Was researching - well, you know, Googling and reading, Googling and reading as you do - the hormone oxytocin, a chemical known to be connected with experiences of bonding, and ran into this very interesting piece of information. Oxytocin and Testosterone are antagonists. Originally I was thinking about how some of the social elements under the influence of oxytocin have been issues of stress in Sylvie's training. As many have pointed out women are often much more motivated by social cues (coach trust, fighting for the team, proving worth) than by powerful antagonisms. I've talked about this with fighter Kaitlin Young, and our discussions definitely came back to me as I was reading the below. What is really interesting, at least from a prospective place of investigation, is that it may be the case that many seriously committed female fighters have elevated testosterone. No expert in this, I'll just hazard that some may have just a higher baseline profile of testosterone than average on the bell curve, and some may have increased levels of testosterone as a matter of their regime and their training. Or a combination of both.
This is the really compelling part. If fighter training (and the selection of women who become fighters) will produce elevated testosterone, and the below is also true, being a fighter as a woman may result in oxytocin suppression. This could be related to the supposed need or difference in motivations reported by female fighters as opposed to male fighters (who have different hormonal profiles and balances).
The relevant part:
"...What you might not know is that most hormones work as antagonists to other hormones. In other words, they can balance each other out. When one is released, it tempers or suppresses the over-production of the other. But if you keep over producing one, it can begin to snuff out the other all together.
Now let's look at some examples. We'll start with my favorite, oxytocin, and its antagonist testosterone. You might think that the antagonist to testosterone would be estrogen, the feminine hormone, balancing the masculine. And to some degree you'd be right. But testosterone is more powerfully antagonistic to oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, the one that makes you go, "Oooo" when we see something cute. Oxytocin is released during the experience or even the witnessing of loving kindness and affectionate touch, even when you see it on TV. It's also called the love hormone, the bonding hormone, as well as acting as a stimulant to contractions during pregnancy/birthing. When oxytocin is released, we feel softer, more nurturing, more cuddly, more loving. It changes our visual and mental perceptions allowing us to see the oneness of all things, the interconnectedness of all of us. For a brief moment, it turns us into right-brained systems thinkers, rather than analytical critics. And if you release enough of it, it allows us to see God. Studies have shown that those with high average levels of oxytocin are more likely to believe in God. So can't we just give people oxytocin directly? Sure, but the half life is only about 3 minutes, meaning the effects fade very quickly.
This brings us back to it's antagonist, testosterone, the masculine and aggressiveness hormone. It's released when a breach of trust occurs, making you even more distrusting. And as it rises, it suppresses oxytocin. That's what makes it a chemical antagonist. And just like the antagonist in a good novel, you need a chemical antagonist to keep things in balance in the body. Testosterone makes you more logical, linear, rational, and more goal oriented. In societies, it's testosterone that keeps an eye out for threats, dangers and free loaders, those who would take up resources while returning nothing to the community.
So oxytocin and testosterone. They are both required in a healthy person and a healthy society or culture. The reason we need the protectiveness of testosterone is that not everyone has a healthy regulation of oxytocin. Both biological diversity and abuse results in some people who have little to no oxytocin (or poor regulation). This misregulation of oxytocin has been linked to conditions as diverse as autism and sociopathy. Needless to say, if your oxytocin never gets released it becomes harder to see the point of being loving. There may be rational reason to get along, but there is no compelling biology that would require it of those with poor oxytocin regulation. And without the biological imperative of oxytocin to be loving, we are decidedly self-centered, short sighted and egotistical. Without oxytocin, our testosterone would cause us to be more fear-based in our decisions, or at best, coldly analytical.
The testosterone that gets released when we argue makes us less trusting, more closed minded. The oxytocin that gets released when we reach out to lovingly understand and forgive makes us more trusting and allows us to see world views we didn't know existed..."
IF there is a causal connection between the increase of testosterone and female fighter training (or selection by population) and there is a bonded antagonism between testosterone and oxytocin, then it would be really important to make sure that there is care taken to keep oxytocin levels in check. Yeah, I know, it sounds stupid. More hugs, more "Great job!'s", more "You're a part of our team!"s, but it may very well be the case that there is a chemical deficit is that is created through training and the ambition of fighting. A coach or a team designing training of female fighters would need to purposively attend to this chemical reality.
Further, female athletes themselves, aside from just generally putting themselves in the "best" or most positive training environments, should probably attend to this hormonal balance in concrete, specific ways. Acknowledge that yes, you are in a regime ostensibly designed to increase testosterone, but this may very well put you in an oxytocin deficit. This means taking active measures to stimulate oxytocin, either outside the gym, or in training itself. Don't be passive to your own states. Your training contexts might not be feeding you the right mix, but you can actively work to caretake. Small things like systematically giving compliments to others, helping instruct others (when it is desired), building team chemistry between partners, could effect your own oxytocin levels.
This is the really profound thing. A lot of the time we can address issues like this at the emotional layer of our "character". If we are not motivated, it's our character that has to change. If we are not feeling positive its our character we have to change. The benefit of changing the layer at which we think of these problems to the hormonal level is that we can think of something like oxytocin suppression much in the way we think of dehydration. To stay motivated and positively focused oxytocin levels needs to be in a certain range, just as we need water to be in a certain range. Really strenuous, aggressive training will dehydrate you. It may also leave you in oxytocin deficit.
As to men, I really don't know. I think studies in these areas are pretty sporadic. I do know that hyper-aggressive training contexts like military bootcamp and wartime engagement are also structurally linked to socializing bonds that end up cementing relationships between men in a very deep way. This goes for team sports as well. So in men there may very well also be an important testosterone/oxytocin balance that is culturally addressed in the very nature of male bonding and training. Men get very aggressive, but then can be glued together through rites, practices and mores. Culture finds a way to set the hormones right in traditional forms, that's how traditions last and are propagated. But what is particular to female fighters is that they are in nearly all instances, almost by definition, "outside" of the masculine coded space, they are almost structurally determined to find themselves in oxytocin deficit, in a generalized way. The rise in testosterone may make oxytocin more difficult to regulate. They cannot as easily avail themselves of powerful forms of bonding, at least not as readily as men may be able to. They may find themselves on a testosterone train without balance. This may in fact account for the powerful romantic (and near romantic) attachments women sometimes form with the instructors who train them (not to say that they are un-real, but romance does provide an oxytocin spike in environments where it may be suppressed). And, it may account for the very significant successes some gym have when women are specifically nurtured, and team is really emphasized.
I wrote about this from a very different angle in my guest post:
I hadn't thought about it at the time, but perhaps oxytocin (and testosterone) have a role in that theoretical construct.