Studies reveal football could be one of life's most powerful aphrodisiacs.
Quite possibly the oddest way to start any football article I know, but according to certain fields of research in the world of science, it could be true.
This is because scientists have discovered a man's testosterone can rise and fall depending on the success of his team. If they are right, Germany should probably brace itself for a potential "baby boom" later this year.
Psychologists also claim football isn't solely a male libido enhancer either.
That's because certain evolutionary theorists believe that sport has evolved new cultural functions that are very similar to the courting rituals found in the animal kingdom. Yes, of course, a sizeable bank balance represents a good fiscal policy for some people looking for a mate. But that alone doesn't explain why footballers are so highly sought-after.
This is perhaps best summed up in the immortal words of the footballing legend that is Peter Crouch who, according to the Metro.co.uk, responded to the question "What would you be if you weren't a footballer?" by replying: "A virgin."
So, here we analyse the new cultural and biological significance of football as an aphrodisiac. How—generally speaking and in no way intended to cause offence—it's changed the courting rituals of some members of the species and how some players are seen to be wielding its power to their advantage.
Then, finally, how just the act of watching your favourite team could be impacting your testosterone levels more than you think.
Football, Courting Rituals and Hierarchy
First, to understand how football became a courting ritual, we need a quick history lesson.
Charles Robert Darwin was an English naturalist and geologist. His theory of biological evolution—now known as Darwinism—states that all species develop through the natural selection of small variations that increase the individual's ability to compete, survive and reproduce.
Years later and researchers Andreas De Block and Siegfried Dewitte published a paper entitled "Darwinism and the Cultural Evolution of Sports" which states: "From a Darwinian perspective, sports may be seen as one of the cultural activities invented to promote the acquisition of status. That is not to say that gaining status is our (only) conscious or unconscious motive for participating in a game."
A strange concept to propose but one that explains why the Cameroon international—and former Tottenham defender—Benoit Assou-Ekotto was famously quoted in the Guardian in 2010 as saying: "I play for the money. Football's not my passion."
It also explains why Mario Balotelli took to social media to use his new-found status to find potential dates, as reported by Eurosport. Whether consciously or not, he was just using football's new cultural function which De Block and Dewitte propose is "similar to (biological) courtship rituals in other animals."
They add: "Sports (like many other games and cultural practices) establish a reliable prestige hierarchy loosely based on (Darwinian) fitness, and that this function is the ultimate cause of sports."
Mario, of course, isn't the only footballer—or sports person—to do this, he was just unfortunately one of the few to have his chat-up lines broadcast in the media to the masses. But research shows he was merely exercising football's new social function as described by a Darwinian perspective on sport.
Football & Male Hormones
Research published by the Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada in Portugal states: "In many animal species including humans circulating androgen levels in males respond to social challenges. This response has been interpreted as an adaptive mechanism that helps the individuals to adjust their behaviour to changes in social context."
Put more simply, androgens are the group of hormones that play a role in most male traits and reproductive activity. Testosterone is perhaps the most well-known androgen hormone and since, statistically, football is predominantly played and watched by men, it could be theorised the success or failure of a man's team could impact his testosterone and therefore libido.
An idea supported by a study published in the Journal of Hormones and Behaviour that measured the hormonal response to six university tennis players across six matches during their varsity season. What they found was testosterone rose before most matches almost in preparation for the event ahead.
They also found that after matches, mean testosterone rose for winners relative to losers, adding: "Winners with rising testosterone had higher testosterone before their next match, in contrast to losers with falling testosterone, who had lower testosterone before their next match."
In view of these findings, I think it's fair to say we can only ever imagine the hormonal orchestra that was going on inside Mario Gotze's body last summer. After scoring the winning goal in the FIFA World Cup final, he then proceeded to celebrate with his lingerie model girlfriend Ann-Kathrin Brommel.
Gotze was basically winning in every sense of the word.
But studies aren't just specific to tennis either. A study published in the Psychoneuroendocrinology monitored the changing hormone levels in 26 male judoists during competition. What they found was testosterone and cortisol—the body's stress hormone—rose in anticipation before a fight.
But is this just for those who participate? Research from the Department of Psychology at North Dakota State University shows possibly not. The libido enhancing, or suppressing, properties of football could impact spectators, too.
That's because researchers wanted to measure how testosterone and mood is affected by winning and losing. To test this, they conducted two experiments where male college students either won or lost $5 on a game of chance. In both studies, winners not surprisingly reported a more positive mood change compared to losers.
But what's interesting is that after the task was completed, winners exhibited significantly higher testosterone levels than losers.
What these findings suggest is you don't even have to be physically involved to have your testosterone levels altered by football, merely watching and "feeling" your team's win or loss will be enough to play with your hormones and libido.