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  • Writer's pictureLaurenWrites

Talking Testosterone

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

Something I’ve found since starting this research project is that when it comes to testosterone, everyone has an opinion. Be it positive or negative, from a medical professional to your next-door neighbour if you want to start a conversation where fireworks could be on the cards just drop the big T, sit back and watch the magic happen.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and in particular about it in relation to some of the women I have been lucky enough to spend time with, who have been using testosterone as part of their Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). While in the context of medicine it may be commonly known (all be it negated) that testosterone plays an important function not only in the bodies of men but in the bodies of women too, the same understanding may arguably not be held among the wider British public.

Counting myself among this demographic at the beginning of my research process, I was intrigued when reading about the use of this hormone among women. I found that (outside of the medically trained) when I engaged in conversations with people, they too were often unaware of its use beyond select groups. Whilst most people I chatted to knew about the use of testosterone in gender identity settings, the only other arena people seemed to correlate its use with, was body builders “bulking up”.

I became what can only be described as keenly interested (perhaps even mildly obsessed) by this oversight and as such, by talking to people about the role of testosterone as an addition to HRT. In fact pretty much everyone I know has been subjected to some form of conversation about it (including my poor unassuming postman - Dave if you're reading this I really am very sorry - it had been a long week and I guess the ‘don’t shoot the messenger advice’ fell on deaf ears).

Dave digression aside, use of testosterone to alleviate menopausal symptoms is supported by evidence that it can, in certain cases, help to improve energy levels, concentration and libido; all of which may be found waning as a result of the menopause. For some women the symptoms that begin at perimenopause (the period of time preceding menopause) may be relieved via the introduction of additional oestrogen; but for others, this addition may not have an adequate effect and as such, testosterone supplementation could also be recommended should the clinical professional deem it appropriate.

Whilst testosterone treatment is not widely prescribed via the NHS as part of a woman’s HRT, there are a number of experts advocating for its use in certain cases. Finding it to be well received by patients who have had little relief in their symptoms via the introduction of oestrogen.

So why is this interesting to me? Whilst the ‘should testosterone be more widely available to women on the NHS’ discussion is important (perhaps an interesting topic for another post!) it is not the thing I find most engaging. Rather, I have found myself thinking about how our perceptions of testosterone might impact our expectations of how and where it should be used. In a cultural landscape where knowledge is often intimately tied to stereotypes and the use of hormones can be neatly packaged into ‘appropriate’ boxes, questions are raised regarding how our ideas of what testosterone does can be shaped by the world around us and as such impact the experiences and expectations of those using it. When phrases such as ‘testosterone fuelled’ become part of a shared narrative that almost exclusively refers to men, what, if any, are the consequences for women using this hormone?

Ultimately this post is not about proving that testosterone ‘belongs’ in the bodies of women (for the record it absolutely does – just because men make more of it doesn’t mean it’s not important to women; let’s remember size ISN’T everything…). It’s about whether the perceptions we hold of hormones can shape the way they are perceived. Could the assumptions we have, have a bigger impact than we realise? Could they inform whether research bids are granted? Whether certain teaching is rolled out? How the hormone is disseminated, used, and more? Most importantly, how might they effect the patients experiences that don’t fit into the box we associate with ‘common place’ testosterone use?

I’d like to know your thoughts. Leave me a comment or send me a message. Finally, please remember harassment of the postal service with testosterone related anecdotes may yield fireworks, but your packages could well never arrive in the same way again.

#hormones #HRT #menopause #testosterone #newblogger #research #healthcare #gender #ethnography #anthropology #PhD

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