Friends, the widely popular TV sitcom celebrated its 20th anniversary this week by opening a Central Perk pop-up shop in New York City, complete with the famous orange couch and other Friends memorabilia. If any of you are fans of the show, then you’ll remember this scene from the series finale in which Chandler asks Erica, the biological mother of his and Monica’s adopted twins, “So, you ever wonder which is worse, you know, going through labor or getting kicked in the nuts?”
That question has lingered in my mind ever since that episode aired 10 years ago, and although we may never get an answer — as Chandler notes, “No one will ever know, because no one can experience both” — it’s obvious why women who are in labor are in such great pain; they’re giving birth to a baby through a hole the size of a coin (the cervix). But why does getting kicked in the balls hurt so much it forces even the strongest men to their knees?
As the highly informative video from ASAP Science below points out, our balls, those two organs crucial to reproduction, hang out in the open, vulnerable to attack. Because of that, they’re covered in lots of sensitive, pain-sensing neurons called nociceptors, which transmit signals to the brain alerting it that something’s hurt. An abundance of these receptors is important because every man needs to know when his pride is being compromised.
Once those receptors react to the initial kick, they send signals to the brain through nerves in the stomach, particularly the vagus nerve. This is when all the hurting begins. The vagus nerve is the “longest and most complex of the cranial nerves,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica, running from the brain through the face and down to the stomach and groin. It’s through the vagus nerve that signals are sent to the heart and stomach, and through extensions of nerve tissue (the superior ganglia) that signals are sent to the ear. Getting kicked in the balls activates reactions in all these areas (especially the abdomen), causing nausea and vomiting, a rise in blood pressure, headaches, dizziness, and crying.
It’s no wonder why even the smallest tap will bring a man down harder than this tranquilized bear (the bear ended up OK).
Thankfully, most of the pain recedes within an hour, a process that can be sped up with a certain few steps — ease the pain first, berate the offender later. According to Men’s Journal, lying down can reestablish proper blood flow to the brain, reducing symptoms of nausea and dizziness, while also reducing pressure on the abdomen and groin area. Replacing lost fluids with a sport drink can also help to ease the muscle tension. Finally, for your safety, if pain persists or there are obvious signs of trauma (bruising, swelling, for example), go see a doctor.
So there you have it, the science behind getting your balls kicked — you’ll be able to feel the process happening, at least until its intensity builds to the point of blanking out. As for whether or not getting kicked in the balls is worse than giving birth, you can watch the ASAP Science video below for an answer.