Virility a virtue or a vice?
Dominique Strauss-Kahn may be in the dock for it, but he isn't the first. History is littered with libidinous stories about powerful men. Picasso, Richard Burton, JFK, Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac were famously attractive to - and attracted by - women. Roman Polanski, Julian Assange and Mike Tyson, appeared to have uncontrollable libidos and indulged in risky and shocking behaviour. Is high testosterone the culprit?
No, says noted sexologist Dr Prakash Kothari. "High testosterone does not necessarily lead to this type of risky behaviour. Desire by itself doesn't lead to immediate arousal. A heady sense of power and opportunity along with a base of desire can lead to destructive, almost psychopathic behaviour, which leads to forcible sex. This compulsive desire is different from a man having numerous affairs - that's done with consent. But interestingly, both types could have the same levels of testosterone."
High levels of the male hormone are often associated with the aggressive, confident and swashbuckling alpha male but it can just as well be found in a poor schoolteacher in some small town, points out Dr Ambrish Mithal, president of the Endocrine Society of India.
Rajat Kumar (name changed), a 38-year-old spice merchant is a case in point. His testosterone levels were so high that sex was a mania for him all day, every day. At night, he would make love to his wife, in the morning to his secretary and in the afternoon, to a prostitute. Sex became such an obsession he finally sought treatment.
Contrary to general perception, high testosterone does not mean a man has any particular physical characteristics. A strong jaw, thick hair or a muscular build are no indicator. Neither is the size of the male organ. "Longer is better is Godzilla logic," says Kothari. "A scrawny-looking man may have the same hormonal levels as a stud."
Often enough, the 'stud' image favoured by the film industry is simply a marketing style but egotistical actors may start to believe in it. Director Mahesh Bhatt says that "behind all the posturing of being a civilized society lies a primordial man, a narcissist who thinks he can get away with anything. Bollywood is no different. The testosterone story of the Bollywood male is as heart-breaking and fictitious as the sex bomb who lures you in a porn magazine. It's just a scintillating road show to make films sell. Unfortunately, few are sane enough to realize it's just an illusion. You are actually what you hide."
Testosterone levels do affect psychology. In some men, impulsiveness is associated with the more primitive parts of the brain. These primitive parts take over the rational side, says Dr Rajat Mitra, director of Swanchetan Society for Mental Health, a Delhi-based NGO. "Such men have vivid, colourful fantasies and are driven to rape. Most don't want intimacy in relationships as they find that too complex to deal with."
Mahesh Bhatt says that compulsive sexual acts by powerful men may be the result of genuine need. "Most lead lonely and stressful lives and sexual escapades are (like) numbing ice packs. Few are able to balance committed love with sexual novelty."
So how much testosterone is too much? "That will be when the need for sexual gratification goes beyond your own rational limits. This could vary in individuals. About 3-4% of my patients suffer from high sexual desire," says Kothari. Downers include chemical castration - men are injected with female hormones. Some say neem juice can reduce desire; others say surya namaskar can regulate hormones.
For most men though, having the big T is nothing to complain about.