Is getting kicked in the nuts the worst pain imaginable? We investigate
If you were hoping that one of the gifts under your Christmas tree this year is underwear scientifically designed to protect your balls, you're out of luck. At least if you live in the United States.
Norwegian underwear brand Comfyballs planned to introduce "the most comfortable boxer trunks ever made" (according to their website) this year, but you'll have to look elsewhere to keep your balls nice and comfy, at least for now.
What happened? And do guys worry too much about protecting their balls? Maybe our testicles are more resilient than we think. For those answers and more, we bring you this helpful FAQ.
Why can't I get Comfyballs in the U.S.? This is the land of the free, right? We're not free enough to buy ball-comforting underwear?
Here's the deal. The U.S. Patent and Trade Office decided that the name is “vulgar." And they might be right. It's not a double entendre. The name is pretty literal. It's basically saying "Hey, buy this and it'll make your balls comfy." And the patent office was not amused, calling it "offensive." Which is too bad, really, especially given all the ball pain that Comfyballs could be preventing.
Ball pain? How does underwear prevent ball pain?
Comfyballs is apparently equipped with something called "Balls Squeeze Avoidance." By lifting your "equipment" away from your legs, the site claims, "you reduce the risk of balls discomfort."
Wait, I don't follow. The underwear squeezes your balls?
We'll let Comfyball founder Anders Selvig explain. "Free hanging balls may become squeezed if or when the owner is moving about," he told us. "BSA (Ball Squeezing Avoidance) is achieved by using Comfyballs and thus having the PackageFront elastics frame in and keeping a man’s equipment in place, up and away from between his legs."
That's a lot of BS, though, right?
Not entirely. Dr. Andrew Kramer, a urologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, says the ball-squeezing underwear "might be pretty reasonable. It looks comfortable to me. However it's nothing different than the standard Under Armour tight underwear would provide or just a simple jockstrap."
Unique or not, a pair of underwear that keeps your testicles confined and comfortable could be useful in extreme ball-injury cases. Like what happened to Otto Schimmelpenninck.
Yeah, we never heard of him either. At least until recently. He's the bass player in a Dutch metal band called Delain, and during a gig in Birmingham, England, he was hit in the balls by a streamer cannon, which ruptured one of his testicles.
After the show, he went to the hospital where, according to his Facebook page, "500 ml of blood was removed from my scrotum and my testicle [was] stitched up." He claims he came very close “to losing my left testicle, but chances are good it will be fine."
Can you rupture a testicle so badly that it needs to be surgically removed?
Just ask Paul Wood. The 30-year-old English rugby player ruptured one of his testicles during a 2012 match, after taking an "accidental knee" (his words) to the groin. The injury was so bad that his doctors did indeed cut out one of his testicles. "It's something I'm going to look at," he told the BBC about his future plans to wear protective gear. "Because obviously I've only got one now." Maybe that Norwegian company can make a special pair of underwear for Wood, and call it Comfyball.
Oh my god.
Are you okay?
I need to lie down. All this talk about testicle ruptures and balls being removed, it's making me woozy.
Most guys feel that way. But here's the interesting thing. Both the heavy metal bassist and the rugby player suffered major testicle damage. And yet, in both cases, they didn't immediately stop what they were doing and focus on the excruciating pain. Schimmelpenninck says he "did manage to finish the show and even squeeze out some grunts" before he finally sought medical attention. And Wood claims that after his ball injury, he "managed to stay on for 20 minutes until [the coach] Tony [Smith] took me off." Do you know what this means?
That you should never play rugby or heavy metal?
No, it means that testicles might be sturdier and more resilient than we think. When somebody kicks you in the nuts, you might react as if it's the most painful thing that's ever happened to you. But some Dutch metal bassist got hit so hard in the nuts that his "scrotum was the size of a big grapefruit," and he kept playing power chords and finished his show. If he can do that and be fine, maybe that says something about your scrotal reactions, or possible overreactions.
Are you suggesting that ball pain is all in my head?
No, of course not. Every guy alive has (probably) experienced an unpleasant and painful blow to the balls. And it hurts for a reason. "Evolutionarily, it makes sense," says Dr. Kramer. "Your body is made to reproduce. It protects itself from trauma to your genitals for survival of the species. So the testicles are privileged in that they have extra-sensory attachments to them that give you a lot of sensation when the testicles are 'attacked,' to protect your reproductive potential."
But as awful as it may feel, on a pain scale, experiencing ball trauma might not be the number one most painful thing that can happen to you. It might actually be number four.
Did you just make that number up?
Nope. It's based on actual research, conducted by Michael Smith, a Cornell University graduate student. One day, a honey bee flew up his shorts and stung him on the testicles. Which got him wondering, is a bee sting on the testicles worse than, say, a bee sting on the butt, or the hand?
Using himself as a guinea pig, he forced bees to sting every part of his body, from his head down to his feet, 190 times in all, over a five-week period. (He studies bee behavior at Cornell, so ostensibly he knew how to do this safely.)
What he learned—the results were published last April—is that getting stung on the balls isn't the most painful. It's only the fourth most painful, with a pain rating of 7.0. The most painful place to get a bee sting? Your nose, with a rating of 9.0. Second place went to the upper lip, with an 8.7 rating. In other words, you should have more sympathy for someone with a fat lip than somebody clutching their balls.
Getting stung by a bee is one thing. What about something a little more ridiculous. Like, I don't know...
Like if somebody attached a 176-pound weight to your testicles and made you swing it back and forth 320 times?
Sure. That's a weird hypothetical.
Sweet mother of mercy!
His name is Zhao Zhenhua and he's (allegedly) a Chinese kung fu master. When this video started circulating online earlier this month, it was widely reported that this practice had something to do with improving fertility. "Swinging weights from the testicles or scrotum will actually increase the scrotal sack size," says Dr. Kramer. "That's just stretching things, like African tribes do with earrings, for example. Unfortunately, it will not increase potency or reproductive potential—that's a huge myth."
But how does he do it? How do you hang an almost 200-pound weight from your balls and not collapse in agony?
A trick like that requires many years of "conditioning both the body and the pain response." Or so says Tim Cridland, aka "Zamora the Torture King," who has devoted his life and career to doing just that. (As a sideshow performer, he regularly jams meat skewers and needles through his arms and cheeks.) Which isn't to say we should all learn how to stick skewers in our arms and hang weights from our balls. But in general, it helps to remember that pain is as much a learned response as it is a physical response.
And that's especially true for guys and their balls. "Fear of being kicked in the balls and any attack to the genital region is a very primal fear," says Cridland. "It's conditioned into men from an early age."
So like FDR said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?
Well, let's not get crazy. Bad things do happen to testicles. Back in 2012, a 42-year-old man in China got into an argument with a woman, and she squeezed his balls so hard that he dropped dead, possibly from a heart attack.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, back up. You can die from having your balls squeezed?
Well sure. But there has to be a lot of other factors for that to happen. "If the guy already has a weak heart," says Dr. Kramer, "then a firm grab and prolonged grab of his testicles would certainly tip him over the edge toward a heart attack. But there's no special reflex between testicle and heart that caused this incident to happen, just a bad stress reaction that taxed his already weakened heart."
Now I'm back to thinking that my balls are my biggest weak spot.
But here's the thing: The guy who drops dead from a balls-squeezing is the exception, not the rule. Do you know how guys typically die from ball injuries? Because they accidentally shot themselves in the crotch.That happens way more than you'd think it would
Even the testicle accidents that don't result in fatalities, they're usually caused by avoidable behavior. Don't, for instance, take a lawn chair into the shower, like this poor fellow did, because you might end up getting your balls snapped inside that lawn chair. And don't, above all, let a witch doctor convince you that it's a good idea to let a hyena eat your balls.
Yeah, that happened.
Those people sound profoundly stupid.
Funny you should say that. Researchers at Newcastle University have been studying a phenomenon called "male idiot theory" (MIT). They examined the ill-advised behavior demonstrated by winners of the Darwin Awards, the annual celebration of human stupidity. Focusing on a 20-year period (1995 to 2014), they found some distressing patterns—88.7% of Darwin Award winners were guys.
Yikes indeed. Which, in a weird way, makes it less surprising that occasionally guys might let a hyena eats their testicles, or bring a lawn chair into the shower, or play rugby without athletic support. Our balls aren't the problem. Some of us need to spend less time worrying about our balls, and more time thinking with our brains.