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 1997).

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 therapy.

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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