You know how you shove your headphones in your pants pocket and then when you pull them out later they’ve somehow become an impossibly tangled mess? Well, your balls can basically do the same thing! Not necessarily the shoving-in-pocket part (though if your balls are long enough to be shoved in your pants pocket… please contact me), but the tangled part. The fancy name is “testicular torsion,” and yes, it could happen to you.
Testicular torsion is essentially when a testicle becomes tangled in itself. Your two testes are housed within your scrotum, each testicle supported by a spermatic cord containing an artery to supply blood, and the vas deferens, which carries sperm to the urethra. In some cases, this cord will literally become twisted.
Though this can happen as pure medical anomaly to just about anyone with testes, certain conditions make it easier for torsion to occur. Per the Cleveland Clinic, it happens to around 1 in 4,000 men under the age of 25, 65 percent of whom are between the ages of 12 and 18. According to a study published in Case Reports in Urology in 2011, it’s also the most common cause of scrotal pain in prepubescent and adolescent children. Many of these cases occur among those with bell clapper deformity, an issue in which the testicles aren’t properly attached to the scrotal walls via tissue and can instead move freely within the scrotum.
Bell clapper deformities aren’t an emergency in themselves, but testicular torsion is. When it occurs, the twisting of the spermatic cord cuts off the supply of blood to the testicle. Unsurprisingly, it’s marked by sudden, severe pain. Swelling and changes in scrotal color may also occur, as well as nausea and vomiting. Any changes in pain, size and color of the testicles is good cause to call a doctor — while it might happen more regularly to teenagers, it can still happen to older people, and in either case, it can result in loss of testicular function.
It’s unlikely, though, that it would impact both testicles. Recently, someone shared their story of testicular torsion on the subreddit r/TIFU, explaining that they lost both of their testicles after they became intertwined with each other during masturbation. After thousands of people (myself included) were tricked into believing the story was true, the author updated the post with an essay about how easy it is to dupe people on the internet into believing fake news.
But while that story was fake, you could still lose one testicle from torsion. It will almost always require surgery to fix, though apparently emergency room doctors may try to “untwist” it for you from outside the sack. If surgery happens quickly, function can typically be restored following a quick incision into the scrotum and a manual untwisting there. The surgeon will also likely attach your other testicle to the scrotum, so that it can’t end up twisted, too.
Time is of the essence, though. Cleveland Clinic reports that the testicle will need to be removed entirely in 75 percent of cases if surgery is avoided for more than 12 hours. So if your testicle hurts, you really ought to seek medical attention. Like, now.