It’s a touchy subject and far under-discussed one at that, but it’s definitely one of staggering importance in any aerial community. That’s right, everyone, we’re talking about man bits and how we can make sure that the way that those of us with external genitalia can perform aerial movements allows us to stay safe, uninjured, and “pain-free” in our most sensitive region.
Just a quick note before I go any further: When I say “man bits,” I’m referring to any sort of external genitalia. Aerial instructors should be aware extended applicability of this advice to people who we may not immediately identify as “men.” For example, a transgendered or intersex aerial student may bear full or partial male genitalia and therefore may find aerial work challenging, but the fact that this is why they are finding aerial work challenging may not be so evident. So, while I will call them “man bits,” don’t confuse all of this advice as strictly “advice for aerialists who are men.”
Almost every aerialist with man bits has had at least one highly unpleasurable experience where an aerial apparatus squeezed or pinched in a bad way or where a bar or rope caused painful bodily shifting. The most commonly prescribed solution from aerial instructors as to how to prevent these sorts of mishaps is to wear a dance belt. For those who are unfamiliar, a dance belt is a form of supportive underwear similar in function to a jockstrap that is equipped with a thong back in order avoid edge visibility underneath form-fitting clothing.
The dance belt advice is very common, but there is one extremely important problem: DANCE BELTS DO NOT PREVENT INJURY. Man bits can still get hurt quite a bit as a result of poor aerial technique, even for the most diligent of dance belt wearers.
Well, if they don’t prevent injury, what do dance belts do, you may ask? The answer is that they keep your man bits in place, which means that they will be where you expect them and you can can position them in a predictable manner. The only way beyond supportive underwear to ensure ideal comfort and safety is to employ strong aerial technique, and the proper technique to perform aerial moves comfortably on an apparatus may be more involved than you have been instructed in the past. Here are my words of advice, broken down into three fundamental concepts.
ANTI-MAN-BITS-PAIN TIP 1: know WHICH DIRECTIONS OF PRESSURE cause pain
Use these rules to predict if an aerial skill may cause intense pain.
- Inwards pressure on the man bits (pressing into the body) = TERRIBLY PAINFUL
- Upwards pressure on the man bits (sliding towards the chest) = TERRIBLY PAINFUL
- Downwards pressure on the man bits (sliding towards the feet) = not great, but generally tolerable
Example: the canonical “kick in the balls” is both an upwards and inwards hit, which, as you can see by my categorization here, can be quite terribly painful indeed.
Here are some examples to demonstrate how you might employ these rules to recognize situations where extreme pain might result without care.
- Directions of Pressure Example 1: Consider horse position on trapeze or hoop (basically, sitting on the bar sideways with one leg on either side of the bar). If you sit backwards a bit, there’s no pressure at all on the man bits, which is great, but if you lean forward–WOAH NELLY–that upward pressure is HORRIBLE.
- Directions of Pressure Example 2: Consider hip circles on trapeze or hoop. If you rotate in the forward direction, this puts downwards pressure on the man bits. This is no big deal, and generally does not cause pain. However, reverse hip circles are VERY SKETCHY INDEED. If the man bits slide along the bar during a reverse hip circle, this can apply EXTREME upwards and inwards pressure. Thus, great care must be taken when performing reverse mill circles to ensure that the man bits press into the bar VERY LIGHTLY if at all when the skill is performed.
- Directions of Pressure Example 3: Think about a hip key on silks. If this is done POORLY, the silks may lie directly on the man bits, pushing them directly inwards towards the body (you do have your full weight in the fabric, after all). This can be extremely painful.
ANTI-MAN-BITS-PAIN TIP 2: know which nearby areas DO NOT cause pain
Pressure on the man bits hurts; pressure directly to the left, right, above, or below does not (at least, does not in the same, horrible, horrible way). As we will see, this allows us to use the “Pick A Side!” technique with our apparatus in order to comfortably support weight.
How do you know which side to pick? The answer depends on the skill! “Pick a Side!” is most relevant for aerial silks, so I will provide a general rule some examples to illustrate.
THE BIG “PICK A SIDE!” GENERAL RULE: the left/right placement of the fabric on the front of the body immediately after it passes between the legs directly corresponds to whether the fabric should pass through on the left or on the right of the man bits.
Why is this the case? Since the man bits are located on the FRONT part of the pelvis (instead of directly underneath the pelvis), whatever the fabric does in the front of the hips must be matched with what the fabric does immediately below the hips in order to prevent the fabric from wrapping diagonally across the man bits, and thus causing uncomfortable inward and upward pressure!
Here are some examples to illustrate:
- “Pick a Side!” Example 1: in a hip key, the fabric section running between the legs should be ABOVE the man bits when keyed in (that is, on the ceiling side of things when the body is piked over), because the portion of the fabric running through the legs that goes to the front of the hips runs towards the top leg (that is, bottom to top, we have: silk, leg, man bits, silk, leg, silk–quite the sandwich indeed). Positioning in this manner will allow for maximum hip key comfort (…or should I say “maximum hip keymfort”? Maybe I shouldn’t…).
- “Pick a Side!” Example 2: get into an opposite-side hook (outside leg hook), let the silk go behind the back, wrap the free leg, and climb over the hooked leg into a opposite side dive (salto) position. This position is typically very painful when not done carefully. Since the opposite side leg was hooked, the side that is climbed over is opposite to the side that the portion of the fabric running through the legs ends up on at the front of the hips. Since the weight will be supported on the side of the man bits which corresponds to the leg that was climbed over, the fabric will force lots of uncomfortable pressure because by doing so we are forced to violate “Pick a Side!” rule that I mentioned above. A flourish of the hips can allow one to “switch sides” when climbing over, avoiding this painful result (described in Anti-Man-Bits-Pain Tip 3, Pain Prevention Solution 1 below).
- “Pick a Side!” Example 3: get into a same-side hook (inside leg hook), wrap the free leg, and climb over the hooked leg. As far as aerial skills go, this position does not hurt much at all, since the natural placement of the weight-bearing portion of the silk is on the side of the leg that you climbed over, which is the same side as the fabric wrap in front of the hips, so our “Pick a Side!” rule is satisfied! Hooray for no terrible, terrible pain!
ANTI-MAN-BITS-PAIN TIP 3: know how to PREVENT painful pressure during movement
In general, aerial skills can be very painful if a wrap involves switching sides while the silk is bearing weight. There are two workarounds.
- Pain Prevention Solution 1, “JUMP THE HIGHWAY”: If you find that you have chosen the wrong side, or that the wrap that you are using simply violates the “Pick a Side!” rule (as is common for many opposite side hook wraps, as illustrated by the “Pick a Side!” Example 2 above), proceed with “Jump the Highway” by lifting up the body with the arms on the silks, switching the fabric from one side of the man bits to the other, and then sitting yourself in. This is a fairly reliable technique that works for most situations on any apparatus, but it does require a little bit of foresight to prevent pain in the first place as well as arm strength to actually perform the maneuver.
- Pain Prevention Solution 2, “BE CREATIVE!”: Try choosing a different wrap! Ask your instructor if there are any variations on the skill that you are working with that does not involve switching sides while weight-bearing. If none are evident or known, try figuring out something for yourself under the supervision of an instructor. Very frequently there are multiple ways to enter the same skill or many ways to produce the same shape, and very often these variations are accompanied with various degrees of pain. You just may come up with a brand new piece of aerial vocabulary!
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