An expression of manliness

Picture the scene, your male flat mate returns home in a foul mood. He slams his Costcutter lamb vindaloo in the microwave for the obligatory three minutes, slumps in a chair and responds to you cheery calls of “how was labs today”, with a moan reminiscent of the mating call of a warthog. Silence ensues for the next half an hour, occasionally punctuated by the odd grunt and the click of a Carlsberg can being opened.

While it would be a logical assumption to automatically attribute such behaviour to a morning dedicated to researching the reproductive capacity of a worm, there is evidence to suggest that male feelings of moodiness may be dictated by other factors.

According to Jed Diamond, in his recently published book Irritable Male Syndrome, men are just as susceptible to fluctuating hormone levels as women. Apparently testosterone is responsible for more than simply stimulating carnal desires and that notorious last bout of lecherous dancing before Ziggy’s closes. In fact, oscillations in testosterone can provoke feelings ranging from nervousness, irritability, poor concentration, frustration and anti-social behaviour. All of these symptoms have, of course, been traditionally been confined to the female arena of Premenstrual Syndrome, a period where women are traditionally renowned for being particularly susceptible to their emotions.

Despite Jed Diamond’s rather Hollywood pornstar-esque name, he does manage to present a strong case. After reading a study by Gerald Lincoln, of the centre for Reproductive Biology in Edinburgh, he recognised that the feelings that almost caused the breakdown of his relationship with his partner, were identical to those outlined in Lincoln’s paper – ‘The Irritable Male Syndrome’. These symptoms included “feeling jealous, stressed, impatient, dissatisfied, grumpy, demanding, sarcastic, critical, feeling the need to withdraw behind the television, newspapers or a computer, feeling the urge to sleep more and the desire to use drink or drugs.” Men who have been dragged around TopShop may be able to relate to this.

Despite scepticism it seems that Diamond’s study has struck a chord with many men. Indeed a questionnaire that he posted on the American Men’s Health website received over 6,000 responses. The findings were interesting: “…46% said they were often or almost always stressed, 40% said they were often or almost always irritable and 45% said they were often or almost always frustrated”. Although the reliability of this study may well be tainted by the fact that the subjects were Americans possibly corrupted by too much exposure to Jerry Springer, this new phenomenon does seem to have a scientific foundation. The most intriguing claim is that apparently men go through the symptoms of IMS every fifteen to twenty minutes – the rate at which testosterone levels traditionally fluctuate.

Disturbingly the findings show that very successful, ambitious men, who long to quit the fast lane but can’t, are those most prone to the effects of IMS, as extreme stress can cause testosterone levels to plummet – budding investment bankers may want to bear this in mind. Furthermore the traditional grump after a day in the library is also due to that little friend testosterone, as levels are at their highest in the morning and reduce gradually throughout the day.

It has been proven that just as with oestrogen, testosterone levels diminish with age. Indeed pioneers in the field, such as Lincoln, have argued that a ‘male menopause’ may even exist – something for men to look forward to later in life. Indeed some sufferers have got so desperate that they have been driven to taking hormone replacement therapy, in the form of pills or injection. This echoes the trend in recent years for women to undergo HRT during the menopause. This does seem a rather drastic action, but, according to Diamond, it is extremely beneficial for sufferers.

But before you self-diagnose and start pumping yourself full of testosterone to the point where you look like a character from ‘Trainspotting’, it is important to establish whether you might actually be a sufferer. For those desperate to brand themselves with a mysterious medical condition as part of an attempt to sound more interesting, it might be worth taking Jed Diamond’s internet questionnaire at www.menalive.com (not a pornography site, we promise).

Although the traditional cure of a pint down the local with your mates may seem the perfect cure, Diamond stresses the need not to dismiss the issue. If you can relate to all or many of the symptoms caused by IMS it may be wise to consult your doctor; although IMS can explain some behaviour, it can also hide more deep rooted conditions, such as depression. Diamond also provides some useful advice for preventing and treating IMS in the later chapters of his book which is worth referring to if anyone feels they may be a sufferer.

Some men may find it difficult to accept that daring to cry in public or throwing the odd temper tantrum can actually be caused by a very real medical condition. It is, afterall, a common reaction to attribute such behaviour to being a ‘big girl’s blouse’. Diamond, however, argues that such men are simply at the mercy of their hormones. Although this might prompt many men to flounce from the room in feigned melodrama, refusing to do their washing up due to ‘men’s problems’, IMS is a serious and growing field of scientific enquiry.

Whether you are convinced or not it would be foolish, and dare we say it, sexist, to totally reject the possibility that the problems associated with hormonal imbalance are purely a female phenomenon.Whatever Diamond’s motivations and experience concerning IMS, it looks possible there could be a link between hormones and mood swings in men. In the complicated area that is the human mind it is important not to over simplify, but Diamond explores IMS with the insight of someone who has encountered it firsthand.

About the book
‘The Irritable Male Syndrome’ is the latest in a series of books by Jed Diamond that delves into the previously unexplored territory of the male psyche. Diamond outlines what he believes to be the four main causes behind IMS, which cause similar symptoms to depression The book has provoked controversy, with some top psychologists and scientists arguing that this complex emotional area needs further study.

However Diamond’s argument makes interesting reading and does highlight the differences between the effects of male and female hormonal imbalance in an approachable way.

Available from Amazon, £17.99

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