Health journalism is probably the only beat where you can legitimately ask all sorts of questions about sex without coming off as salacious or sleazy. And yes, I’ve done a few sex-related stories in my time on the beat, all in the name of education and awareness – seriously!

While this particular article was on a fairly serious issue that’s not as known as it should be – sexual dysfunction caused by uncontrolled high blood sugar levels – I was amused, bemused, and much educated on the side during my interview with a well-known consultant clinical andrologist.

It was conducted at his clinic which – like many doctors’ offices – had various educational material and props strewn around. The first thing that caught my eye, sitting right in front of me on the table, was one showing the four grades of erection.

Without hesitation – hey, it’s my duty to be educated about all health-related matters – I reached out and felt the plasticine buttons representing the different grades ranging from large (but not hard) to completely hard and fully rigid. And yes, dear future husband, I do remember how hard or not each grade is.

The consultant might have been amused or impressed by my lack of shyness as he showed me what appeared to be a huge necklace of oval-shaped objects. The smooth ovoids were in ascending order of size – or descending, depending on your perspective.

This was an orchidometer, he said, a medical device used to measure the volume of the testicles. I thought the largest one was big enough, but he said there are actually orchidometers with a couple of even larger extra ovoids typically used for men of Middle Eastern origin.

Malaysian men, depending on ethnicity, tend to range around the middle of the spectrum.

As an experienced and sought-after expert in men’s sexual health and infertility, the consultant had lots of anecdotes to share. Most of them were off-topic and, sadly, could not end up in the article. But there was one particular anecdote that stood out.

It’s one of those tales that is both tragic and funny and, unfortunately, reflects our society’s old-fashioned perception of manliness and fertility.

A couple had come to see the consultant as they had been unable to conceive despite being married for years. It was expected that the wife would undergo all the fertility tests as it was assumed – unspoken – that she was the one with the problem.

However, the consultant gently insisted that both husband and wife be tested. The husband, a well-built macho man, grumbled but acquiesced, certain it was a waste of time and money as the issue could not possibly be him.

When the results came back, it was indeed he who was infertile and, unfortunately, his condition wasn’t one that could be treated. He would never be able to father biological children.

Sex, orchidometer, sexual dysfunction, fertility, infertility, testicular size, health journalism,

The consultant showing the normal sizes for Asian male testicles with an orchidometer. Photo: Filepic

The husband did not take the news well. He stormed out of the clinic with his wife and vowed never to see the doctor again. So, it was much to the consultant’s surprise that a year or two later, he received a call from the husband.

He had called to gleefully inform the consultant that he and his wife had a baby, and to crow about the huge mistake the doctor had made. In disbelief – for the test had been unmistakable – the consultant pulled up the couple’s records and reviewed them.

He even asked his fellow consultants to review the case, to see if he had possibly made a mistake. All agreed that he had been accurate in his assessment. Unsettled but unable to see how to pursue the matter, the consultant let it go.

A year or two after that, when the husband called again to announce baby #2, the consultant was determined to get to the bottom of the matter. So, he called and tactfully  asked the wife how exactly she had conceived her children.

At his persistence, she tearfully admitted she had resorted to sex with another man to have the kids her husband wanted. In recounting this story, the consultant did not reveal any other details about the couple. It was truly one of those “don’t know whether to laugh or cry” stories.

From The Vault is a fortnightly series that takes readers behind the scenes of memorable interviews and assignments our journalists have experienced.