Between the sexes, there is a dispute that men and women rarely seem to agree on: what hurts more – giving birth or getting kicked in the balls? Yes, this is a question that concerns not only millions of people around the world but also researchers who have tried to test pain levels and come up with a definitive answer – although this is almost scientifically impossible. Women will never experience the pain of a kick in the balls and men will never experience labor and delivery. Adding to the complexity, pain is a completely subjective experience based on personal tolerance.
Is it still possible to determine which reproductive organ causes more pain and suffering: the uterus or the testicles? Maybe there is even another organ in the body that can cause more pain than these two. Before we answer the questions, here are some things you need to know about each of these types of pain.
A kick in the testes
Most hope they will never experience this, but just the thought of it might make a man cross his legs. Every blow to the testicles is more painful and traumatic than a blow received elsewhere in the body. It’s not only painful – it may also cause nausea and vomiting. A hard enough blow to the testicles can even send a man to intensive care in the hospital. The pain from the kick to the region will also be felt throughout the abdomen, and this is because the testicles originally developed there – before falling into the scrotum shortly before or after birth. When this happened, the testes took with them a cluster of nerves and tissues.
Why does such a small area cause so much pain? Well, that’s an answer that comes in two parts, with the bottom line being that testicles are perfectly shaped to inflict as much suffering on their owners as possible. First, there is the simple fact that the testicles are part of your penis. They are used for sex and reproduction – which is why evolution pushed a lot of nerve endings there.
“At its most basic level, you feel pain because of receptors and nerves,” Dr. Nathan Stark, a urologist and director of the Men’s Health Clinic at Houston Methodist Hospital, told Inverse in 2018. “And the reason, from an evolutionary perspective, is why it hurts so much To get hit in the testicles is that they are the key to sperm production.” Simply put, the body needs to make this area sensitive because otherwise you wouldn’t bother protecting it from stray bullets or angry exes – and unfortunately, it’s really worth protecting this area, because for some reason it’s so defenseless.
“It is almost unthinkable to ask why the ovaries do not descend during embryological development and emerge outside the female’s body cavity in a thin, unprotected sac,” noted an article published in 2009 in the journal Evolutionary Psychology. “Due to exposure to damage, injury, and temperature variation, ovaries unprotected located outside the body cavity will be… a serious reproductive disadvantage. The same reasoning applies with equal force to the testicles,” the authors of the article wrote. And yet, for various reasons – mainly around the need to maintain a cool temperature of the sperm until they “get to the point” – the eggs insist on hanging outside the body and are in danger.
And it doesn’t have to be this way: elephants keep their testicles inside the body, next to the kidneys. But in humans, not only did we decide to leave them hanging outside, we went ahead and became bipedal, thus making their position even more precarious. All in all, then, we have a naturally sensitive organ, located in a thin sac outside the body, and “protected” by, at most, underwear.
So yes, getting kicked in the balls is one of the most painful things a man can experience. At best you’ll feel better about an hour later and at worst you’ll find yourself carted off to the hospital writhing from pain. Is it equivalent to giving birth? Let’s talk about it.
The pain of giving birth
It seems silly to try to explain why childbirth hurts: it is a process designed to force one person out of another through an opening whose baseline width is just over 3 inches. How can it not hurt?
What is strange is that not every living creature suffers like this at birth. Humans take, on average, nine hours to give birth to their first birth – more than a working day, and 30 times longer than a horse. Even compared to our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, the great apes, our contractions are extremely painful and complex. Humans are the only living creature that needs help to give birth – and for all our modern technology and hygiene, we still suffer much higher rates of maternal and neonatal death than our cousins in the wild.
“We have the longest pregnancies (among primates), we have the biggest babies with the biggest brains,” Holly Dunsworth, a bioanthropologist at the University of Rhode Island, told Discover Magazine in 2022. Human hips can’t be much wider than they are without impairing our ability to walk and allow for easier births – but they don’t have to be. In this case, evolution is a bit lazy: “What I’m always asked is, ‘So why doesn’t the pelvis expand to make childbirth easier?’ And my answer is always, ‘Because it works well anyway. This is witnessed by more than seven billion people on the planet,'” Dunsworth explained during a presentation about her work.
The result? Hours upon hours of painful labor and delivery, during which your muscles will contract uncontrollably, your cervix and vagina will be stretched to their breaking point, your bones will be pushed to make room for a moving baby, and there’s a real chance that you could end up tearing a hole in yourself from your vagina to your anus. The contraction of the uterine muscle intended to direct the fetus towards the birth canal may be unbearably painful – as many mothers will testify.
What highlights another important part of the experience is the psychological aspect. Getting kicked in the balls isn’t pleasant, but it also doesn’t last for hours or even days at a time, getting progressively worse over time, exhausting the body and mind, and honestly – teasing you for nine months beforehand.
Almost two-thirds of women in the US report a pathological fear of childbirth – it’s so common it has a name: tokophobia – and with good reason, since in about 33 out of every 100,000 pregnancies, women will die in childbirth (and no, that number is not decreasing over the years).
Even after birth, the pain doesn’t end there. Even if you didn’t tear your vagina, and you don’t need stitches in what is one of the most sensitive places in the human body, it is still recovering from the birth and pain should be expected after it as well. The contractions may continue even after the birth and this is to prevent you from dying from blood loss extreme and return the uterus to its normal state. One way or another, it seems that this pain will never end.
The most painful experience: Kidney stones
The problem with pain, as we have already mentioned, is that it is subjective: what is torture for one person may tickle another person. While there seems to be reasons to crown childbirth as the winner on the pain scale, there are examples of mothers with such a large number of children that many (well, men) may conclude from them that “if childbirth was so painful, there is no way a woman would be willing to go through it so many times.”
Many may say that between kicking the balls and giving birth – the answer is a draw, but are willing to swear that there is an experience that hurts more than anything else: kidney stones and both sexes can experience and testify to this pain.
Kidney stones are pretty much what they sound like: hard, stone-like lumps that form in the kidneys and are caused by the accumulation of waste materials in the blood.
“When stones sit in the kidney, they usually don’t cause pain because they don’t block anything,” said urologist John Smith of the University of Utah. “They don’t bother you, but when they start to block the flow of urine and they go into the ureter, the small tube, your body tries to get rid of it by peristaltic movement, a wave-like movement of muscles that causes different substances to be pushed through tubes in the body, just as it moves food through your intestines “, he explained. Then the pain begins: if the stone is large enough, it can block the ureter and cause the kidney to swell and the ureter to contract.
If you’re wondering if a kidney stone can really be more painful than pushing another person out of your body – well, just ask those who know. Many women will admit that their experience with kidney stones is worse and more painful than childbirth, or as a Reddit user recalls: “I told someone that I was afraid I had kidney stones and she replied: ‘I hope it’s not stones because I have 4 children, all 4 births were natural, the third It took more than 24 hours – and I’d rather give birth to them all again than go through a kidney stone situation again.” Peer-reviewed research also testified to this.
Men are also unanimous in comparing kidney stones to a kick in the balls: “I’ve had kidney stones,” wrote one user, “If I had a choice, I’d stand in line for a good kick in the balls with a happy look in my eyes and never go through it again.”