There’s something weirdly exhilarating about going to work wearing the kind of testicular protection usually reserved for MMA athletes.
Because when your balls are that ensconced, you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the day won’t end with you being rushed to the emergency room with internal scrotal bleeding.
Of course, you could say that about most days—especially if your job, like mine, involves long periods of sitting at a desk, or having conversations with calm, entirely nonviolent people who are unlikely to haul off at any moment and judo chop you in the nuts for no reason.
I’ve worked at Men’s Health for over a year, and not once have any of my colleagues directed the boney part of their knees towards the soft, squishy epicenter of my ballsack.
But there I was, at our Monday morning editorial meeting, all but daring my fellow editors—with nothing more than a smug smile—to thrust their elbows into my gonads, or grind the business end of their shoes into my giggleberries.
Any takers? No? I didn’t think so.
I didn’t tell any of them that I was wearing the Diamond MMA compression jock and cup system—available on Amazon for just $90—constructed from polycarbonate, a durable thermoplastic material that’s used in bulletproof glass.
I guess that means that ostensibly, you could shoot me in the nuts and I’d be fine. I’m not about to test that theory.
When reps from Diamond MMA sent me a complimentary cup and jock many weeks ago, I didn’t think much of it at first. I left it on my desk, like a sort of perverse tip jar. I even briefly used it as a makeshift container for pens and Post-It notes.
But then one day, the cup sparked a conversation between a few of my male coworkers and I about jock straps. Remember jock straps?
Or more specifically, remember when guys used to wear jock straps?
I vividly remember my high school gym class, and the grim warnings from my teachers about what would happen if we didn’t wear jock straps.
Best case scenario, we’d never be able to have children, they told us. We’d twist the wrong way, and that’s it, our reproductive organs would be mangled beyond repair.
And that was if we were lucky. Worse case, we’d suffer testicular trauma. There’d be ruptures, fractures, contusions, torsions; there was no end to the horrible things that could happen to our nuts during a friendly game of pickleball.
But I haven’t put on a jockstrap since sentences like “I’m worried about tomorrow’s algebra test” and “I sincerely think that dry-humping my girlfriend during a slow dance at prom sounds like a meaningful relationship milestone” were things I thought about regularly.
I’ve talked to (almost) every single adult male I know, and not a single one of them wears jockstraps anymore. Some of them smile warmly when I mention it, like I just reminded them of Ms. Pac-Man or those AOL installation floppy disks. But none of them are like, “Oh yeah, I’m wearing one right now.”
Jay Ferrari, a regular MH contributor who has a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, says the last time he wore a jockstrap “was for pee wee football. But a jockstrap during college football or jiu jitsu? Never.”
Not that he isn’t well-versed in the mythology of ball protection. “I grew up with a former athlete dad who would put on a supporter to mow the goddamn lawn, so I get that old-school mentality,” he says. “But I think it’s just that. Back in the day, everyone insisted that you had to tape your ankles or take salt pills on hot days.”
It gets especially fascinating when you start investigating the history of jockstrap and cup technology, which first came into vogue during the late 1800s.
“A jockstrap is a jockstrap, today as it was back then,” says Kevin Flaherty, whose great-great-great grandfather founded one of the first jockstrap manufacturers in the country, the J.B. Flaherty Company, Inc. in 1898.
In the past 100-plus years, the materials have changed. Flaherty’s company—now Martin Inc., which produces Flarico, Bub and Activeman products—has evolved from knitted waistbands and straps into more comfortable woven products.
The waistbands now have a plush back, and there isn’t a three-inch wide piece of rough elastic. But aside from that, and some fashion colors, there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the design.
By contrast, the modern bra—which was patented in 1914—has been constantly redesigned and re-imagined in the last hundred years, from different cup sizes in the mid-30s to padded push up bras in the 40s, from lycra bras in the 60s to WonderBras in the 90s.
Jockstraps and cups are exactly the same. The molded hard plastic your great-great grandfather used to protect his balls isn’t all that different from what guys are using (or not using) today.
But maybe that’s enough. Maybe we never needed that much. Is it like when kids in the 50s practiced hiding under their desks during nuclear bomb drills?
You watch those videos today and you’re like, “Awww, that’s adorable. They think they’re actually making a difference.” It’s cute, because 1) they weren’t in any actual danger, and 2) if a nuclear bomb hit anywhere near them, hiding under their desk wouldn’t have done jack shit.
Is that what the jockstraps of our youth are to 2015? Are they the hiding-under-your desk- of testicular trauma?
Or, if you want to get literal about it, were our balls never all that vulnerable to begin with?
When our high school gym coaches warned us of the testicular Armageddon that could result from letting our boys dangle unprotected, were they full of shit?
“Probably,” says Brian Steixner, M.D., Director of the Institute of Men’s Health at Jersey Urology Group in Atlantic City.
Dr. Steixner has treated some truly horrifying, gory penis injuries. But when it comes to testicular trauma, at least among non-pro athletes, he insists it rarely happens.
He treats maybe one case of serious non-athletic scrotum injury every six to seven months.
How does it happen? “Maybe a horse kicked them in the balls,” he says. “Or there was a car accident where the steering wheel went into their nuts. Sometimes it has to do with farm equipment or heavy machinery. Your job involves pulling a strap and something breaks and snaps.”
In other words, nothing that’s likely to happen to you. (Except for the car accident. But even then, having a steering wheel rammed into your balls seems like a long shot.)
Unless you piss off a lot of horses. Or have a history of fucking farm equipment. Jockstraps have become irrelevant, says Dr. Steixner, because underwear has gotten tighter.
“Modern boxer briefs pretty much solves the problem,” he says. “You don’t need to wear this weird contraption that has these straps that wrap around your butt. You can wear tight-fitting underwear, because it does everything a jockstrap did, which is keep things high and tight. That’s all you need.”
As I listen to Dr. Steixner make this perfectly rational argument, I’m sitting in my office and wearing a Diamond MMA compression jock and cup.
It’s been approximately eight hours since I strapped this thing to my junk, and it hasn’t been a pleasant day.
To say that my balls are sweaty and profoundly confined would be an extreme understatement.
My balls have never been closer to my lower torso. And since I first arrived at the Men’s Health office, nobody has attempted to cause me testicular injury.
To be fair, I haven’t asked any of them to punch or kick my balls, because that seems like cheating. I wouldn’t have asked them to attack my balls if I wasn’t protected by polycarbonate, right?
For this experiment to mean anything, to truly test if I was more scrotally protected from the elements, I would have to wear it without telling anybody. To find out if, under normal conditions, I was actually in any real danger.
Would my family jewels experience less shock and awe because I’d planned ahead? The short answer is, no.
I have never been more acutely aware that my balls weren’t, and never were, in any legitimate danger.
“Are you feeling okay?” a fellow editor asked, remarking on how I seemed to be walking like a drunk John Wayne.
I could have mentioned that my unusual stance had something to do with my pants being filled with the same materials used to make sure that presidents and Popes aren’t murdered in their limos. But it seemed easier just to smile and say nothing.
“The only other time I’ve seen serious scrotal injury was from a parent,” Dr. Steixner says.
“Excuse me?” I ask.
“Like a dad getting kicked hard in the nuts by one of his kids. That happens all the time.”
“It does?” I ask this even though I absolutely know he’s right. I’m a parent of a 4 year-old boy, and I’ve been on the receiving end of a barbarous foot or elbow. I’m well aware of what it’s like to receive a crushing ball blast from a kid not old enough yet to realize that scrotums have the same general resistance to blunt force trauma as hard-boiled eggs.
Later that night, when I return home, I’m still wearing my Diamond MMA compression jock and cup. But unlike the professional interactions with my co-workers, I don’t discourage a violent reciprocity with my testicles.
“C’mon!” I shout at my son, who can’t believe what his daddy is asking him. “Hit me again! Really throw your whole body into it this time!”
My wife watches, grimacing with each scrotal coup de grâce.
“Everything about this makes me uncomfortable,” she announces, like this proclamation will somehow make my son stop hurdling onto my nutsack with extreme prejudice.
My son and I just laugh, and he continues to deliver blow after merciless blow onto what should be my soft extremities.
“It’s okay,” I try to explain to her, after pretending for the umpteenth time that my son had caused me irreparable scrotal damage. “This is just what boys do.”
My wife eventually walks away. She can’t take it anymore. But my son and I keep laughing, and keep punching each other in the nuts, amazed at the loud CLUNK our knuckles make every time they connect with what should be testicles.
“This is the greatest night of my life,” my son laughs, falling onto the floor, clutching his ribs with laughter.
Fake testicular injury is nothing to laugh at. But fake testicular injury that’s prevented by modern science designed specifically for professional athletes? Well, that’s just a reminder that we’re living in a remarkable age, unlike anything our high school gym teachers could have imagined.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in Men’s Health.)