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Testicle Tanning and Perineal Sunning

Tucker Carlson is promoting testicle tanning on Fox News. His recommendation provoked considerable ridicule. In a subsequent interview, Kid Rock refused to take it seriously and joked that he was starting a punk rock band called Testicle Tanning, “and that’s the end of it.” One commenter pointed out that the testicles are supposed to be inside the scrotum, and if you can see your testicles, you need to call your doctor.

You might wonder why Tucker Carlson is telling men they should tan their balls. Is it perhaps in support of his documentary on “The End of Men”? In that program he asserts that testosterone levels are dropping and that there is a natural way to raise testosterone levels: testicle tanning. Well… testosterone levels may be lower, but no way is that the end of men. And yes, there are natural ways to boost testosterone, but testicle tanning is not one of them!

A Misnomer

When I first heard of testicle tanning, I laughed. Since over-enthusiastic tanning can result in sunburn, I imagined men applying aloe and other creams awkwardly to inconvenient areas of their anatomy to treat sunburn of the scrotum. But in reality, “testicle tanning” has nothing to do with tanning. It doesn’t produce a tan, either of the testicles or of the scrotum, and it can’t possibly result in sunburn. What is actually being offered is red light therapy. Red light has been tried for a number of conditions, from wound healing to reducing wrinkles. Some studies have shown potential for certain conditions, but according to the Cleveland Clinic there’s not enough evidence to support most uses, and there’s no evidence that it has the potential to raise testosterone levels.

Where Did the Testicle Tanning Idea Come From?

I was able to track down and read the original article said to support the claim that testicle tanning increases testosterone levels. It wasn’t easy to locate, and I had to pay to read it. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes, and then I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. It is both hilarious and sad that the whole testicle tanning fad is based on such flimsy evidence.

  • The study they are offering as evidence is “Influence of Ultraviolet Irradiation Upon Excretion of Sex Hormones in the Male”, by Abraham Myerson and Rudolph Neustadt from the Division of Psychiatric Research at Boston State Hospital. It was published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology…in 1939! That’s over eight decades ago— before we entered World War II—and it has never been replicated or confirmed. In fact, a recent study that measured testosterone in athletes before and after treatment with full body red light therapy found no change in testosterone levels.
  • It was based on only 5 subjects!
  • The subjects were men hospitalized with depression. Three were in the depressive stage of manic-depressive psychosis. Each of those three was 54 years old, which seems an unlikely coincidence. The other two were 28 and 45 years old; their diagnoses were “psychopathias with depressive features.” These patients were not typical of the people who are doing testicle tanning.
  • The subjects were not exposed to the sun or to red light but to UV light from a mercury quartz lamp in a series of treatments that started at eight minutes and increased progressively to twenty minutes. Different areas of the body were irradiated.
  • The study did not measure testosterone levels at all. It measured androsterone excretion in the urine. Androsterone is an inactive metabolite of testosterone.
  • When the chest area was exposed to UV light, androsterone excretion increased from 70 to 155 IU (International Units).
  • When the UV radiation was applied to the genital area, androsterone excretion rose from 70 to 205 IU. The widely cited claim that light treatment boosted testosterone levels by a whopping 200 percent simply does not match the data reported in the study.
  • The maximum effect was seen after five daily treatments; after that, further treatments did not produce a greater effect.
  • The two patients who were not true manic-depressives experienced “a good influence” (not explained), while the mental state of the three manic-depressives was not affected.
  • A majority of patients developed “a marked erythema but no undesirable skin reaction.” I couldn’t help but wonder if they considered marked erythema desirable.

The authors speculated that the thin and transparent scrotum may not absorb the UV rays entirely and the testes may be directly stimulated to higher activity. They admitted they didn’t know whether it was the UV part of the spectrum that caused the increased excretion of androgens, and they planned to investigate select narrow spectral bands. As far as I could determine, they never got around to doing that. I can’t help but wonder how the proponents of testicle tanning made the leap from UV light to red light, which is at the other end of the spectrum. But then, that’s only one of the many leaps of logic they demonstrate.

Other “Evidence”?

An article on the Tantric Academy website says a study by Professor Andrea Fagiolini saw testosterone levels increase by 300 percent with light treatments. That study was reported at a conference, but it is not listed on PubMed, so presumably it was never published. It was a small study of men with low sexual desire. They were exposed to “a special UV-filtered light box that emitted very bright light” for 30 minutes. They reported increased sexual satisfaction levels and their testosterone levels went up from 2.3 ng/mL to 3.6 ng/mL. You would have to do some very creative math to interpret that as a 300 percent increase. And it would require some real contortions to interpret Fagiolini’s results as evidence supporting testicle tanning. Other studies said to support testicle tanning are animal studies that do no such thing. They include testosterone measurements in fish and the attractiveness of hens to cockerels. One study even contradicted the original study; it found that UV light does not increase testosterone.

Urology specialists who were consulted uniformly derided the very idea. One said, “There is no scientific evidence available that suggests that tanning your scrotum or your testicles in any way is going to boost your testosterone.” Another urologist chimed in: “Based on literature, based on our knowledge of how the testicles produce sperm and testosterone, there’s nothing that would lead us to believe that any form of external light or phototherapy would raise testosterone levels. I’m not aware of any science, or data, or any journal publications proving that red light therapy improves male testosterone.” He wondered if the treatments might be producing heat in the testicles; if so, that would definitely be a bad thing.

In the opinion of Dr. Joe Schwarcz, a prominent science communicator, “Carlson’s prattle borders on lunacy.”

Butthole Tanning?

A related fad is butthole tanning, also known as butt-chugging, but better described as perineal sunning. MetaphysicalMeagan posted a photo on Instagram of a naked woman holding her legs in a way that provides maximum exposure to her nether regions. She explained that perineum sunning is an ancient Taoist practice. Taoism claims that the perineum is “The Gate of Life and Death”, a gateway where energy enters and exits the body. She lists as the many benefits of perineal sunning that it:

  • Brings in prana or solar energy from the sun into the organs within the body which strengthens the organs.
  • Prevents against the leakage of chi or life force energy from the body. This in turn sustains health & longevity of the physical body.
  • Increases creativity and creative output.
  • Aids in a healthy libido & balanced sexual energy.
  • 30 seconds of sunlight on the perineum is equivalent to being in the sun all day with your clothes on.
  • Regulates the circadian rhythm and promotes deeper sleep.
  • Grounds and connects you to the Earth.
  • Increases your personal magnetism and amplifies the auric field.
  • Provides better focus & mental stimulation.
  • Regulates hormone function in the sex organs.

MetaphysicalMeagan doesn’t provide even a hint of any scientific evidence because there isn’t any. Prana? Leakage of chi? Amplifies the auric field? That is not the language of science.

Edzard Ernst commented on his blog that butthole tanning gives an entirely new meaning to “holistic” medicine. He posted a different photo (possibly photoshopped as the shadows look wrong) from an advocate who says “Coffee? No thanks. I get all the energy I need from charging my butthole in the sunlight.” Ernst says he is “completely and utterly perplexed.” A commenter on his blog said Ernst should take it seriously because there is “overwhelming evidence” that the Sun is good, nano-doses work, and Big Pharma is bad. I’m overwhelmed to learn that any reasonable person could think that was overwhelming “evidence.”

Silly Fads Abound

These are only two of the many ridiculous fads that some individuals have been willing to follow. Others that come to mind are Vampire Facials, cupping, drinking one’s own urine, coffee enemas, detox regimens, vaginal steaming, oxygen shots, raw water, and more—so many more! Not only are these fads not supported by any scientific evidence, they are so obviously bizarre nonsense. However, there’s no idea so absurd that you can’t find someone out there who believe it.

Why do people fall for these fads? The answer is complex. For one thing, our brains evolved to be naturally more impressed by testimonials from their friends than by scientific studies, which many may not understand and often distrust. Some may want to rebel against authority. Some may mistake correlation for causation. Some may feel empowered by taking action to improve their own health. Others may want to become part of a special club. And some may have been bamboozled by misinformation. Any or all are possible. Those who believe such nonsense are not stupid. They simply have not been trained in science and critical thinking skills. END

About the Author

Harriet Hall, MD, the SkepDoc, is a retired family physician, former flight surgeon, and retired Air Force Colonel who writes about medicine, pseudoscience, alternative medicine, quackery, and critical thinking. She is a contributing editor and regular columnist for both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer magazines and an editor at ScienceBasedMedicine.org, where she has written an article every Tuesday since its inception in 2008. She wrote the book Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon. The full texts of all her many hundreds of articles can be read on her website www.skepdoc.info.

This article was published on November 24, 2022.

 
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