So, the male menopause: does it exist, or does it not? The latest research is inconclusive – which is itself, somewhat strangely, considered newsworthy. It doesn't exist, says one report. It does, but affects only 2% of men, says another. Were I a woman, though, I might be tempted to ask: is there nothing feminine that men, these days, do not wish to appropriate?
Let's have a look at the symptoms. (Another term for the syndrome is the rather wonderful "late-onset hypogonadism", which gives us a clue: literally, "getting on a bit and underballed". As in "underwhelmed", but with your balls.) The sexual ones include "poor morning erection, low levels of sexual desire and erectile dysfunction". Others are "depression, fatigue and an inability to perform sexual activity", which seem to be pretty similar to the first lot, as well as "changes in sleeping patterns, poor concentration, feeling worthless, and anxiety". The debate would appear to revolve around whether this is down to changes in testosterone level or not. There is, however, a case for saying these symptoms are simply an increasing awareness of the passage of time and the futility of life, for which the traditional remedies are a convertible sports car and an ill-advised change of sexual partner. (Now no longer available on the NHS as a result of the economic crisis.)
Medically speaking, though, you can't have a male menopause, by definition. "Menopause" means "the end of the monthly cycle", and men do not have a monthly cycle of fertility. They have a daily one which not only isn't a cycle, it is only interrupted by sleep and sometimes not even then. I would suggest that any man approaching old age and not experiencing a waning of sexual desire and feelings of worthlessness and anxiety is either Hugh Hefner, or otherwise wealthy and happy, or so deluded that to disabuse the sufferer would be an act of cruelty.
The nebulousness and near-universal applicability of the symptoms are in stark contrast to those of the female menopause, whose hot flushes etc are very pointed reminders that your child-bearing days are over – or, as I once heard one rather blunt-speaking doctor (male) put it: "Nature has finished with you." I would not presume to say too much on these matters, being neither medically qualified nor a woman, but the very concept of the male menopause is evidence of the creeping blurring of gender differences, a phenomenon that medical science fails to recognise – largely, I suspect, on the grounds that it is a purely sociological condition, a willed attempt by certain men, often from the best motives, to try and experience "what it feels like" to be a woman.
I wonder how many men who claim to be suffering from the "male menopause" are men who were early adopters of those fake pregnancy tummies which replicated all the weighty uncomfortableness of being gravid (save, obviously, that of parturition itself, although doubtless someone's working on that too).
It is also part of another tendency: that of trying to find a medical justification for everything that afflicts the spirit and the flesh. But sometimes you just can't fight this kind of thing. WB Yeats, driven into a bit of a grump by the ageing process after writing Sailing to Byzantium ("that is no country for old men" etc) was said to have been rejuvenated by a vasectomy and the injection of monkey glands or something; which did not increase his lifespan by any great amount, but certainly put some lead in his pencil as far as his sex life went, and led to some fine late poems. So how about this? Have treatment for the "male menopause" if you insist, but if you haven't produced a poem as good as Long-Legged Fly in six months, then forget it, and stop moaning. It's life.
Nicholas Lezard, a literary critic for the Guardian.