Family Jewels

Appraising the Family Jewels: Two things to keep in mind

Warning: this article uses the word "testicles." Are you giggling? Grow up. Get used to it. Testicles. Testicles. Testicles. There. Over it? Good.


Ha ha, just kidding. Not going to say Penis.

Perhaps you're wondering about my qualifications to write this. I'm not a doctor, no, but I do have first hand experience. You see, unlike half the writers out there, I have balls, and I think it takes a real man to admit that.

Most popular references to testicles involve harsh contact with a foot, or a baseball, and you may have wondered why they're hanging out there in harm's way in the first place. Anyone who's ever been kicked in the old landmines would much rather see them installed safely behind the ribcage, but as it turns out, they're dangling below because sperm production requires a temperature a bit lower than that of the rest of the body.

To maintain ideal temperatures, special muscles raise and lower the landing gear as required. When it's warm, the 'nads drop down a couple inches and swing like wind chimes. When entering cold water, they pull up so fast and far it seems like a plunger may be required to get them back again. Look at those old group photos of the nudist camp vacation, and you can probably guess the temperature.

From an engineering perspective, it all sounds like a fancy fix to a problem that should have been addressed early in the design phase.

For the record, getting whacked down there does in fact hurt. A lot. It's used as humor in movies, but in real life it's pretty hard to laugh, even when it happens to somebody else. I remember once in seventh grade, just before lunch, the whole school became aware of an injury that happened near the gym. There were all these pipes set vertically in the concrete, about three feet high, to keep cars out of the quad. Sometimes we would show off by leapfrogging over them, a moderately hazardous trick. One boy didn't quite clear.

The bell rang, and we formed a somber circle around the crash site. I don't know how we all found out; nobody remembered being told. It was as if we were all notified by an invisible pain wave that shot out in all directions from the gym, penetrating walls and triggering some primitive receptor in the brain.

Had the same collision happened to a girl, it would of course been incredibly painful as well. But it was less likely to happen to a girl, because girls are smarter than that. Or perhaps they just have less testosterone.

Funny that the high levels of testosterone in pubescent boys may contribute to behaviors that put at risk the very producers of testosterone. But not that funny.

Testosterone, the only hormone blamed for violent crime and world wars, is largely responsible for what makes men men. Love my gender, love my testosterone. Women produce a little bit themselves, and sometimes they're injected with testosterone as part of certain types of menopause therapy. Where does that extra supply of testosterone come from? I don't even want to think about it.

Testicles come in various sizes. Typically one is a tad larger, and most often it's the one on the left (from the owner's perspective). There's no real advantage to slightly larger ones, but men so-equipped always seem to drop little hints to make sure people know about them, as if to advertise their supposedly enhanced virility. The really big ones are more trouble than they're worth, take it from me.

Whatever the size, most men are keenly interested in keeping them. Hopefully they're doing self-examinations to guard against testicular cancer, the most common cancer in young men. This is the cancer that Lance Armstrong recovered from, so if you want to be a big athlete like him you better start fondling your balls. I'd tell you how, but I'm shy. Ask a doctor or at least check a few sites about it online.

So far we've talked about two of the three main things testicles produce: Testosterone and pain. Now let's talk about sperm.

The family jewels produce several hundred million sperm each day. At 60 microns each, stretch them out and lay them end to end and you've got 100 miles of sperm. How exhausting! No wonder men need to sit around and watch sports.

It takes about two months to produce sperm in the testicle, after which it's shipped off to a storage tank called the vas deferens, where a famous scene from Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex was filmed. (The sperm were lined up and waiting like paratroopers… Funny stuff.) From there, they await their destiny. If they're scheduled for departure, they are mixed with fluid from the prostate and whoosh! Another attempt at procreation.

Clearly, the odds are against any individual spermatozoa passing along the genetic code, but their sheer numbers and dedication to the cause frequently cause at least one to make its way to an egg, whether you want it to or not.

The most reliable method of preventing pregnancy is to lock yourself in a tower. Those who cannot afford a tower (or are restricted by building codes), and are certain they don't want to have children, can opt for a vasectomy, one of the easiest surgeries in the world to put off.

The procedure is short, about as painful as filling a cavity, and is performed under local anesthetic. All that they do is cut a little slit in the scrotum to get to the tubes leading out from the testes, which they snip and tie off. Still, it's hard to relax and enjoy the doctor's jokes ("Do you come here often?").

The patient doesn't limp out to a new life of harem guarding, nor does he pick up a new career as the church soprano. After a few days of walking funny, the patient is exactly the same as before, except he's infertile, which is not the same thing as impotent.

"Does anything, you know, come out?" you may ask in your coy way. The answer is yes, because the sperm was just a tiny part of the overall payload.

Balls. It's been said that Hitler had just one. There's also a story from the Ninth Century about a Pope John, who was really a Pope Joan, who had none, which wasn't discovered for over two years. Thereafter, the story goes, Popes had to reveal the source of their mojo before taking the job. It may not be true, but it's still a good story. And good stories from the Ninth Century are hard to come by.