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Even though the scrotum gets much less attention than the penis, it is probably about as important to a man's sense of masculinity as is his penis. But this importance is much more personal - the scrotum is not so open to public scrutiny, unlike the penis: after all, scrotums (scrota?) tend to be of similar size, while penises are a lot more variable - and the variability of the penis is obvious to anyone who sees a group of men naked, while scrotums nestle discreetly in the background. Perhaps this is why 'most everyone thinks about penis size, but you never hear any discussions about scrotal size. Odd, really, I think: after all, the testicles are a crucial part of what determine maleness - they produce testosterone.
Mostly, my scrotum just hangs around all day. Sometimes it contracts upwards towards my body, usually I'm cold or frightened. While this happens for all men, I'm sure some experience it much more than others. My scrotum contracts at the drop of a hat, and becomes very tight and wrinkled and contracted against my body. I don't like this much, I would rather it stayed loose and my testicles hung around more freely. This is partly because I like to see them there - I am very fond of them, after all - and partly because it could be a bad thing to have testicles that spend too much time up against the body wall, or even inside the body cavity. Another occasion when the testicles retract towards the body is in the last phase of sexual excitement, before ejaculation. I read somewhere that ejaculation could be prevented by grabbing the scrotum and holding it down, thereby stopping it retracting. I once asked my lover to try this to see if it worked. It didn't, but it did put me off sex for a while, till I recovered.
The reason the testicles hang outside the body in the first place is because the temperature needs to be lower (93 degrees Fahrenheit) for sperm production - and, I assume, testosterone production, though I haven't seen this stated as fact. Baby boys whose testicles don't descend properly - about 1 in a 100 births - need to have an operation to bring them down quite quickly: certainly within 12 months, for the longer they are left up there, the less efficiently they work, and apparently the greater the risk of infertility and cancer. Fortunately it is a simple operation.
By the way, I don't know where the idea that a boys balls "drop" at puberty comes from. Boys' balls are outside their body in the scrotum from the day they are born. They are very vulnerable, really, when you think about it. A hard kick in the balls can cripple a man for a while, and the pain can be indescribable. I was once kneed in the groin in a fight. Fortunately my opponent missed my testicles. Generally I keep out of fights anyway, so my testicles have survived pretty much unscathed. One of the big risk areas for balls is contact sports. There is a whole panoply of protective clothing available to prevent flopping around, impact, crushing, and pain - some of which seems to have a sexiness for many people. I get my own protective gear from these suppliers. If you do get a kick in the balls, the most likely result is damage to the veins, which can produce a varicocele - more on this below.
I think testicles are pretty fine organs, really. They vary in size quite a bit between men. One of my long term boyfriends from years ago had very small balls, though in every other way, including penis size, he was very big and also very hairy. Either his body was very sensitive to his testosterone, or he had lots of it, despite his diminutive balls. How big are adult testicles? Good question. In case you want to know how you measure up (get that ruler out again.....) here is some information:
The orchidometer is a device used by doctors to measure boys' and adult males' testicles. A grown man's testicles are generally between 16 and 27 milliliters in volume, and about an inch and a half long. If you click here, you can see an orchidometer in plan (the actual thing is a series of egg shaped plastic balls on a string, which the doctor compares to the testicle size while he has a feel around.)
Like most men, one of my balls is larger and hangs lower than the other. Apparently for some reason, in eighty percent of men, me included, the left testicle - as you face forwards - is the bigger and lower. I don't know if it produces more sperm than its smaller brother. The sperm output from the testicles is mixed and stored in the epididymis before being mixed with fluid from the seminal vesicles and prostate and launched into the big wide world. Each ejaculation, which is usually between 2 and 6 milliliters in volume (but you can make it more - see the page on ejaculation) contains about 100 million sperm. This means that the sperm occupy no more than 2 or 3 per cent of the volume of each ejaculation. Amazing.
Oh, and I nearly forgot the age old myth of "blue-balls": yet another cunning teenage boy's ruse to get sex....as a randy boy or man traditionally tells the story, constant sexual arousal without release will lead to his balls exploding or turning blue or causing him so much pain that it's only fair to let him have sex. Well, ladies, I have news for you. There might be a bit of discomfort, but it ain't life threatening!
If you want to see a diagram of all the bits and bobs associated with testicles, there's one here, on a website devoted to vasectomy. (See below as well for more on vasectomy.)
There are plenty of things that can can go wrong with the testicles. Perhaps the most common is torsion of a testicle, when it spins around on the spermatic cord, which carries the spermatic artery, and cuts off its own blood supply. This is a medical emergency, and usually needs surgery within four hours if the testicle is to be saved. Sometimes the docs will stitch it in place so the torsion doesn't happen again. I find that my testicles sometimes seem to be upside down or generally not sitting quite right in my scrotum, but they have never twisted. This is a personal account of testicular torsion by an American journalist. You know if this has happened to you because of the pain, and the fact that your testicles gradually turn red, then purple and eventually blue. Hopefully you've seen a doctor before this.
Next, there are infections of the epididymis and seminal vesicles. They are usually the result of infections spreading back from the bladder or up the urethra. I quote from the Digital Urology Journal: "The epididymis is a structure which lies on and around each testicle. It functions in the transport, storage and maturation of sperm cells originating from the testicle. When a man complains of scrotal pain, acute or chronic epididymitis is far and away the most common diagnosis."
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer of young men, and ironically it is easily treated if caught early. The recommended way of doing this is for every man to give himself a monthly testicular examination. This can be fun, especially if your partner helps.
A Varicoele (Varicocele) is a dilation (enlargement) of the veins that drain the testicle. It feels like a bag of worms inside the scrotum, but is much less obvious when a man is lying down. It's present in 15% of the general male population and 40% of men evaluated for infertility. It develops because the valves in the veins taking blood away from the testicle stop working, thereby allowing the blood to pool around the testicle. Testicular injury may occur due this abnormal blood flow, which creates a hostile environment for sperm development. It can be dealt with by an outpatient procedure.
Vasectomy is, in theory, a simple process of cutting the Vas Deferens that carry sperm from the testicles to the penis. However, before you take the plunge, you might want to read these articles: Prostatitis Granuloma & testicular pain
Should you wish to look at some of the different shapes, sizes, and states (retracted, relaxed, in-between) of testicles and scrotums, you can do that at this link.
Other pages on the penis and testicles
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