“Every woman thinks balls are weird”, a friend said recently, as if they were an enclosure to be avoided at an otherwise fun petting zoo. And a popular petting zoo, no less: the penis has become all the rage at Paris fashion week, in taste-making magazines and in indie movies from Shame to Love.
But I can’t say I blame my friend for casually dismissing the rest of the male genitalia: we’ve been taught to think of modern-day sex as part theatrical performance, part celebration of emotional intimacy, and part fulfillment of our most carnal physical urges. When compared to the penis, testicles deliver little of the visual drama, the emotional impact, or the purely corporeal pleasure to either owner or partner. Their purpose is at once central to the existence human life and secondary to the experience of creating human life. They’re just … there.
Sure, we all might compliment a person’s cojones for displays of daring-do and we chuckle at the endless (and endlessly entertaining) series of America’s Funniest Home Videos devoted to guys getting hammered in the nuts by some blunt object or another. But when it comes to sexual desirability, balls are often treated as an afterthought at best – or a liability at worst.
There are no winners in the genetic lottery for big testicles – just ask Cisco Adler (but don’t Google image search for why, if you’re at work) what it’s like to be outed as someone packing major brass. And after manscaping and delicately framing grainy phone pics to make the rest of our junk look massive for semi-public consumption, it feels like too much to worry about the sideshow when the real show is just to the north.
Like every teenage boy does at some point, I once measured my penis – probably in a feeble attempt to discern whether the hormones wracking my body were, in fact, producing a human adult that would someday be described as “normal”. In reality, it was just one in a series of measurements – metric and otherwise – by which boys are taught measure the progression of our “manliness”: bigger, taller, and hairier is good, as nobody wants to go to prom with a scrawny pipsqueak who shaves quarterly. That would take “real balls”, as someone might say approvingly — but heaven forbid anyone discuss what your real balls look like either way.
And nobody really knows what “normal” is when it comes to male genitals. From their first forays into locker rooms to trillions of accumulated clicks on porn websites to endless studies declaring the scientific definition of a typical penis, men are fed a contradictory (if steady) diet of information with which to compare their own endowments. It’s enough to make even the most phallically blessed among us lie when asked about their size. But ask a dude how his testicles compare (not metaphorically) to other men’s and you’ll probably find that they haven’t thought much about it. As an outward display of male-ness, balls barely register: they’re hidden behind clothes, stuffed into jocks, and tucked into one of the darker corners of a guy’s exterior.
Testicles do have a long association with strength and potency: to lack balls is to be weak; to be ballsy is to display gumption. But neither has anything to do with testicles as a physical attribute, and everything to do with what they produce. As much as some people might celebrate the natural power embodied by the female reproductive system without ascribing sexual attractiveness to its entirety, we acknowledge the purpose of testicles but hardly bother to think of them as anything approaching seductive or exciting.
I certainly never thought I could feel sexually empowered by my entire package until I met my now-husband: he was the first person to celebrate all parts of my body rather than avoid or ignore some of them. Being with someone who didn’t view half of my sex organs as extraneous to our sex life forced me to reevaluate my own view of my anatomy. As gay men, our sex life was already considered transgressive; without the pressure to conform to a “normal”, heterosexual view of male sexuality as defined by my ability to penetrate a partner, I could allow my entire self to become a source of sexual self-confidence.
Men aren’t just stuck with two hopelessly strange albatrosses hanging between their legs – and our testicles shouldn’t be a source of shame or embarrassment. We can re-imagine testicles as more than an unavoidable component of reproduction or a crude descriptor for bravery. It doesn’t even take balls to do so.