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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Testicles

Does getting kicked in the nads hurt worse than childbirth? Does cutting them off make you sing soprano? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Testicles! Does Mr. T really eat them? Does Dr. Dre really have a fat sack? Let’s dangle some answers.

Lie #1: Getting Kicked in the Nuts Hurts More Than Childbirth

There have been crappy jokes about this for as long as there have been balls — “If having a baby is so painful, why do so many women choose to do it again a few years later? If I got kicked in the nuts, you wouldn’t see me coming back for more” — and there’s a reason for them: It starts with M and rhymes with “fisogyny.” It’s a shitty way of men dismissing women’s experiences and proclaiming themselves to just be outright better.

(Falsely equating the two is silly for other reasons too, of course. Choosing to have a baby is one of the biggest decisions most people ever make, a life-altering decision involving huge amounts of responsibility. Getting kicked in the balls generally doesn’t involve forward planning and tends not to be a date people get tattooed on them and think of as the greatest day of their life.)

Birth is a complicated process, and there is a massive spectrum of experiences depending on a wealth of factors — underlying health issues, pain relief preferences, delivery method, fetal positioning, prior pregnancies and so on. Some women have straightforward births, some have 36-hour-plus odysseys of suffering. 

There are conditions that are thought to sometimes be as painful, if not more painful, than a “typical” childbirth — endometriosis, fibromyalgia, stomach ulcers, sciatica and kidney stones are all on the list, but being hoofed in the nads isn’t.

“When I was about 15, I made a very poorly received joke about a classmate’s breasts, and her best friend kicked me in the nuts wearing steel-toe capped boots,” says Simon, a British man now in his 30s. “I dropped to the ground like a sack of shit — which, I guess, I kinda was — and couldn’t breathe. I could barely see. I lay on my side for about a minute, gasping, surrounded by people who thought I was an asshole. It was a terrible day.” 

However, asked whether he thinks his experience compares to childbirth, Simon — a father of two — scoffs. “Giving birth? That’s like 14 hours of agony and feeling like you’re being torn asunder. I saw what my partner went through, and fuck that. I was sitting in a geography lesson 15 minutes after being kicked, with squashed balls and a sore tummy, but basically fine. If I had to either give birth or have my nuts booted halfway to my brain again, I’d choose nuts every time. Kick me in the nuts every day for nine months, I’m not having a baby.”

Lie #2: “Bollocks” Means Bad but “The Dog’s Bollocks” Means Good

True, but if only that were the end of it. For some reason, in British, Irish and Australian English, the fun word for the silly balls in the hairy bag has acquired endless meanings. Sure, it means testicles (“I’ve hurt my bollocks!”), but it can also mean making a mistake (“You bollocksed that up” or “You made a total bollocks of that”); dismissing something as nonsense (“What a lot of bollocks!”); a general expression of displeasure (“Oh bollocks”); or, particularly in Ireland, refer to a bit of a rogue (“How are you doing, you big bollocks?”). 

One can drop a bollock, be bollock naked or work their bollocks off. Getting bollocked is getting told off, while getting bollocksed is getting drunk. “Old silly-bollocks” isn’t an entirely unknown way of referring to someone. Soppy bollocks, cheery bollocks… it probably rivals “fuck” in terms of multiple uses.

It’s all deeply confusing. Whoever came up with it deserves, you guessed it, haha, a punch in the face!

Lie #3: Mr. T Ate My Balls!

No he didn’t. But a lot of people claimed he did.

It began as an offline joke in prehistoric 1996, when students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign scrawled “Mr T Ate My Balls!” on an exit sign as a kind of mildly surreal young-people-being-dumbasses gesture, and another student who saw it, Nehan Patel, took the idea to the internet and ran with it. Speech and thought bubbles were added to images of the Mohawked icon, making him say things like “I pity the fool who doesn’t like balls!” 

A meme was born.

After Patel’s site became incredibly popular due to the combination of slightly faded pop-culture icon, underpants humor and enjoyably surreal aggression, countless nut-devouring copycats — The Spice Girls Ate My Balls, Elmo Ate My Balls, Britney Spears Ate My Balls and so on — popped up, usually hosted on platforms like Angelfire or Geocities, complete with lengthy and unwieldy URLs involving a bunch of tildes

The phenomenon lasted longer than online fads tend to now, thanks to spreading more slowly via things like “newspapers” and “magazines,” but ended up dying out by the millennium.

Mr. T is now 68 and still awesome. He is currently distributing masks to homeless people.

Lie #4: “Big Money, Big Nuts and a Big Fat Chronic Sack”

Dr. Dre does indeed have big money, with an estimated net worth of $800 million. The bigness of his nuts and sack, well, we can take his word for. 

However, the fatness? Dr. Dre isn’t a doctor of dermatology. If he was, he’d know that the skin of the scrotal sac is actually one of the few areas of the body with almost no subcutaneous fat at all. Another is the eyelid. 

As for the chronic element, if Dr. Dre is suffering from chronic scrotal pain he isn’t alone. According to the World Journal of Men’s Health, some 100,000 men in the U.S. suffer from the condition, whether caused by varicocele, epididymitis, spermatocele, tumor, infection or torsion. In some circumstances, microdenervation of the spermatic cord is a necessary surgical intervention to reduce pain in the motherfuckin’ nutz.

Lie #5: They Used to Cut Boys’ Balls Off to Make Them Better Singers

Everyone is loosely familiar with the idea of castrati, young boy singers whose testicles were removed to preserve their high-pitched voices, generally for 18th-century Italian opera. Bits of it, anyway: the testicle-removal, high-voice bits. However, while ball-removal was part of it, there was a lot more going on, and the end result was a lot more complicated than a man with a boy’s singing voice.

The deep voice of a post-pubescent cissexual male compared to a boy or woman is due to a larger larynx, the growth of which is caused by testosterone. Castration impeded this growth, while still allowing the skeletal muscles around it to grow, resulting in short vocal cords and a large oral cavity and pharynx. The bones of a castrato never hardened at the ends like they do when growth usually stops, which meant a really high lung capacity unhindered by a rigid rib cage. While certain elements of physically maturing didn’t happen — castrati were unable to grow facial hair, for instance — they generally ended up on the taller side. 

What you had, then, were lungs more powerful than that of a large man, the mouth and musculature of a standard adult and the vocal cords of a boy. This led to a combination of pitch and power, a high voice with a strength to it described by one writer of the 18th century as being “as clear and penetrating as that of choirboys but a great deal louder with something dry and sour about it, yet brilliant, light, full of impact.” There are recordings that, honestly, sound like total shit, but times change and tastes change.

There was more than biology at play though, with incredibly hardcore practice regimes and vocal training, young castrati spending hours and hours daily belting out big fat operas, composing, mastering instruments and practicing different performance styles.

(A lot of them never reached that stage. It’s quite a big thing to heal from, castration, and infection was common. So were accidental overdoses of opium administered for pain relief and starving the brain of oxygen by compressing the carotid artery, a pretty crude “render him unconscious so it doesn’t hurt” method of anesthesia.)

While some castrati achieved fame and fortune — Senesino, for instance, came from humble beginnings and was famed for his collaborations with Handel — many didn’t. Having your son castrated was seen as a way out of poverty for some families, both for the money involved in a successful operatic career and the inability to have children, leaving a castrato in a position to help his parents out, so a lot more boys ended up being castrated than could possibly become successful.

A paper in The Lancet examining the effects of testicle removal (or “hypogonadism”) suggested castrato may have felt some “inferiority and low sense of achievement. These inadequacies would not be expected to apply to the successful singers, but the mental condition of those who did not make the grade can be imagined.” Imagine, if you will, if the audition process for American Idol involved having your testicles removed. You might end up a household name beloved by millions, or you might just end up as a dude who maybe ever so slightly regretted having his balls hacked off.