Nerve Classics

True Stories: The Shape of Things

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It’s a fact: women with symmetrical breasts get laid more often than those with mismatched cup sizes; men with symmetrical faces have a better chance of finding a mate and delivering her to orgasm than men tainted by an overgrown ear or uneven jaw line. Researchers have expounded on the phenomenon of symmetry for years, and a simple alteration to a photograph of Lyle Lovett’s face can make a believer out of anyone.

A parasitic invasion? Punishment from God? Not even a nice, relaxing blowjob could take my mind off the possibilities.

If you make a mirror image of the left side of his face and replace his right side, you can turn that poor man into one sharp-looking country singer. Symmetry is hot; it’s where it’s at.

Considering this, it seems like some perverse act of mockery that my scrotum is about as symmetrical as a dictionary that’s been cracked open to page five. My right nut hangs quite normally, a stable little plum from one day to the next. The left one, to follow through with the fruit metaphor, is a plantain that morphs on the branch throughout the course of the day.

After the appearance of pubic hair, steamy dream visions and the insatiable urge to stroke off, a dull ache developed in my left testicle, which had surpassed its neighbor in size and was responding in strange ways to atmospheric conditions. An insensitive ex-girlfriend later diagnosed “an orgy of worms” inside my scrotum.

At first, I had no solid reason to think that my balls were doing anything unusual. I was also encouraged to ignore the developments because they coincided with a frantic fling I was having with a schoolmate named Sandra. I wasn’t about to reveal my symptoms to my parents and risk learning that they were common traits of the oversexed, thereby exposing the shameful life that Sandra and I had carved for ourselves in our parents’ garages and beneath the covers of a few boats parked in our neighborhood backyards of Western Michigan. Thankfully, Sandra’s understanding of what a properly developed set of balls should look like was even sketchier than my own, and in her hands, my fragile ego remained intact.

But my own observations suggested that things were definitely not right. In the locker room, I noticed that my friends’ scrotums were as round and tidy as racquetballs, and the immaculate, clean-shaven pairs displayed in porno magazines quickly dispatched any hopeful notion that I was suffering a side effect common to sexual enthusiasm. Meanwhile, on hot, humid days, the ache was so intense that I often had to stick my hand in my boxers and cradle myself like a pet bunny.

I started thinking about the way doctors grab your balls during physicals and deduced that I had a hernia, which would mean that I was one simple procedure away from a clean bill of health. More importantly, I could approach my mom with this innocent-sounding theory without revealing too much about my newly developed sex life. She made an appointment with our family doctor, an impatient and graying man embroiled in a common scandal for his trade: he had recently been caught screwing a nurse by the clinic’s receptionist, a woman who doubled as his wife.

I told the doctor that my left testicle ached, particularly in humid conditions, and that I must have a hernia. He palpated my sack with barely concealed disdain, like he was mad at my youthful jewels for the troubles that his old withering pair had caused him. He told me that I definitely didn’t have a hernia, and as he walked out the door he scribbled a referral to a urologist.

With the hernia theory shot down and the urologist visit a full week away, my imagination took great liberties: Testicular cancer?

“Inadequate or incompetent” — the last adjectives that I wanted applied to my sex organs.

The onset of impotence? A parasitic invasion? Punishment from God? Not even a nice, relaxing blowjob could take my mind off the possibilities. I took my first — and only — self-imposed vacation from sexual activity. When my appointment with the urologist came, I was escorted into the clinic by an entourage of women. This did nothing to soothe my jangled nerves. Sandra’s presence was supposedly a gesture of support, but as she sat next to Mom and my sister in the waiting room, the expression on her face looked like we were turning ourselves in to the cops.

The urologist was a young guy, and he treated me with a backslapping, man-to-man joviality that suggested we should get to the bottom of my problem so that he and I could continue enjoying the ladies without worry. With his hand in a glove and the glove wrapped around my gnarled gonad, he gave the diagnosis: a massive bundle of varicose veins had wrapped around the spermatic cord and formed a soft tumor known as a varicocele. A backup of blood had formed because the valves within the veins were “inadequate or incompetent” — the last adjectives that I wanted applied to my sex organs. My right testicle had a minor case of the same problem. The “good news,” the doctor said, was that it was cheap birth control. The veins crank up the testicular temperature to highs that are fatal to sperm cells, and until I went through the painful and expensive operation to have the variocele removed, I would deliver stillborn seed.

Luckily, my deformed nut never directly interfered with my sex life until I was twenty-one. I was attending my third college as an undergraduate and was enrolled in a classical literature course notorious for inspiring rampant passions. The professor, a sultry woman of fifty-five, actually broke down sobbing over The Iliad when Hector bid a passionate farewell to Andromache before going out to face Achilles on the plains of Troy. Primed by these outpourings, I developed a deep thing for Maida Horowitz.

Maida was twenty-nine and sat in the seat in front of me. She had short, disheveled hair, smoked menthols, and was fond of wearing a set of faded 501s that seemed to say to me, You can’t tell whether I wear panties or not, but, if I do, they are not of a very modest cut. I fell deeply in love with her. One day, during a break in class, I asked her out. The first two times I asked she ignored the fact that I was talking. The third time she thought I was joking but took my phone number.

In a matter of hours I was lying on Maida’s bed waiting for her to get ready for our date. It was a gigantic bed with a white comforter about seven inches thick.

For a long time, I limited intimate contact to moments when my arousal made everything look like it was in order.

I was half-listening to something she was saying about our class and half-reading the liner notes to the Cowboy Junkies CD playing on her stereo. When I looked up, I was startled to see that Maida had shed her top, bra and pants. She had a gorgeous body, a mature, been-around-the-block body. At that precise moment, I realized I couldn’t match her frankness and physical perfection. This was a duel of sorts, a test of who I was and where I stood, and I was quivering in my boots. All I could think about was my strange little nut and the awkward, total buzzkill that would result from unsheathing it. Strangled by the moment, I feigned indifference. Maida put her clothes on. We went out for drinks and she teased me about being too young for her. Things never got off the ground between us.

There are a few details I should mention here. First, I don’t have health insurance, and there’s no way in hell I can afford to get this thing repaired. So I developed some little tricks to help manage it. Back in the Maida days, I wore boxer shorts, which allowed gravity to tug painfully at my testicles all day. Now I wear bikini briefs. My true savior, though, my ace in the hole, is the natural tightening of the scrotum that accompanies a good, stiff erection; it brings everything into tight, symmetrical conformity.

For a long time, I limited intimate contact to moments when arousal made everything look like it was in order. If I’d never gone through various phases of promiscuity, I might still be as self-conscious. Not long after Maida, I was in a bar talking to a pale, blonde girl who was six-foot-two. Her friends called her Birch Tree. It turned out that she knew my roommates and had partied at our house, a gigantic, trashed-out Victorian place that was more flophouse than home. While we were discussing its convoluted architecture, I told her that in the summer months I would access my bedroom through a window off the fire escape. That night, after last call, I sprawled naked on top of my sheets in the hot, humid air, and when I woke, Birch Tree was sitting cross-legged on my bed, coldly assessing me. After the shock receded and my heart started beating again, my veiny plantain was the last thing either of us cared about.

I suppose it’s testament to the goodness of women that I’ve yet to send anyone fleeing into the night, but then I’ve encountered a number of oddities without freaking out: pubic hair as straight and wispy as a baby’s head, missing breasts. One woman’s inner thighs were scarred from a boating accident; the skin there felt like taut fishing net. Social tics, like taking too long to decide what drink to order or speaking of oneself in the third person, can drive you nuts, but physical imperfections, especially those that are hidden and sexual, can be an incredible turn-on.

Nowadays, I’m at a crossroads in life. More precisely, I’ve been off on a side road and now I’ve come to the intersection where it hits the main drag. Of the thirty or so male packages that my current girlfriend has handled, she assures me that she likes mine the best, and she’s seen my sack assume at least fifty percent of its rather extensive repertoire of formations. In just a handful of months with her I’ve reached a pinnacle of comfort. At first I dreaded the moment I’d have to spring from bed and answer the phone in broad daylight. I pictured myself standing in an awkward pose as she took advantage of the moment to conduct a thorough study of my form, her eyes resting on the one thing that she wouldn’t feel comfortable asking about. But that moment passed, and I can’t even recall when it did, exactly. Barring unforeseen developments, I don’t see any reason why my scrotum should concern anyone but her for many years to come.

Besides, my lopsided sack goes with her clit ring in a Barnum and Bailey sort of way. We’ve talked about pitching in a couple thousand dollars apiece to get the nettlesome ball of nerves extirpated so that we might join forces in the cycle of life, but for now we’re in that wonderful stage of just being together and enjoying what we have, no matter what it looks like. Symmetry be damned.

This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories in 2003.