The Potency Patch

Like many 60-year-old men, Alfred Meyer had been losing his edge
for years. His physical endurance, muscle mass, and reflexes simply
weren’t what they used to be. And, most troubling of all, his
libido had settled comfortably into semiretirement. ‘I accepted
these losses as natural and irreversible, going with the flow,
looking square in the eye of nothing but spiritual and platonic
relationships,’ he writes in Psychology Today (March/April

Then he discoverd the testosterone patch. Two days into the
treatment, he found himself, quite inexplicably, fixing things
around the house. A week later, spontaneous erections had become
almost — but not quite — a nuisance. And after 14 days, he
reported that his sex life had returned to normal ‘and occasionally
approached monumental.’ His voice was deeper and more
authoritative, he could touch his toes again, and his pot belly was
receding faster than his hairline. ‘I figure I’ve taken 15 years
off my age by now,’ he writes.

Meyer is one of the more recent converts to
testosterone-therapy-made-easy by the Androderm patch. Manufactured
by TheraTech and marketed by pharmaceutical giant SmithKline
Beecham, the patch was given Food and Drug Administration approval
less than two years ago and already has become the treatment of
choice for thousands of middle-aged men like Meyer, who find their
passions flagging. Analysts estimated the market for Androderm at
about $20 million a year.

Before the advent of the patch, only the most serious
testosterone deficiency would convince most men to seek treatment.
The pills, lozenges, topical creams, and various injections
(intramuscular and penile) were neither convenient nor particularly
effective. The two types of patches now on the market (Androderm
and Testoderm) attach easily to hairless parts of the body and
secrete 5 milligrams of testosterone into the bloodstream over the
course of 24 hours — about what a healthy young man would produce
in a day. The only difference between the two patches is where you
have to put them. Androderm patches can be slapped on most anywhere
hair doesn’t grow. The Testoderm model must be applied (gently, oh
so gently) to a shaved scrotum.

Though some might argue that there’s already more than enough
testosterone in the world, Meyer points to a study by Dr. Christina
Wang at UCLA that shows a lack of testosterone may be more
troublesome than too much of the stuff. She studied a group of men
with low levels of the hormone and found that their irritability
and aggression diminished with testosterone replacement

Researchers are also studying other uses for the new patches
that could benefit women. One group is looking at the effects of
testosterone therapy on menopausal women who complain of diminished
sexual desire. (Yes, the ovaries do produce a trickle of
testosterone.) And, according to AIDS Weekly Plus (Sept. 16,
1996), Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has launched a
pilot project to determine whether testosterone enhancement may be
an effective treatment for women with AIDS wasting syndrome, a
condition characterized by loss of weight and muscle tissue during
the late stages of HIV infection.

While there’s no research on the long-term side effects of
testosterone replacement therapy, there is ample evidence to
indicate that the hormone’s bad reputation is getting a much-needed
makeover. Indeed, as Meyer points out, if women begin looking to
testosterone for answers to the mysteries of menopause, their male
partners may be encouraged to check it out as well: ‘There’s the
possibility that a woman’s revived libido will so far outpace her
partner’s that he’ll find himself considering testosterone
replacement just to keep up with her.

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