Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reproductive Biology

I am taking a class on human reproductive biology.

I should mention a few things about the other students. First, given that this class takes place at a medical school that rhymes with Farvard, everyone operates from the premise that the students meet some baseline level of intelligence. Second, it's about 60 percent dudes, 40 percent ladies. Third, they mostly seem pretty normal and nice and decently socialized. I don't say this last thing to be a bitch--I typically assume that people are normal until proven weirdos-- but, rather, because someone asked me the following question:

"How many of the guys are only taking the class because it's the closest they're going to get to knowing what a vagina feels like?"

"No! They all seem really normal and nice!" I protested, reflexively. But then I started looking for the awkward, and I honed in on one guy who kept turning around to share a giggle--yes, a giggle-- with a person sitting behind me, usually when a lecturer used the word clitoris.

So, anyway, here I am, in lecture with some women, some mildly awkward dudes, and the guy apparently unfamiliar with lady parts. In this company I am listening to a lecture about the miracle of sperm.

"It's really miraculous," the guest lecturer, a urologist, says. "Did you ever consider the fact that it's the only cell designed to function outside its body of origin?"

This is really more than feminist me can take. I consider raising my hand. "Is it really miraculous that it takes two million of these amaaaaazing cells for ONE of them to get the job done? I am somehow unimpressed. NEXT."

I decide against raising my hand. I mean, he's a urologist. It's kind of his job to be really excited about sperm.

Blah blah blah aren't sperms the coolest blah blah blah well I guess testes make a lot of janky ones but hey they sure do make a lot of them blah blah bigger stronger faster smarter blah blah scrotum.

Oh yes, now it's the moment we've been waiting for: time to talk about the wonders of the scrotum.

I have a vague idea about what's ahead. I am pretty sure it will involve a lot of awkward silences between prompts to discuss scrotal physiology.

I am so right.

This discomfort, by the way, baffles me. We are in an elective class, a MEDICAL SCHOOL class no less, about reproductive biology. It's not as if all these people were abducted off the street, locked in a room, and told, "Surprise! We're talking about balls!" Good grief, 60 PERCENT OF THE PEOPLE IN THE ROOM HAVE A SCROTUM. Is it that difficult to talk about it in the abstract? The uterus--mine, yours, some anonymous uterus-- is one of my favorite topics of conversation. How is this different?

The urologist is still trying to keep the class interactive. There is a quick refresher on the evolutionary origins of scrotal anatomy. I again refrain from offering an answer, since I'm pretty sure that the expected response to "Why is it so important for the male gonads to be external?" is not "To regulate the temperature of the sperm and also to make them easier to kick." Having somehow elicited an answer about keeping the little swimmers chilly, he moves on: "And how does the scrotum keep the testes cool?"

I consider rattling off three or four mechanisms, just to end the agony. As the tooth-pulling continues, I finally lose patience and call out, to the surprise and discomfort of several of the guys, "It sweats a lot," in a voice that I realize is not unlike Patty Bouvier's. "Just make it stop," I think to myself. "We get it. You have said at least five times that sperm need to be at 34 ˚C. They like it cold. Aaaaaargh."

I give up. I am zoning out a little, trying to decide which of the only-a-little awkward guys might be single and interested in dating my friends. My eyes pass quickly over the guy who is there to hear about vaginas (clearly not friend fix-up material), and then my brain senses a red flag. I focus back on him. Just like one of those games in the back of Highlights when I was little, I play "What's Wrong with this Picture?"

His laptop is not on his desk. It is, aptly, on top of his lap. Has he not seen articles about this? Has he not been listening at all to the last 20 minutes of excruciating explanation about how heat causes male infertility?

The laptop's fan turns on. The urologist looks directly at him but keeps lecturing. I think about raising my hand and asking if we can have an intervention. A fresh surge of annoyance about the whole "miracle of sperm" thing rushes through me, and also I consider the fact that I will sound a.) like a hideous bitch and b.) like I was thinking about this guy's testes. Nope, not me, not today. Sometimes, you have to let people figure out their mistakes on their own.