Forget All Those Stereotypes: Men Are Sensitive ; `Many Men Continue to Be Pushed into an Aggressive Role That Is Never Going to Be Entirely Fulfilling for Them'
Orr, Deborah, The Independent (London, England)
HEAVENS. NEW millennium, new men. A brace of studies released this week suggests that there's nothing on this good earth more empathetic than a male. The first, presented by Dr Anne Storey, of Memorial University in Newfoundland, confirms that men really do undergo "sympathetic pregnancies" when their partner is having a baby. The second, from Sophie Crossfield of the University of Hertfordshire, has found that in partnerships in which both protagonists are "high-fliers", women are far more likely to pass their stress on to their partners than men.
Dr Storey's research confirms what has already been suggested in studies of birds, mice and monkeys - that some male animals experience hormonal swings before a birth. Taking blood from 34 couples attending ante-natal classes, she tested it to find that levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that is involved in creating the mother-baby bond, prolactin, which triggers milk production, and testosterone in men, changed to mirror the much more significant changes in the hormone levels of their partners. Among the men who reported the strongest symptoms, such as sympathetic fatigue, the hormone changes were the most marked.
After the baby's birth, men's testosterone levels dropped by about a third, which researchers suggest is linked to their feeling "parental". Men were also asked to give a blood sample and then listen to a six-minute tape of a crying baby and watch a video of a baby breast-feeding. They found that this led to a drop in cortisol, suggesting that the mere presence of babies can trigger hormonal changes in men.
The findings, which were published in the latest issue of New Scientist, offer confirmation to an anecdotal phenomenon that has been in circulation since the year dot. As such, the findings are to be welcomed. Men who claim sympathetic pregnancies have always been distrusted by women and lampooned by men.
It is hard to think about the subject without remembering Charles Hawtrey in Carry On Doctor, screaming like a thing possessed over his labour pains, or men from countless sit-coms enthusiastically attending ante-natal classes and out-suffering their pregnant partners. I seem to remember that Martin Clunes, in Men Behaving Badly, was ailing before conception had actually taken place.
It would be grand to think that the discovery of a scientific basis for what has, until now, been dismissed as hysteria will promote the idea of fathers as involved and capable carers. But the image of the sit-com endures, and it is hard not to harbour a suspicion that since the men who took part in the experiment were drawn from ante-natal classes anyway, that the study is perhaps a little less generally applicable than it might appear to be. Men in attendance at ante-natal classes are by definition likely to be the ones most apt to be sensitive to their partners condition.
So while we now know that nature takes a hand in preparing men for the birth of a baby, the researchers admit that the most likely explanation is that a combination of pheromones and behaviour from women are picked up by men. So, only men who are deeply involved with their partner are likely to be affected.
Just like the cliche always told us. It is depressing to note that men who display such symptoms have in the past been ridiculed as unmanly, even though we now know that they are doing what comes naturally, and what is best for their children.
The second piece of research into empathetic males is just as interesting, especially since it overturns all that has been found in previous studies. Received wisdom is that men are not affected by their partner's work stress, while women typically became anxious and depressed by the strain of their husband's jobs. But these studies have not always included women who worked, and they have focused on …
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Publication information: Article title: Forget All Those Stereotypes: Men Are Sensitive ; `Many Men Continue to Be Pushed into an Aggressive Role That Is Never Going to Be Entirely Fulfilling for Them'. Contributors: Orr, Deborah - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 7, 2000. Page number: 5. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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