How to Do It

My Body Does a Horrifying Thing During Sex

I panic every time.

Two men kissing.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by christian buehner on Unsplash.

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Dear How to Do It,

My partner and I are guys in our late 20s. We’ve been happily married and monogamous for seven years, have great sex, and are getting pretty good at communicating in the bedroom (in part thanks to this column).

There’s just one thing during sex that freaks me out.

Sometimes, usually when I’m on my back or am really spreading my legs, one of my balls just…slides up into my body a little. I have to push it back down immediately.

I know this can’t be that unusual, because I see it happen in gay porn all the time; the performers don’t seem to mind and will keep on going. But psychologically, I just hate the idea of something getting stuck. My reflex is to panic and stop everything so I can fix it.

This actually hasn’t happened in quite a while now, but only because I’m pretty paranoid about it and will discreetly check a few times during sex that there’s no issues. My partner notices this and doesn’t mind (it’s not like he wants it to happen to him, either), but I don’t like how I’m not 100 percent present during sex because of it. I also worry my fear is keeping us from exploring new or challenging positions. My paranoia is keeping me from really letting go.

Can you tell me what’s going on down there? Are there any ways I can stop this from happening? Or is this just a common thing that I need to stop worrying about?

— Foul Ball

Rich: Stoya, are you aware of this phenomenon?

Stoya: I had no idea.

Rich: OK. It’s pretty common, it’s called a retractile testicle. Basically, there’s this muscle called the cremaster. Do you know of that artist Matthew Barney?

Stoya: Barney!

Rich: Yeah, exactly. Matthew Barney’s art doesn’t shy from sexual themes, so of course he named his big show, The Cremaster Cycle, after this muscle.

Stoya: His stuff is very homoerotic.

Rich: Yes. Very much so.

Stoya: It’s beautiful.

Rich: Definitely beautiful. So the cremaster is a muscle that surrounds and is involved with the testicles, all of the important structures, to and from. And what can happen is that you can have a hyperactive cremaster muscle reflex in which it’s just more prone to retracting.

Have you noticed that as a man approaches orgasm, the testicles will start to—

Stoya: Get tighter.

Rich: Exactly.

Stoya: Is that the cremaster working?

Rich: Yes. But there are some people who just have a stronger reflex there, in which case, the balls go right up in there.

Stoya: And the balls start inside the body and drop during puberty. So there’s like, a channel for that testicle to go back up in?

Rich: Yeah. They have like their own little pods, little cubby holes basically. And I’ve heard of this happening in non-sexual context; when I was younger, I read something about somebody jumping over a fence and that happening. It freaked me out. Your body can put out that retraction response out of protection. I don’t know why some people are more reflex-oriented or have reflexes that are stronger here than others, but it happens.

And actually, I looked it up, and there’s a treatment for this that was pioneered by a doctor named Parviz Kavoussi at the Austin Vasectomy Center. This particular issue has nothing to do with vasectomy per se, but he says that there is a very effective, minor surgical treatment known as a microsurgical subinguinal cremaster muscle release, which releases the muscle to prevent this rigorous testicular retraction. The operation is performed through a half-inch incision in the groin.

Kavoussi’s presented some data about this phenomenon, and apparently this can happen getting in and out of cars and other physical activity. I don’t know to what degree it’s dangerous for your body, but I would assume it’s uncomfortable. I’ve felt that retraction every once in a while, and it does feel really messed up. It’s like, ‘whoa, that doesn’t belong there’ and just feels wrong.

I get the sense that this is just causing our writer some anxiety, because I don’t quite understand what the issue is other than the retraction itself.

Stoya: I think I know what part of the issue is. And it’s something that I can speak to.

Rich: OK.

Stoya: The writer says, “I see it happen in gay porn all the time; the performers don’t seem to mind and will keep on going.” So, I have not performed in gay porn, but I have performed in other porn, and the last thing you want to do is ask to stop or cut while filming. Not because the director will be mad at you—I mean, for some people that is a pressure—but because as soon as you cut, the penis or penises will require a lot of work to keep hard. They call it “losing wood.” And once a performer loses wood, it’s harder to get it back. And if you have to cut several times in a shoot, it becomes a complete nightmare. Everyone gets in their heads, everyone’s stressed. These are not the conditions to deliver authentic hot sex. So if you’ve got a hair in your throat, you keep going. Presumably, if your ball sucks up in your body, you keep going.

Rich: Right.

Stoya: You only get one or two cuts before the scene is ruined. And the other person you’re working with might need one of those cuts. So there are all of these motivations to—

Rich: Keep going.

Stoya: Yeah. Even if it’s uncomfortable, unless you feel like it’s going to hurt you, you just want to push it to the side and deal with it later, if at all possible. And so the letter writer doesn’t want to cut the scene.

Rich: That makes sense. In terms of the actual sensation, besides sort of the discomfort, it seems to me like this is mostly a freak-out. The letter writer is saying ‘It freaks me out that my ball is retracting into my body’ without actual rationale. He doesn’t report pain or even discomfort per se, it seems like mostly it’s the principle, right? That’s the sense I get from the letter. Maybe there is something else. And like I said, it is uncomfortable, I get it. But if that’s the case, I think that it’s kind of important to see that for what it is and understand that this is a natural functioning of somebody’s body. This is what happens. You’ve seen it in porn, and that nothing bad is going to happen.

In terms of a concrete solution, he could also try a ball stretcher, which is basically like a thick cock ring that you put on your balls, and that would be a stopper, basically. I think that should be able to keep the balls from retracting.

Stoya: And they look good.

Rich: Yeah, they look good.

Stoya: You’ve got this like nice little tight package of balls with a leather or rubber strap around it. And the balls are sort of presented to you. I find them more aesthetically pleasing that way; I mean, everyone’s mileage will vary.

Rich: So I think that is a potential answer. It also really does seem like something that he could stop worrying about just because it is a natural thing.

Stoya: My question is: If nothing bad would happen, what about confronting the fear?

Rich: Just letting it go.

Stoya: Yeah. Next time your ball retreats, just let it hang out there. See what happens. Keep having sex. Stop having sex. Just exist with your ball inside your body. Whatever you want to do, just sit there and let your anxiety learn that this is OK.

Rich: It seems to me like the problem is coming from inside of the house, right? It’s not like this is a thing where “this is a real big turn-off to my boyfriend and it’s getting in the way of our sex.” It’s his own issue to work through. Walk through the fire. Like I said, in the worst case scenario, there is a surgery that’s been developed to treat this. You can look into that if it’s such a big problem that it’s reducing your quality of life. Personally, it would take a lot for me to get somebody to approach my balls with a scalpel. But if it’s that important to you, then it’s an option.

Stoya: Yeah. And there’s a doctor that they can contact, maybe they can get a referral from the Austin Vasectomy Center.

Rich: Exactly. So there are options. Good luck.

More From How to Do It

My son is 12½. Like all tweens and teens, he is interested in sex, he has access to the internet, and he has gone looking about. My husband and I have had age-appropriate talks with him the last couple of years about how we want the information he consumes to be nourishing for his brain just like food nourishes his body. We have talked about how keeping secrets keep us from growing and how his body is his own. We have talked about how he can come to us with anything, and so far, it seems like he has. But like any parent, we keep an eye on his internet searches and limit the way he can interact with people online. And this brings us to the issue.