A “game,” involving slapping your friend in the testicles, is reportedly the new trend among adolescent boys.
Through time and across cultures, men have tested their tolerance of pain as part of initiation rituals. The Sambia people of Papua New Guinea shove sticks up the boys’ noses. The Maasai of East Africa perform ritual circumcision without anesthetic. But these are age-old rituals, administered by elders—they hardly explain the latest fad among American boys: the “sack whack.”
This is how it works: you get a group of your buddies, corner or hold down some innocent guy, and slap him in the testicles, apparently to see how well he takes the pain. While this might seem idiotic, this “game,” also called “sack-tap” and “nut check,” is reportredly all the rage among adolescent boys.
What are the sack-whackers aiming to achieve? It appears to be some test of genital virility—if I am able to withstand this pain, then I am a real man! But it’s not a valid test of masculine virility or sexual prowess. It may be a test of withstanding pain—but so is, say, a punch in the shoulder. Maybe it’s a test of a man’s resistance to genital attack, one that somehow makes him a stud in terms sexual performance potential—although it seems unlikely that these kids have thought it through that far.
What is the appeal of these activities to boys and young men? Many believe that a man’s genitals are the symbol of his strength and masculinity. Does that mean we should try to prove our own manliness by taking strength from other men? Let’s hit each other in the “goods” and see who is truly the most invulnerable. Really, guys?
Men often go to extreme, violent, and bizarre lengths to prove that they are “real men.” Young boys and teenagers tend to emphasize pain to show that they are developing into the manly men they aspire to be, especially when it means inflicting it on others. If a bully wants to kick a guy while he’s down, he might give him a shot in the groin. But, even amongst friends, “sack tapping” is a common behavior, suggested to be a trivial and hilarious way to play with each other. But what is this suggesting? What does violence and dominance have to do with being a man?
Not all boys play dangerous games fixated on each other’s genitals, but the root motivation for such behavior seems common among young men: I need to be strong even if it means making someone else weak.
If you know a young sack-whacker, we encourage you to ask them if they know why they behave that way. Ask them what it means to be a real man, and if such behaviors play a part if proving themselves. Then ask them if they’d like to lose a testicle. Remind them that men don’t need to inflict pain to be masculine.
Brandon Youngblood is a Graduate Student at Boston University (www.bu.edu) and active member of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (SPSMM). Brandon is also the content manager for the official SPSMM website (http://www.apa.org/divisions/div51/index.htm). His interest in studying the socialization of masculinity began while an undergraduate at Azusa Pacific University under the guidance of Dr. Deborah Smith; he continued his research at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell (www.uml.edu) completing a Certificate of Forensic Criminology before attending Boston University, where he is currently studying. His particular research areas include: Fatherhood, Male Sexuality/Sexulization, the Etiologies of Deviant Sexual Behavior, and Philosophical Psychology. As a man himself, Brandon’s hopes that his research will allow him to better serve and relate to men’s often ignored “issues” and to help “bridge the gap” between the sexes.
Ronald F. Levant, EdD, is Professor of Psychology, University of Akron (www.akron.edu). Dr. Levant was the co-founder and first President of APA Division 51 (the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity). His books include Between Father and Child (1991, Penguin), Masculinity, Reconstructed, (1995, Dutton), A New Psychology of Men, (1995, Basic Books), Men and Sex: New Psychological Perspectives (1997, John Wiley & Sons) and New Psychotherapies for Men (1998, John Wiley & Sons). Further information is at his website:http://www.drronaldlevant.com/
Kerry Cronan is a psychologist in independent practice in Brisbane, Australia. He works as both a Clinical and Consulting psychologist. He has particular interest in men’s vulnerability and the need to enhance this aspect of masculinity particularly in romantic relationships. He has worked extensively in men’s therapy groups. Further information is at his website: www.pcccaust.com.au