Shrinkage: Nature’s humble pie. Why does the cold seemingly make everything below the belt seem smaller?
I’ve always assumed it was fight-or-flight related, like a turtle retreating into its shell to hide from the elements. Or was that just a matter of resemblance?
It turns out, however, I was more right than wrong.
“Muscle fibres in the penis stretch when you get an erection,” explains urologist Alex Shteynshlyuger, “but they also shrink if it’s cold outside or when you go swimming.”
The reason testicles hang outside of the body in the first place is that optimal sperm production requires a temperature roughly 2 degrees lower than in the rest of the body. If it raises to 98 degrees or higher, Shteynshlyuger says, sperm production ceases, which can negatively impact fertility for months. That’s why the penis and scrotum are both designed to control climate.
Shrinkage occurs when tiny muscle fibres in the penis and scrotum automatically contract to draw them closer to body heat. It also takes place whenever the body sends more blood to vital organs — your heart, lungs and brain foremost among them — to preserve heat and energy in the cold. The reason why? Less blood is now sent to your appendages — namely, your fingers, toes and penis, which can wither to half of its normal flaccid size.
“The mechanism is actually the same with nervousness, tension and stress,” Shteynshlyuger says. That’s because nerves cause the same muscles to contract, which can result in awkward first-date moments. Similarly, a decrease in testosterone can also lead to diminishing returns. There are a variety of reasons as to why testosterone decreases: ageing, poor eating habits, tobacco use, taking steroids and relentless boozing, to name a few. The good news is that despite claims to the contrary, Shteynshlyuger insists excessive masturbation is unlikely to cause shrinkage.
On the contrary: It’s actually beneficial to maintaining length since masturbation stimulates the blood vessels and collagen fibres that give skin its stretchability. Speaking of which, due to decreased elasticity in collagen fibers with age, a man can expect to lose an inch or so in penis length by his 70s.
Shrinkage: Ageing’s humble pie.