Feminization, demasculinization or emasculation refers to the development of an organism away from the male phenotype and toward the female phenotype, resulting in effeminacy. Alternatively, these terms also refer to social norms encouraging or enforcing naturally female behavior, e.g. by reducing men's infidelity as well as their competitive and "toxic" behavior, while also increasing their agreeableness, parental investment and overall domestication. These sociocultural trends are largely driven by feminist politicians with the goal of abolishing the "classical gender roles" (or rather advancing their careers in a system that favors these values).
There is a growing body of evidence of men having become less masculine and more feminine in various regards in modern, industrialized nations. For women, there is diverging evidence regarding the secular trajectory on the masculine-feminine dimension, with women having become more masculine in some regards and more feminine in others.
Evidence of secular trends[edit | edit source]
Men[edit | edit source]
In various Western and Non-Western countries, serum testosterone (T) levels in males have declined substantially in the past century. Today, U.S. men have 30% lower T-levels compared to 1987, affecting all age groups similarly. Similarly, a Danish study found male cohorts born in the 1960s have on average 14 percent lower testosterone levels than males from the 1920s. An Israeli study found a similar secular decline as well. Testosterone supplement prescriptions have doubled from 2010 to 2013 in the U.S. In a study from 2018, 409 male students a staggering 35% met the criteria for androgen deficiency based on a survey instrument designed to assess older males, and the score on this survey instrument significantly correlated with stress levels and poor sleep quality, which are considered symptoms of androgen deficiency. It remains, however, unclear to which extent a decline in T is related to a feminization as, firstly, the male body is able to adapt to low T-levels, secondly, serum T-levels are at best weakly involved in regulating male development and behavior, and thirdly, adult serum T-levels are only weakly related to prenatal exposure to sex-specific hormones where they affect the phenotype the most (see testosterone).
Some of the trend in average T-levels can be attributed the aging population due to older males exhibiting lower testosterone levels. Various comorbidities, including diabetes and obesity are known to decrease testosterone levels, and these conditions have become more prevalent over time. But even after controlling for confounders like age, race, BMI and comorbidities, alcohol consumption, smoking, and physical activity, total T-level still decreased highly significantly (p < 0.0001) from 605.39 ng/dL 1999-2000, 567.44 ng/dL in 2003-2004, 424.96 ng/dL in 2011-2012, 431.76 ng/dL in 2013-2014, to 451.22 ng/dL in 2015-2016, with average levels declining by about 1% per year. Obesity has been specifically ruled out as a sufficient primary explanation for this trend.
According to a number of researchers, most prominently California Department of Health Services epidemiologist Shanna Swan, the sperm count in Western men's ejaculate has dropped dramatically, a trend that has been dubbed 'Spermageddon' in popular press. This trend was first noted by Scandinavian researchers in 1992 who claimed evidence of men's ejaculate only yielding roughly half of the sperm counts compared to the previous generation. In another study, in 2012, 40% of U.S. men were within what was considered as the 'subfertile' range of sperm count, up from 17% in the 1920th. Sperm count appears to be related to fertility, though it's only a weak link. In 2011, the fertility rate among those younger than 30 was 15% lower compared to 1980s levels, however, the fertility rate for men in their 30s has increased by 21% and for men aged 40 years and older, the rate has increased nearly 30%, so it is difficult to distinguish delayed fertility and potentially higher infertility rates. Infertility rates have been estimated to have increased by 4% since the 1980s, which was however mostly attributed to deferred fertility. Degradation of sperm count, motility, morphology, and seminal volume has also been observed in India- Paralleling this decline in human sperm, dog semen quality has also seen degradation in some areas. However, a 2017 meta study criticized that the trends in sperm counts in Western men were obtained only after combining data showing no significant trends in U.S. sperm counts with declining Western European trends.
Young adults have also exhibited a decline in grip strength between 1985 and 2012, though with more obvious potential causes such as sedentary lifestyle and computer-related work as evidenced by women's grip strength also declining, although less significantly, with women aged 30-34 even showing an increase. There has also been a secular decline in grip strength among athletes, as well as a decline in overall skeletal muscle strength.
Corroborating these secular trends at the physiological and physical level, one can also observe feminization trends at the psychological and behavioral level. For example, there has been a heightened incidence of depression in the U.S. between 2005 and 2015, with women being generally more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders and scoring higher in neuroticism/mental instability (implying these are a sexually dimorphic mental disorders). MMPI Depression (D) scale scores of male (and female) college students have significantly increased between 1938 and 2007 along with a variety of other mental disorders. Males also experienced a secular trend in the MMPI Masculinity/Femininity (Mf) scale toward femininty within the same time frame. A longitudinal survey of Italian adolescents between 2000 and 2017 also found men's sociosexual attitudes and behaviors to have become significantly feminized with Italian men less likely stating to stray in sexual relationships and less likely prefer younger women. Males identifying as homosexuals are on the rise as well, and there is evidence of homosexual men's brains being overall feminized, and homosexuals are more often described as effeminate and 'sissies' during adolescence when compared to heterosexuals (see homosexuality). Furthermore, a number of studies suggest that individuals low in testosterone are less honest, less altruistic, less prosocial, less cooperative, engaging in more group-think (less interest in minority positions), some of which can be identified as female traits, especially dishonesty, group-think and perhaps gossipy non-cooperativeness (see female sneakiness), however none of these results on testosterone affecting pro-social behavior have a substantial replication record nor meta studies backing them.
Men are also widely perceived to be less masculine today compared to former earas. According to a survey of Swedish men and women, 51 percent of respondents said Swedish men were less masculine today than in previous times, and only 13 percent of men and women said today’s men were more masculine than their predecessors.
Women[edit | edit source]
There is some evidence of a feminization of women, albeit much weaker evidence than in the case of men. For example, the onset of puberty has receded from 16.5 years in 1880 to 12.5 years in the U.S. Females who experience puberty earlier have an earlier onset of anxiety disorders, i.e. higher neuroticism, which is a sexually dimorphic feature, and thus should be expected to increase with a secular feminization of women. However, men have likely experienced an earlier maturation as well with regards to facial hair and voice break, pointing to better nutrition being a common cause. Further, there was no secular trend in adult crying propensity between 1981 and 1996 for either sex, which suggests this relation may only apply to inter-individual differences, rather than secular trends in pubertal timing, however, the secular changes may be too slow to be easily measurable within such a short time period. There is overall a secular trend in the prevalence of depression, affecting both genders equally. Women have also experienced a decline in orgasmic frequency over the recent years, with women generally having a lower sex drive, hence this could be regarded as femininization. Life history speed has slowed for both sexes, with slower LH tending to be female trait in general. Obesity is on the rise as well for both sexes, with obesity also being sexually dimorphic to some extent, as evidenced by women having more subcutaneous fat and a higher prevalence of obesity (but not overweight). In popular press and lookism forums, anecdotes have been widely reported about women's secondary sex characteristics having become more pronounced over time. Indeed, secular trends in bust circumference have been documented in the U.S. and Great Britain and may hint at increased breast size, however this trend might also be explained by the obesity epidemic. The rate of breast cancer has increased over time, but breast cancer and breast volume are not consistently linked.
Another aspect pointing to a femininzation of women is that sex differences in gendered occupational preferences are maximal in the most progressive Western countries (what is known as the gender paradox), which might partly be attributable to a feminiziation in more industrialized nations. However, this trend is commonly explained by women's innate preferences becoming more exposed with liberation (namely preferences for the private, social and domestic domains reconcilable with childrearing rather than public domains).
Conversely, there is more substantial evidence of women's behavior and preferences having become masculinized in recent history, as e.g. evidenced by a longitudinal survey of Italian adolescents between 2000 and 2017, in which women stated to engage more in casual sex and less likely regard premarital sex as problematic. In particular, women's rate of infidelity has increased, closing the gap in the youngest U.S. cohorts. Today, women also more often choose to organize their lives around a career, which used to be an almost exclusively male domain, with there evidence being that women with a career tend to be less satisfied and happy (see hypergamy). Nowadays, women also swear more, with men generally swearing more than women. On the other hand, female university students' scores remained unchanged in the MMPI Masculinity/Femininity (Mf) scale between 1938 and 2007 while men experienced a change toward femininity.
Diverging trends in women's trajectory regarding feminization could be explained by their sexuality and overall behavior being more malleable than men by sociocultural factors, likely largely owing to them being more agreeable and socially compliant. This means while women may become more feminine biologically like men, they might become more masculine due to social norms pushing them toward historically masculine behavior such as promiscuity and gaining prestige through material or scientific achievements.
Adverse effects[edit | edit source]
Surprisingly little is known about the health effects of low serum androgen levels or the overexposure of prenatal estrogens in male foetae, which is referred to as hypoandrogenism or androgen deficiency. Although low testosterone levels are indeed linked to various adverse health outcomes, especially in the elderly, the direction of causality is often unclear. Symptoms of androngen deficiency include low sex drive, impotence, shrinkage of the testicles and penis, diminished masculinization decreased facial and body hair growth, diminished muscle mass, increased anxiety and depression, frequently also fatigue, insomnia, headaches, and osteoporosis, gynecomastia (meaning the development of female breasts) and other kinds of feminization. Low androgen levels have also been linked to the micropenis condition. In a study from 2018 that found hints of androgen deficiency in male students, the authors stressed that there is a need for the investigation of endocrine disruptions (meaning interference of hormones of external origin with internal process) in young men. Femininized men might feel less confident in their sexuality and hence might adopt extreme positions such as strong anti-homosexual attitudes in efforts of appearing more manly and compensating for the lack of manhood.
Causes[edit | edit source]
Pollutants[edit | edit source]
Various causes have been suggested for these potentially concerning trends. One line of research investigates the roles of pollutants, especially of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that influence development mainly during the gestation period and early childhood. The endocrine system is the main messenger system regulating the release of hormones as part of biological developmental schedules regulating growth of tissues, sexual maturation among other maturation processes. The main chemicals of interest are xenoestrogens, i.e. estrogen-like molecules that can be found in mass consumer products, potentially affecting sexual development. The most prominent candidates for such molecules are phthalates that can be found in plasticisers (plastic softeners) and other constituents of mass consumer products. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and polychlorinated biphenyl 153 (PCB153) have been identified as degrading dog's samen. Mothers with a high blood serum concentration of phthalate metabolites (in the upper quartile) showed five times greater odds that their boys had femininized play behavior compared to mothers in the lowest quartile. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is a group of particularly stable chemicals which are used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products. Such stable chemicals are also referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ when they are highly resistant to heat, oils, water, which means they accumulate in the human body without degrading. In 50 samples of mother milk tested, levels of PFAS were found to be nearly 2,000 times higher than what is considered safe for drinking water. Exposure to PFAS has been linked linked to birth defects, cancer, plummeting sperm counts and other serious health problems. Further, genital malformations in males have been attributed to prenatal exposure to pesticides. In a study from 2010, it was found estrogens from pregnant cows can be absorbed through drinking their milk, causing men's T levels to drop. Both human's and other mammal's breast milk contains hormones regulating growth and maturation in the offspring. Hormones in dairy foods have biological effects in humans and animals, ranging from growth promoting effects that related to sex steroids, as well as carcinogenic properties. However, in two highly powered studies, dairy intake did not affect cardiovascular health or overall mortality, and in a study from the Netherlands, dairy intake was unrelated to sperm quality.
Regarding the increase of women's bust circumference, it remains unclear whether it is driven by the rise of obesity or by xenoestrogens actually increasing breast size. Some links have been found between xenoestrogens and breast density, as well as between agricultural environment and onset of breast development. Anecdotes about increasingly pronounced secondary sex characteristics may partly be driven by women's increased self-sexualization in public and social media, possibly deriving from economic stagnation and inequality.
Xenoestrogens are quite salient in popular culture. For example, it has been suggested vegetable foods with estrogen-like constituents like nuts and oilseeds, soy products, cereals, breads, and legumes contribute to male feminization, which gave rise to the soyboy meme. However, a 2010 meta-study of found that soy foods did not alter measures of bioavailable testosterone concentrations in men. The role of xenoestrogens is also notoriously found in various theories about how a hidden, conspiring elite seeking to control modern Western civilization by domesticating men or even seeking to depopulate it. Famously, U.S. entertainer Alex Jones has claimed the government had deployed "gay bombs" for the purpose of depopulation, supposedly also turning "frogs gay".
Life style[edit | edit source]
Another potential cause of feminization may be the modern sedentary lifestyle involving prolonged sitting and overall reduced ecological harshness which likely poses an evolutionary mismatch. Males in particular have been much more physically active in ancient societies, e.g. going hunting, engaging in combat or housebuilding, boatbuilding, lumbering and metalworking. This could explain the decline in muscularity, e.g. grip strength in particular. A reason for the decline in T might also be increased indoor temperatures, wearing of tight-fitting underwear and decreased smoking.
Mutations[edit | edit source]
A third line of research suggests the increase of mutations in Western country's gene pools is responsible for these trends, caused by an overall relaxation of ecological harshness and hence of selection pressure, primarily through much lower infant mortality rates (and lower birth rates). This can also explain the higher incidence of overweight and obesity in wildlife due to human environmental impacts also reducing selection pressures on wild animals by decimating predator populations and introducing extra nutrition through waste. In a study on the secular decline in IQ, mutational load was a greater predictor of the decline than neurotoxins, which might suggest mutations are generally a stronger factor than toxins. On the other hand, declines in T affect all age groups nearly equally, suggesting estrogenic toxins might be acting on all age levels (while mutations would be expected to affect the younger generations more). Mutations could explain why women simultaneously see a masculinization due to them perhaps also regressing to a less defined intersex phenotype, with men experiencing a stronger trend due to their phenotype being overall less stable lacking the sex chromosome redundancy as also evidenced by the variability hypothesis. Women's phenotype may be more stable because it is arrested in development and more neotenous, and perturbations may prevent full development.
Culture[edit | edit source]
A fourth research direction considers psycho-social, cultural and socially epistatic causes such as the inhibition of male status and play drive, and the disruption of the natural gender roles. Various contemporary scholars and pubic intellectuals have voiced concerns about the decline of rough and tumble play, overall overmothering and tighter regulation of men's sexuality from social norms to anti-sexual harassment legislation, to have negatively impacted male psychological functioning; among them Jordan Peterson, Edward Dutton and many others. Such disturbances may also partly be rooted in a higher mutational load in the population's gene pool as suggested by the social epistasis amplification model. However, there is generally very little causal evidence present in this regard, and it contradicts evidence of human psychology being generally hard hard to perturb in a predictable manner.
The trend toward slower LH appears to be largely caused by low fertility due to higher female education and workforce participation, economic stagnation and hedonism. This slowing likely also increases narcissism, overmothering, helicopter-parenting, overdiagnosis of mental disorders, overemphasis of psychological trauma, due to parents 'putting all their eggs in one basket', which may drive some of men's feminized socialization, or even biological feminization due to decreased ecological harshness or disturbed social epistasis.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Behavioral sink
- Social epistasis amplification model
- Trans-vestigiality hypothesis
- Dominance hierarchy
References[edit | edit source]
- Chodick, G., Epstein, S., & Shalev, V. (2020). Secular trends in testosterone- findings from a large state-mandate care provider. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 18(1). doi:10.1186/s12958-020-00575-2
- J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006:doi10.1210/jc.2006-1859
- Maheshwari, A. (2008). Human Reproduction. pp. 538–542.
- Weinberger, A. H., Gbedemah, M., Martinez, A. M., Nash, D., Galea, S., & Goodwin, R. D. (2017). Trends in depression prevalence in the USA from 2005 to 2015: widening disparities in vulnerable groups. Psychological Medicine, 48(08), 1308–1315. doi:10.1017/s0033291717002781
- Eisenegger, C., Naef, M., Snozzi, R., Heinrichs, M., & Fehr, E. (2010). Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour. Nature, 463(7279), 356–359. doi:10.1038/nature08711
- Germar, M., & Mojzisch, A. (2020). Basal Testosterone Renders Individuals More Receptive to Minority Positions. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 194855062094511. doi:10.1177/1948550620945116
- Van Honk, J., Montoya, E. R., Bos, P. A., van Vugt, M., & Terburg, D. (2012). New evidence on testosterone and cooperation. Nature, 485(7399), E4–E5. doi:10.1038/nature11136
- Kontula, O., & Miettinen, A. (2016). Determinants of female sexual orgasms. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 6(1), 31624. [Abstract]
- Bhasin, S. (2007). Secular Decline in Male Reproductive Function: Is Manliness Threatened? The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 92(1), 44–45. doi:10.1210/jc.2006-2438
- Sarraf, M. A., Peñaherrera-Aguirre, M., Fernandes, H. B., & Becker, D. (2018). What caused over a century of decline in general intelligence? Testing predictions from the genetic selection and neurotoxin hypotheses. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 4(3), 272-284. [Abstract]