A young man who just turned 18 years old finally has told the world his bountiful news. He has three testicles (image NSFW). The news hit the small screen with a big splash, following so closely on the heels of the man with two penises.
Ah the wonders of Reddit et al – Russia invading Ukraine, planes disappearing, mudslides destroying families – but we guys can pause a moment to consider what life might have been like if we too were traveling along the three-lane highway.
Two penises; three testicles – is this really news? Actually, it’s more of a ho-hum. Of course in the world’s population of 7 billion, there are a few guys with three testicles, just as there are a few guys with two penises or some women with three breasts or three ovaries or people with weird double noses and every other imaginable mistake the assembly line mechanics of cell mitosis can create. The extreme version of this slip-shod work is the full-fledged Siamese Twin (perhaps the last xenophobic eponym in all of medicine) – incomplete twinning at its most startling, a chilling example of unzipping that falls a little short.
The incomplete doubling problem happens somewhere in the 9-month life of the embryo, probably on the earlier side when cells are still dividing 1-2-4-16-256-et cetera till oops, some retinue of genetic material doesn’t quite split cleanly; a trace of genetic material clings to its complement or else begins to divide, a little, prematurely then can’t complete the act. The physical result is all manner of complicated anatomy.
In the case of too many testicles, called “polyorchidism,” it can come with a complete doubling of the entire male sperm production apparatus. (Let us note that the botanical world’s beloved orchids are so-called because of their resemblance to testicles – not the other way around).
As anyone who has eaten mountain oysters or lamb fries surely knows, male business includes not only the testicle, but the epididymis, which is the way-station for newly created sperm that sits crescent-like against the oval testis; and the vas deferens, that tunnel out from the epididymis that sperm scoot along as they make their way to seminal vesicles and eventually into the external world upon ejaculation. (A vasectomy clips the vas deferens). When these supportive parts also are twinned in a guy with three nuts, the entire package of packages may work normally. More commonly though, some part is not doubled and the extra anatomy is just along for the ride. Or the Reddit photo op.
Thankfully, academic medicine is obsessed with recording every anomaly out there. (Two recent case reviews of the world’s experience in polyorchidism are here). I remember leafing through medical journals as a pre-teen and seeing – actually I have no idea what I was seeing but it was gross and black-and-white and smudgy and enough to drive a sane person far, far away from practicing medicine (a warning I did not heed). But everything imaginable is out there, published and drained of all shock and all awe, leaving only desiccated medical English to convey the facts: “Quality of spermatogenesis was not reported in 16 cases (11%).” Tucked away in the same report is the uplifting but deadpan news that “6 cases of 4 testes (4.3%) were reported” – a frowning addendum that gives even newer meaning to the concept of the double double.
In the years to come, it will be interesting to watch how the austere and airless world of medical publishing responds to the unhinged universe of Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, and all the rest. Conventional medicine is already beating a hasty retreat from the welter of medical information, good and bad and in-between, instantly available on the web. Now our darkest secrets, our coolest weird-o stories, our very patrimony is casually tweeted out into the world – then forgotten moments later as something even more provocative appears. In such an environment, even a guy with three balls doesn’t stand much of a chance.