The tale of the expression “testicular fortitude” begins just a few inches higher with “intestinal fortitude,” a saying coined as an alternative to “gutsy” by Ohio State Buckeyes football coach John Wilce in 1916. “Intestinal fortitude” remained a staple of sports commentary until the early 1950s, when pitcher-cum-commentator Dizzy Dean, who famously (and frequently) botched the English language, unintentionally substituted “testicle” for “intestinal” during a live television broadcast. “Testicle” was promptly updated by the masses to the proper adjective “testicular,” and the phrase “testicular fortitude” took hold.
Writer Frank Yerby included “intestinal and testicular fortitude” in his 1971 novel The Dahomean. In response to the Watergate charges against President Richard Nixon, Civil Rights leader Julian Bond penned, “Congress hasn’t got the testicular fortitude to get rid of him” in a 1974 issue of Jet magazine. WWE superstar Mick Foley, known to wrestling fans as Mankind (among other identities), has been shouting “TESTICULAR FORTITUDE!” since the late 1990s, and he continues to scream the expression via Twitter to this day.
But, uh, how much fortitude do testicles themselves actually have, if any at all?
Well, if we take “testicular fortitude” to mean the ability to display strength and courage in the face of adversity, anyone who’s ever even lightly grazed their testicles against a solid surface, then been crippled by extraordinary pain, would likely say that testicles have very little fortitude. In fact, they seem to be the opposite of strong and courageous, instead whining intensely in response to even the lightest of smacks.
There are, however, some well-known examples of testicles being challenged that may give us a better understanding of how much fortitude they really have. For instance, the left testicle belonging to symphonic metal bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck was ruptured when it was struck by a confetti cannon in 2014. The bassist took to Facebook to recount the nightmare, explaining that he managed to push through the pain to finish the show:
“As some of you know, we use ‘streamer cannons,’ which shoot silver streamers into the audience, usually during The Gathering. We’ve been using this for ages without any problems at all, but in Birmingham things went wrong.
“Since we were with six on stage instead of five, there wasn’t really a standard position on stage. Normally, Charlotte would be stage center, Timo at the singing mic, I at the other side. Having Merel on stage with us meant everyone just had to pay attention at the moment the streamers would shoot. In my enthusiasm I didn’t pay attention, and happened to be VERY close when the streamer fired. It hit me from the back, in my genitals. Although pain was pretty bad right away, I was merely pissed off at myself for not paying attention. During the next song, the pain got worse though, and I had the feeling I was bleeding. Pretty soon, the pain got to the point where I could barely stay conscious anymore, but for some reason I did manage to finish the show and even squeeze out some grunts!”
After the show, Schimmelpenninck made his way to a nearby hospital, where doctors removed pooling blood from his scrotum and stitched up his left testicle. The testicle eventually made a full recovery, which speaks to his testicle having a certain amount of fortitude, despite its initial display of weakness in withstanding the confetti blast.
Not every testicle is so lucky (or full of fortitude), though: Former professional rugby league footballer Paul Wood had to have his right testicle removed after being kneed in the groin during the 2012 Super League Grand Final. While Wood himself displayed much fortitude by continuing to play and even conducting media interviews in the dressing room after the match, his testicle eventually succumbed to the strong strike — a testament to the inherent fragility of all testicles — hence it needing to be removed. This instance perhaps suggests again that testicles have little fortitude, although admittedly a knee can deliver quite the blow.
For a more scientific look at testicular fortitude, in 2012, Michael Smith, a Cornell University graduate student (and apparent masochist), forced bees to sting every part of his body, from his head down to his feet, testicles included. He found that although being stung on the penis and testicles was uncomfortable, being stung on the nose and upper lip were even worse. In that study, then, testicles showed a decent amount of fortitude.
There are also numerous stories of men pulling cars with their testicles, which is surely an outright display of fortitude. Take Chinese martial arts expert Ye Wei, for example, who in 2017 pulled seven Audis rigged to his genitalia, beating his previous record of only five Audis.
Amateur daredevil Nasty the Horse has pulled numerous heavy objects with his testicles as well, including a Honda Ridgeline truck. “At the point of trying to pull a car with my testicles, I’d already spent around a decade getting kicked and hit with various things in the balls,” he tells me. “I was making a living for a few years making such videos, so I was always looking for different ways to test my might that would look insane on camera. The first time I attempted to do so, I had no idea if it was possible, but I was fairly certain after watching people pull stuff with their skin, nose, ears and whatnot that it would be.”
“I wrapped a handkerchief around my package to reduce any rope burn or friction,” Nasty continues. “Only problem is we didn’t have a rope, so I actually pulled a car with a heavy-duty extension cord for the first time. I’ve been hit in the testicles so many ways, with so many different things, different sizes and different forces — but man, this was a different animal. It hurts bad. It feels like pulling hair, except instead of hair, it feels like your insides are stretching. Mind over matter to a certain degree is what I do, but this was also trying to be realistic about whether the pain was just bad, or if I was actually causing physical, permanent damage, because that’s what it felt like.”
Nonetheless, Nasty and his testicles managed the feat and have since taken this immense display of testicular fortitude even further. “It’s my least favorite stunt I perform, but since then, I’ve pulled multiple cars, trucks, a hearse and even a helicopter. For the most part, I just do regular wild and insane stunts, including flips, slams, car jumps, full body burns and always getting hit below the belt. Horse’s towing service has been closed for the last few years, but I’m just waiting for the right job… to pull with my testicles.”
Seeing that testicles are capable of pulling such heavy objects is proof enough for me that they do, in fact, have a large amount of fortitude, despite their heightened sensitivity at times. But for one final take on how much fortitude testicles really have, I reached out to a urologist hoping for expert insight on the matter. “I don’t even know where you begin with this question,” he said. “I do not recommend pulling cars with your testicles.”