The Influence of Testosterone on Protective Mating Behaviors in Men

Written by Dr. White, Published on April 29th, 2018

It’s inevitably clear that hormones profoundly influence our feelings of love and affection for others, as well as our romantic and sexual desires. Though it’s entirely apparent, there are still miles to go before we figure out exactly how those hormones impact our interactions with others. There is a massive push in the scientific literature to bring us closer to understanding these complex physiological interactions, especially concerning the influence of Testosterone.

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An article in Physiology & Behavior helps shed some light on how Testosterone influences male relationships. One of the most notable aspects of a relationship between a man and a woman is the notion of possession. When a man and a woman are dating traditionally, both partners tend to have a desire for loyalty and faithfulness. This recent study provides evidence that that desire for fidelity is influenced by Testosterone Levels, at least to a certain extent.

Men with elevated Testosterone Levels compared to baseline tend to put more personal energy into making sure that their lover is properly devoted and faithful, and are more likely to respond with feelings of jealousy and competitiveness toward potential suitors.

What is Mate Retention Behavior?

Mate Retention Behaviors are any actions that a partner takes to reduce the risk of their partner going astray. There are a wide range of these behaviors, many of which are positive for the partner, but not all. For example, many men like to provide gifts or do good things for their partner to keep them loyal. One study even examines men’s propensity to offer oral sex as a Mate Retention Behavior (it’s effective). On the other hand, these behaviors often demonstrate the darker side of human relationships, such as stalking or threatening the partner.

Testosterone and Competition vs. Testosterone and Mate Retention

There has been a huge amount of attention paid to the manner in which Testosterone influences competition among males, both for mates and in the sense of athletic performance. Testosterone is the driving factor which influences men to seek the attention of a partner. There has been much less focused research conducted with regard to what happens after a man has found his mate. It’s obvious that Testosterone still plays a strong role, but the body of research just isn’t there to explain the specifics.

Lead researcher Steven Arnocky made it his goal to study what happens to men after they have acquired their mate. Professor Arnocky teaches at Nipissing University and is the founder of the Human Evolution Laboratory. The name of the study is “Intrasexual competition mediates the relationship between men’s testosterone and mate retention behavior.”

It’s important to recognize that, even after a man has found a partner, there is still a competition going on. There is always the risk that another man can sweep a partner off his or her feet. If a man wants to stay in a relationship, he’s going to have to work for it, which is where Mate Retention Behaviors come into play. These behaviors can be divided into two classes: Benefit Provisioning and Cost Inflicting.

Benefit Provisioning Behaviors are positive things that men do to keep a relationship going. They give gifts. They make women feel happy and comfortable. They help support a lifestyle that is congruent with a good life. Cost Inflicting Behaviors, on the other hand, are actions that serve to keep other men at bay or coerce the partner into staying in the relationship. Confronting a man that talks to your girlfriend is a Cost Inflicting Behavior. Staying close to a partner in public situations to keep men away is another such behavior.

Two forms of Cost Inflicting Behavior which are popular in media and pop culture today are Negging and Gaslighting. Negging is the act of making backhanded compliments and similar gestures to diminish confidence. Gaslighting refers to any psychological effort to make another person doubt their own views and perspectives as a means of control.

Why is There So Little Research Regarding Mate Retention Behaviors?

As you might know, animal research is a huge aspect of our knowledge of the human condition. Humans are rare among mammals in that they tend to stay with their partner, often for life. Most mammals mate and separate. The male might stay long enough to help rear the brood, but that’s generally it. This study spends more time focusing on how Testosterone impacts pair bonding, and the male desire to sustain that bond.

This study investigated a group of 108 undergraduate males at Nipissing University. Testosterone Levels were measured using saliva samples. Along with those samples, participants completed a number of surveys which investigated their feelings and notions regarding male competition for partners and their ideas on mate retention. Upon data analysis, a significant link was discovered between Mate Retention Behaviors and Testosterone Levels, though this connection was indirect.

How Does Testosterone Impact Mating Behaviors in Men?

Specifically, Testosterone Levels appear to be linked to Intrasexual Competitive and Cost Inflicting Behaviors. This means that Elevated Testosterone tends to make it harder for other men to come in romantic contact with their partner. On the other hand, Testosterone does not appear to play a role in Benefit Provisioning. Men with higher Testosterone are more likely to see other men as competitors and act accordingly but are not necessarily more likely to provide more for their partner than a man with lower Testosterone Levels.

While the study produced good results, there is obviously an immense amount of further investigation that needs to be done. Future studies will likely investigate how men in committed relationships differ from single men, and how men with different Testosterone Profiles fair at mate retention.

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