of eight female and twelve male chimpanzee infants to see if their behaviour differed from each other. They found that the young males were more sociable than the young females. © 2014 Scientific American
Brittany Fallon In today’s focal party, the main characters are Nambi, the Alpha female who engages in regular sexual relations with young males; Nick, the former Alpha male, replaced by Nambi’s son Musa; and Zefa, Nick’s former Beta male, who is forming new alliances to overthrow Musa. It’s hard not to pretend I’m witnessing the real world version of Game of Thrones – except it’s not humans I’m observing, but chimpanzees. There’s no Iron Throne involved in this power struggle – just the race for reproductive success. Dominant individuals enjoy a number of benefits that improve their chance of passing on genes, including richer access to sexual partners. But how does this influence their tactics for attracting mates? Perhaps no effort is needed, the chimpanzee equivalent to the philandering Robert, with potential sex partners who line up in hopes of birthing the next possible heir. Or is it that, like promiscuous Cersei, they’ve learned a number of coy and successful pick up lines (“Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon.”)? Elaborate metaphors aside, this is exactly the sort of question that I attempt to answer for my PhD on sexual displays in the Sonso chimpanzee community of the Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda. Chimpanzees, like a variety of animals, produce ‘courtship displays’ to attract mates. Displays are largely comprised of gestures, which can be broadly defined as distinct bodily movements that do not physically manipulate the receiver toward the goal of the signaller. Both males and females, ranging in age from 2 to 52 years old in my community, can produce these solicitations. Displays can be elaborate, many signals strung together, or they can be simple, a single shaking of a branch followed immediately by copulation. What’s particularly amazing about chimpanzee solicitations is that they seem to be intentionally communicative: following a display, signallers will visibly wait for a response from their target by gaze-checking, and, if met with failure, will persist in gesturing. © 2014 Scientific American
By Alexandra Sifferlin It’s always been conventional wisdom that girls reach maturity more quickly than boys, but now scientists have provided some proof. In new research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, an international group of researchers led by a team from Newcastle University in England found that girls’ brains march through the reorganization and pruning typical of normal brain development earlier than boys’ brains. In the study, in which 121 people between ages 4 to 40 were scanned using MRIs, the scientists documented the ebb and flow of new neural connections, and found that some brain fibers that bridged far-flung regions of the brain tended to remain stable, while shorter connections, many of which were redundant, were edited away. And the entire reorganization seemed to occur sooner in girls’ brains than in boys’ brains. Females also tended to have more connections across the two hemispheres of the brain. The researchers believe that the earlier reorganization in girls makes the brain work more efficiently, and therefore reach a more mature state for processing the environment. What drives the gender-based difference in timing isn’t clear from the current study, but the results suggest that may be a question worth investigating. © 2013 Time Inc.
// by Megan Gannon, Live Science News Editor Bonobos have a reputation among the great apes as "hippie chimps," and new research hints that high levels of a key thyroid hormone may play a role in keeping the animals' aggression in check. Found in the lowland forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bonobos (Pan troglodytes) are closely related to chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) but the two diverge in behavior. Bonobos seem to diffuse social tension with an impressive repertoire of sex acts rather than physical fights. Males in particular show low levels of aggression — they even maintain platonic friendships with females and stick by their mothers into adulthood. The life of male chimpanzees, meanwhile, revolves around climbing the social ladder (or at least hanging onto their current rung), and navigating cooperative and aggressive relationships with other males. [8 Humanlike Behaviors of Primates] Scientists recently found another big difference between the two Pan species: A key thyroid hormone decreases at a much later age in bonobos compared with chimps. For their study, scientists took urine samples from about 100 chimpanzees and 96 bonobos living in zoos. The researchers specifically looked at the apes' levels of triiodothyronine (T3), a hormone in the thyroid gland that is crucial for development in all vertebrates (animals with backbones). © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC
by Chelsea Whyte For chameleons, war paint isn't just an accessory, it is a battle flag. The brightness of the colours these lizards display and how rapidly they change are good indicators of which animal will win in a fight. Chameleons are famous for changing colour to hide from predators by blending into their surroundings, but they also use colour for social communication. One of the most diversely coloured species is the veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus), which lives in parts of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. "At their brightest, they have vertical yellow stripes, blue-green bellies, black speckles that provide contrast and make their stripes stand out, and orange around the corner of their mouths," says Russell Ligon, a behavioural ecologist at Arizona State University in Tempe. To see if individual variations in these colours and patterns influenced the outcome of a fight, Ligon and his colleague Kevin McGraw staged a round-robin tournament in which 10 male veiled chameleons were pitted against each other. Using a high-speed camera, they were able to capture the brightness and colour changes from 28 points on each animal, taking into account how the colours would look to a chameleon's eye – which sees both visible and ultraviolet light. They found that males with the brightest side stripes were more likely to instigate a fight, whereas those with brighter heads that changed colour most rapidly were more likely to win. This suggests that different colours and patterns may signal different aspects of competitive behaviour – how motivated the chameleon is versus its strength. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By JAMES GORMAN Sometimes the scientists who study animal behavior solve puzzles and other times they uncover new ones. The war between mockingbirds and cowbirds is a case in point. Cowbirds are brood parasites, meaning they lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species, thus unloading the messy and demanding business of chick-rearing. They also peck holes in the eggs of the host birds, destroying as many as they can. Mockingbirds are a favorite target of this plan, and it seems to make perfect sense for them to viciously attack cowbirds when they catch them in the nest. But when Ros Gloag, then a doctoral student at Oxford, and her colleagues in Argentina looked closely at the war between chalk-browed mockingbirds and shiny cowbirds, they found something unexpected, as they reported in the November issue of Animal Behaviour. They stationed small video cameras near the nests of 40 pairs of chalk-browed mockingbirds. Over two breeding seasons they recorded more than 200 attacks on intruding cowbirds. They were surprised to find that these attacks, which their videos show to be quite vicious, did not stop the cowbirds from laying eggs. The cowbirds would hunker down and let the much large mockingbirds deliver hammer blows to the head, but in matter of seconds they would lay an egg and flee. How could such a failed strategy persist in evolution? © 2013 The New York Times Company
By Julia Calderone As we sat in my car outside a silent movie theater in Los Angeles, my friend anxiously opened a plastic bag containing a white T-shirt she’d slept in for the past three nights. “Does it smell like me?” she asked nervously, gesturing the open end toward my face. I stuck my nose into the bag and inhaled. We were about to attend a pheromone-based speed dating party with the following rules: 1. Find a clean white T-shirt. 2. Sleep in only that shirt for three consecutive nights. 3. Bring the shirt to the party sealed in a bag. As we walked into the theater, coordinators assigned each of our bags a unique color-coded sticker (pink for female, blue for male), and tossed them into a pile. A pack of hipsters nursing PBRs sat in the wooden theater seats, slightly amused by the bizarre 70s Egyptian-themed silent porn projected onto the screen. In the courtyard, 20-somethings mingled by the outdoor bar. Did they think alcohol would make us okay with sniffing strangers’ dirty laundry? Mounds of bags sat on two long tables – beckoning our nostrils. We were instructed to sniff as many T-shirts of the sex we were attracted to, and select shirts that innately smelled the sexiest. I came across bag number 166, which shockingly smelled exactly like my grandmother’s house – a delightful mix of Christmas and chicken parmesan. The point was to trust our instincts, right? I went with it. © 2013 Scientific American
By Neuroskeptic This morning, the world woke up to the news that Scientists discover the difference between male and female brains Britain’s Independent today actually made that their front page. They went on to discuss “the hardwired difference that could explain why men are ‘better at map reading’”. The rest of the world’s media were no less excited. Well. I don’t have time to get into criticizing the media or decrying gender stereotypes, so let’s just stick to the science. The study in question, published in PNAS, is called Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain. The authors used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to estimate the integrity of the white matter tracts going in various directions at each point in the brain. In a large sample of 428 males and 521 females aged from 8 to 22, they report sex differences in the pattern of white matter connectivity. In general, the female brains were ‘more connected’ than the male, except in the cerebellum: here’s the plot for a summary measure, the Participation Coefficient. I have two issues with this: Head Motion. A perennial Neuroskeptic favorite, this one. A paper just last week showed convincingly that even modest amounts of head movement during the MRI scan causes changes in DTI. Various commentators on Twitter and elsewhere swiftly pointed out that it’s not implausible that men and women might move different amounts on average, so that might account for at least some of these results.
Ian Sample, science correspondent Scientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark differences exist in the wiring of male and female brains. Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women's brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men's brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions. Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men's brains apparently wired more for perception and co-ordinated actions, and women's for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking. "If you look at functional studies, the left of the brain is more for logical thinking, the right of the brain is for more intuitive thinking. So if there's a task that involves doing both of those things, it would seem that women are hardwired to do those better," Verma said. "Women are better at intuitive thinking. Women are better at remembering things. When you talk, women are more emotionally involved – they will listen more." She added: "I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men." The findings come from one of the largest studies to look at how brains are wired in healthy males and females. The maps give scientists a more complete picture of what counts as normal for each sex at various ages. Armed with the maps, they hope to learn more about whether abnormalities in brain connectivity affect brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited
By PAUL BLOOM In 1780, Immanuel Kant wrote that “sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite.” And after that appetite is sated? The loved one, Kant explained, “is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry.” Many contemporary feminists agree that sexual desire, particularly when elicited by pornographic images, can lead to “objectification.” The objectifier (typically a man) thinks of the target of his desire (typically a woman) as a mere thing, lacking autonomy, individuality and subjective experience. This idea has some laboratory support. Studies have found that viewing people’s bodies, as opposed to their faces, makes us judge those people as less intelligent, less ambitious, less competent and less likable. One neuroimaging experiment found that, for men, viewing pictures of sexualized women induced lowered activity in brain regions associated with thinking about other people’s minds. The objectification thesis also sits well with another idea that many psychologists, including myself, have defended, which is that we are all common-sense dualists. Even if you are a staunch science-minded atheist, in everyday life you still think of people as immaterial conscious beings — we inhabit fleshy bodies, but we are not ourselves physical. To see someone as a body is in opposition to thinking of her as a mind, then, and hence a heightened focus on someone’s body tends to strip away her personhood. But this analysis is too simple. It’s not literally true that women in pornography are thought of as inanimate and unfeeling objects; if they were, then they would just as effectively be depicted as unconscious or unresponsive, as opposed to (as is more often the case) aroused and compliant. Also, as the philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Leslie Green have pointed out, being treated as an object isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagine that you are sitting outside on a sunny day, and you move behind someone so that she blocks the sun from your eyes. You have used her as an object, but it’s hard to see that you’ve done something wrong. © 2013 The New York Times Company
In the 1970s pop hit “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” famed rocker Meat Loaf wails to his tired old lover: “[I]f I gotta spend another minute with you I don't think that I can really survive.” Turns out that interactions with the opposite sex really do control life span, at least if you’re an insect or a worm. Sexually frustrated fruit flies perish prematurely, a study has just found. And another experiment reveals that in nematodes—nearly microscopic roundworms—males kill members of the opposite sex by spurring what resembles premature aging. An animal’s environment shapes its longevity, sometimes in surprising ways. For example, placing lab animals on a meager diet that replicates food scarcity in the wild extends survival in many species. And, oddly enough, dulling nematodes’ and flies’ sense of smell or taste stretches their life span. An animal’s environment also includes the other members of its species that it interacts with, such as potential mates and rivals. Researchers have identified some impacts of these interactions on life span. For example, because a male fruit fly’s seminal fluid contains toxins, mating can be fatal for females. Now, Scott Pletcher, a geneticist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues have shown that sexually unsatisfied fruit flies give up the ghost faster that usual. The researchers played a dirty trick on some male fruit flies, housing them with other males that had been genetically altered to exude female pheromones, or scent molecules. Normal males woo these she-males but can’t mate with them. Pletcher and colleagues report online today in Science that the sexually thwarted males pined away. Their stored fat dwindled, their ability to endure stress declined, and their life span shrank by more than 10%. The researchers also measured a reduction in female flies’ longevity if they hobnobbed with macho females that released male pheromones. © 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Regina Nuzzo The gut may know better than the head whether a marriage will be smooth sailing or will hit the rocks after the honeymoon fades, according to research published today in Science1. Researchers have long known that new love can be blind, and that those in the midst of it can harbour positive illusions about their sweetheart and their future. Studies show that new couples rate their partner particularly generously, forgetting his or her bad qualities, and generally view their relationship as more likely to succeed than average2. But newlyweds are also under a lot of conscious pressure to be happy — or, at least, to think they are. Now a four-year study of 135 young couples has found that split-second, 'visceral' reactions about their partner are important, too. The results show that these automatic attitudes, which aren’t nearly as rosy as the more deliberate ones, can predict eventual changes in people’s marital happiness, perhaps even more so than the details that people consciously admit. The researchers, led by psychologist James McNulty of Florida State University in Tallahassee, tapped into these implicit attitudes by seeing how fast newlyweds could correctly classify positively and negatively themed words after being primed by a photo of their spouse for a fraction of a second. If seeing a blink-of-the-eye flash of a partner’s face conjures up immediate, positive gut-level associations, for example, the participant will be quicker to report that 'awesome' is a positive word and slower to report that 'awful' is a negative one. Researchers used the difference between these two reaction times as a measurement of a participant’s automatic reaction. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group
By RONI CARYN RABIN Women are more likely than men to die after a heart attack, and some researchers have suggested a reason: Doctors may be misdiagnosing women more often because their symptoms differ from those experienced by men. But a study published Monday indicates that too much has been made of gender differences in chest pain, the hallmark symptom of heart disease. Although the researchers found some distinctions, no pattern was clearly more characteristic of women or could be used to improve heart attack diagnosis in women, the authors concluded. “We should stop treating women differently at the emergency room when they present with chest pain and discomfort,” said Dr. Maria Rubini Gimenez, a cardiologist at University Hospital Basel and lead author of the new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Instead, she said, all patients with acute chest pain must be evaluated for heart attack with appropriate diagnostics, including an electrocardiogram and blood tests. Roughly 80 percent of people who have chest pain and discomfort are suffering from indigestion, acid reflux or another relatively benign condition, said Dr. John G. Canto, director of the chest pain center at Lakeland Regional Medical Center in Lakeland, Fla., who has researched heart attack diagnosis. “The trick is, how do you figure out the 15 to 20 percent actually having a heart attack?” he said. The new research confirms “that there is a lot of overlap in symptoms between patients who are having a heart attack and those who aren’t, and there is a lot of overlap in symptoms between men and women.” The new study examined 2,475 patients, including 796 women, who reported to emergency rooms at nine hospitals in Switzerland, Spain and Italy complaining of acute chest pain between April 21, 2006, and Aug. 12, 2012. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company
A whiff of oxytocin may help love not fade away. Researchers asked 20 unmarried men in multiyear relationships to rank the attractiveness of pictures of their partner, acquaintances, and strangers. When the men received a nasal spray of oxytocin—which is released by the body during sexual arousal—they rated their partners more highly but not the other women. MRI scans show that after an oxytocin dose, areas of the brain associated with rewards, which also drive drug addiction, were more active when the men saw pictures of their partner, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The finding could help explain the biological roots of monogamy in humans: Being in a long-term relationship raises a person's oxytocin levels, which in turn increase the psychological reward of spending more time with that person. The cycle, the team concluded, could literally lead to an addiction to one’s lover. © 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By NATASHA SINGER One afternoon a few months ago, a 45-year-old sales representative named Mike called “The Dr. Harry Fisch Show,” a weekly men’s health program on the Howard Stern channel on Sirius XM Radio, where no male medical or sexual issue goes unexplored. “I feel like a 70-year-old man in a 45-year-old body,” Mike, from Vancouver, British Columbia, told Dr. Fisch on the live broadcast. “I want to feel good. I don’t want to feel tired all day.” A regular listener, Mike had heard Dr. Fisch, a Park Avenue urologist and fertility specialist, talk about a phenomenon called “low testosterone” or “low T.” Dr. Fisch likes to say that a man’s testosterone level is “the dipstick” of his health; he regularly appears on programs like “CBS This Morning” to talk about the malaise that may coincide with low testosterone. He is also the medical expert featured on IsItLowT.com, an informational website sponsored by AbbVie, the drug maker behind AndroGel, the best-selling prescription testosterone gel. Like many men who have seen that site or commercials or online quizzes about “low T,” Mike suspected that diminished testosterone was the cause of his lethargy. And he hoped, as the marketing campaigns seem to suggest, that taking a prescription testosterone drug would make him feel more energetic. “I took your advice and I went and got my testosterone checked,” Mike told Dr. Fisch. Mike’s own physician, he related, told him that his testosterone “was a little low” and prescribed a testosterone medication. Mike also said he had diabetes and high blood pressure and was 40 pounds overweight. Dr. Fisch explained that conditions like obesity might be accompanied by decreased testosterone and energy, and he urged Mike to exercise more and to lose weight. But if Mike had trouble overhauling his diet and exercise habits, Dr. Fisch said, taking testosterone might give him the boost he needed to do so. “If it gives you more energy to exercise,” Dr. Fisch said of the testosterone drug, “I’m all for it.” © 2013 The New York Times Company