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 V.19 No.32 | August 12 - 18, 2010 

Miss Diagnosis

Vitals & Bits: The Testicle

quinn.anya / CC BY-SA 2.0

What follows is the 13th installment of a blog series on alibi.com authored by the illustrious Miss Dx. This week's exploration is being published in print because it's damn good. Each entry features a different bit of anatomical real estate, so prod alibi.com every Friday for more on your various bodily tricks and treats. Until then, enjoy the ball game.

There’s nothing quite like a nursery filled with naked newborns all slumbering quietly under the warmers. Fresh out of the womb and toasty, a newborn sleeps with utter abandon, arms out, legs splayed, round tummy gently rising and the fluttery pulsations of a tiny heart visible just beneath the skin.

If you’ve got several newborn males all lined up at once, you’ll be treated to an eyeful. “Here I am, world. Check me out,” they seem to say with the resplendent, frog-legged display of their brand-new parts. And who could blame them? The size of the “equipment,” so to speak, is often disproportionately impressive, almost jarring in relation to the newborn’s otherwise angelic seven-pound body. Sometimes you’ll hear hospital visitors or staff members comment as they walk past the windows of the nursery, admiring the display. “Check out those cojones,” they’ll say, nudging each other appreciatively. Parents seem especially thrilled by the hearty size of their newborn’s testicles.

“Look how BIG they are!” parents will coo, oohing and ahhing over the plump little scrotum.

A few days after birth, parents and baby arrive at the pediatric office for a routine newborn checkup. Every now and again, mom’s face will crumple in concern when it’s time to take off baby’s diaper and examine his bits.

Unlike the penis, extremely large testicles on an adult man are generally only impressive if the enlargement is purely metaphorical.

“I think there might be something wrong,” she says hesitantly. “They were nice and big at first, but now it’s like they shriveled up!” She may glance sidelong at the baby’s father while she says this. The baby’s father will often look at you with grave concern, like a man on trial, and then avert his gaze guiltily, as though this shrinkage were somehow his fault. Little boys take after their fathers, right?

You examine the scrotum, which looks entirely average, and feel for a little lima-bean-sized testicle on each side. When both testicles are accounted for, you assure dad and mom that their newborn is utterly normal and that the trauma of being squeezed through the birth canal often causes an accumulation of fluid in the scrotum called a hydrocele. This fluid makes the testicles appear especially large. The baby’s body reabsorbs the fluid after birth, and the scrotum returns to its normal size. Which is good, really. Because although an enlarged, taut scrotum may be cute on a newborn, it’s not so cute on a full-grown man. Unlike the penis, extremely large testicles on an adult man are generally only impressive if the enlargement is purely metaphorical.

Technically speaking, “scrotum” refers to the dual-chambered sac of skin and muscles in which the testicles are enshrined, while “testicle” refers to the egg-shaped reproductive organ responsible for producing sperm and male hormones such as testosterone. Core body temperature is a bit too warm for human testicles, which is why they live in their own scrotal bachelor pad outside the body. It is absolutely normal to have one testicle that is a little larger or hangs slightly lower than the other, so long as this is not a recent change or accompanied by other symptoms such as pain.

The largest testicles in nature belong to the right whale, weighing in at over 1,100 pounds each (the whole whale can weigh up to 160,000 pounds).

Despite the testicle’s primary role in reproduction, our culture is far more fixated on the flashy penis. The testicles get totally shafted in the attention department. Which is unfortunate, because when it comes to sex, the penis is basically just a salesman and delivery boy. His job is to stand front and center, advertising the product. In the event of a successful sale, he excitedly delivers the shipment to its target destination. The testicles hang out in the background, orchestrating the whole transaction from behind the scenes. They’re like the production team and the director all rolled into one. They make the sperm cells, millions upon millions of them, without which reproduction would be impossible. They make the hormones that help coordinate the male sexual response, from attraction to erection. What’s more, the testicles’ talent isn’t just limited to sex. Testicular function affects the male body from head to toe, from brain to brawn. So as a health care provider, I can tell you that I’m far more concerned with the health of a man’s testes than the size of his advertising department.

The largest testicles in nature belong to the right whale, weighing in at over 1,100 pounds each (the whole whale can weigh up to 160,000 pounds). Whales, like birds and many mammals, keep their testicles inside the body. Only Boreoeutherian land mammals, the large group of mammals to which our species belongs, carry the testicles outside the body in order to keep the boys cool. Is this vital information? No. Will it help you win a round of “Jeopardy!” some day? Probably.

Testicles, which hang from the body by a thick cord of nerves, muscles and blood vessels, can strangulate if the cord twists. This is called testicular torsion, and it’s an emergency. It hurts like hell. Go to the E.R. if you think this is happening to you or to your child.

Other potential perils the testes face include cancer, infection and injury. Good hygiene, protected sex, regular testicular self-exam and proper use of protective sports equipment can help prevent or minimize these problems.

Testicles are more than just a penile cushion. They’re major game players and deserve all the attention and TLC you’d lavish on the Junior in your pants. So guys (and I’m speaking specifically to you teenaged boys who stare at me in terror during your sports physicals), if ever you’re in the doctor’s office, nervously awaiting your testicular exam, try to remember how fascinating and vital your reproductive organs are. Hopefully this will allow you to unzip with confidence and display your goods as proudly as you did the day you were born.

Probe Your Inner Workings

1) The The Thymus Gland
2) The The Epiglottis
3) The The Appendix
4) The The Xiphoid Process
5) The The Penis
6) The The Cervix
7) The The Phagocyte
8) Bone Marrow
9) The The Nipple
10) Piloerector Muscles
11) The The Heart
12) The The Myelin Sheath


Despite its brilliant name, this column is not intended to prevent, diagnose or treat herpes. Or any other diseases, for that matter.

Whitny Doyle is a family nurse practitioner grad student.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
 

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