Some people really cringe when they think about genital reassignment surgery, the mutilation of one’s manhood. This images touches a nerve, and something up in the reptilian brain screams Protect Me, Protect Me.

I, however, do not hear that voice. I’ve never really had any animosity towards my genitals, as some transsexuals seem to have. I’ve always been on fair to good terms with my penis, although I have never obsessed about its length or power or prowess or anything like that that you see in a lot of guys. And I don’t feel terribly sad about its recent hormonal incapacitation. We had a lot of good times together, but now it’s time for it to step aside and let the rest of me evolve to do what I need to do.

Not having grown up with a vagina, vulva, or clitoris, I really can’t say what it’s like to have them, what they’re like to live with, or what it’ll be like to acquire them. But I can speak with quite a bit of authority about the male equipment, and it’s actually a pretty interesting story when you step back and look at them objectively.

People joke about a man thinking with his little head, but that’s no joke. The penis has a mind of its own, and that’s a source of many of my most embarrassing moments, especially when I was younger. When I got erect, I harbored a monster in my pants, and no amount of slouching or hands in pockets or shirt-tale out (that wasn’t allowed in school when I was growing up, although it seemed like a great solution to the problem) would make any difference. I had some absolutely horrible experiences in Junior High, and I suspect that most boys do, but I am not sure (boys don’t have a Judy Blume book for this or a culture of talking about it). In my case, my equipment would remain at attention for long amounts of time, and the harder I tried to mentally control it, the more it would defy me and stay up, a giant bulge in front of me. Naturally, this usually happened when I was called on to come up in front of my class to give a report, answer a question, or sing a solo in choir, and I was always mortified. I’d stick my hands in my pockets, slouch, and hope that it would go away. Being a good student, my mind wanted to stick to the subject at hand, but down below, my non-academic head was always vying for attention.

I remember wishing it would go down, tuck itself away, and leave me alone, but puberty is cruel — it’s not about thinking, in the first place, and certainly not about wishing, and despite my pleas, my penis was up all the time.

The weird thing is that in these early days, sexual relations were never on my mind. My penis might as well have been a growth on my arm that swelled and subsided periodically. Having a penis is like having a roommate who comes and goes randomly, who pops up when you least expect her, and sometimes doesn’t show up when you wish she would. It would be nice to be able to hang a little sign out on your bedroom door “Do not disturb” and your penis-roommate would leave you alone until you took down the sign.

It takes time for the adolescent male to gain a measure of control, which is not to say that this “penile autonomy” ever ceases. Even as the body and mind mature, the penis simply reasserts itself in different ways, and hopefully, the male of the species eventually learns to co-exist with its independence somewhat.

If owning a penis is like entertaining a surprise guest, then owning balls is like having superman’s tragic weakness to kryptonite. If you’re male, you not only have this one headstrong thing in your pants, but right next to it you have these two enormous weak spots, your Achilles heels. Why a key organ of humanity evolved to hang outside the body cavity is a mystery — it has to be a creationist joke. It’s horribly funny when you think of it, especially considering how many things one has to straddle in one’s life: bicycles, poles, fences, leg straps for parachutes, motorcycles, gym equipment. The pain of having your balls smashed is sharp and nauseating and you really can’t concentrate on anything for a while. You behave as if you got the wind knocked out of you, but you can still breathe — that is, if you can remember to breathe. The nausea isn’t really in the stomach, but pretty close. The pain turns moderately quickly from sharpness to dull ache within 30-40 seconds, and if you take it easy, you can be back in business in 5 minutes. But those are 5 minutes of down time, and there’s no getting around it.

I suppose boys could take advantage of an age-old design and start wearing protective cups, like they do in baseball, but round the clock instead of only occasionally. But the cup would be yet one more bit of equipment to haul around in their trousers, and the psychological damage of so much weight down there might not balance the occasional pain from having their balls smashed. The thing about boys’ balls is that they probably only get racked a few times in their lives, but the memory of that pain always exists right up front in the “fight or flight” part of their brains, and thus makes them careful when climbing over fences and jumping onto horses and those sorts of things throughout their lives. A better design would be to locate the balls inside the body, like the ovaries, which would make males virtually invulnerable. Upon reflection, I think this invulnerability would probably also make men intolerable, so on second thought, maybe it’s all for the best: all super heroes need their tragic weakness, and males have their testicles.

These balls are housed in an underappreciated sack called the scrotum, and I say underappreciated because it’s a lot more than a container. It’s a self-contained temperature control device, and it moves, and writhes, and contracts independent of mental processes. You get in a hot bath, the scrotum loosens up, hangs low. You get cold, it circles the wagons and conserves heat. When temperature is changing, if you watch closely, you can see the skin seething, readjusting to tiny fluctuations in the environment. It’s always moving, like some protean beast that is always changing, always roaming, never allowed to rest — sort of like a shark, but without teeth.

Given these two things in their pants, the invulnerable and independent penis, and the outside-your-body-cavity key organs housed in this magical sack, I’m surprised boys have evolved to walk upright. The physicality of male genitalia is always there — both sets of goodies are out there, both right together, forming a bulls-eye in boys’ minds on the crotch. I suppose it’s just a fact of life, of biology, but given our species’ lofty aspirations to higher thinking, critical faculties, enlightenment, art, philosophy, education, love, and understanding, this design seems primitive.