On Monday night, Nicki Minaj tested the limits of believability with a wild claim about COVID-19 vaccines, testicles and male sexual performance.
Just after saying she was skipping out on the Met Gala because of the event’s vaccine requirement, the “Anaconda” singer shared a truly fascinating anecdote about a friend of her cousin: She claimed getting vaccinated also caused the friend to become impotent and have swollen testicles.
Apologies to Minaj’s cousin’s friend — the whole internet now knows he got “Runaway Bride’d” and that he’s apparently saddled with some abnormally large testicles. Yikes.
Naturally, Twitter had jokes:
Although Fox News’ Tucker Carlson thought Minaj’s take “seemed sensible” (perhaps unsurprisingly), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has debunked such claims.
“There is no evidence that vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause male fertility problems,” the CDC said.
Neel Parekh, a urologist at the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, broke it down a little more.
“Remember the most common vaccines being used, from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, contain mRNA and not the live virus,” he told HuffPost. “mRNA vaccines do not change your body’s DNA and there is no plausible means for the vaccine to cause impotence or swollen testicles.”
A study out of the University of Miami looking at the effect of mRNA vaccines on sperm quality in men concluded “there were no significant decreases in any sperm parameter among this small cohort of healthy men.”
And both the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology and the Society for the Study of Male Reproduction, two major male sexual health medical organizations, are recommending that men get vaccinated against COVID-19.
While we’re on this general topic, there have also been some claims that the mRNA vaccines cause “female sterilization.” Those arguments are wrong, too.
“So many people attack the COVID-19 vaccines with arbitrary assertions made in defiance of the need for evidence,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and an infectious disease expert. “Minaj’s tweet speaks to the lack of scientific literacy in this country and that’s something that has really hampered the pandemic response.”
Some men do experience erectile dysfunction after getting COVID-19, though.
The COVID-19 vaccines do not cause erectile dysfunction or male infertility — but having COVID-19 can, according to a study published in July in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation.
“Orchitis (swollen testicles) and erectile dysfunction (impotence) have been found to be a side effect in some men suffering from active COVID-19 infection as the virus is thought to cross the blood-testis barrier, ” said Ranjith Ramasamy, the director of reproductive urology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the co-author of the aforementioned sperm count study.
As HuffPost has previously reported, there are a few reasons why this might be the case: Data has shown that the virus can infect and attack blood vessels ― which explains why some people who survived the coronavirus have experienced blood clots, complications with the lungs or kidneys, or oral health issues like tooth loss. It could also be the reason for ED.
There’s also a theory that COVID-19 can lead to a cardiovascular disease called endothelial dysfunction ― a condition impacting the large blood vessels on the heart’s surface. Some experts believe this connection might be responsible for potential long-term erectile dysfunction in some COVID-19 patients, though research is ongoing.
“What we have observed is COVID-19 viral particles in the penis of COVID-positive men,” Ramasamy said. “We’ve found that COVID-19 caused widespread dysfunction of the cells lining penile blood vessels of some men and remained in the penis long after recovering from infection.”
In conclusion: The cause of this man’s testicle swelling remains a mystery.
The world may never know what happened to Minaj’s cousin’s friend. But for the purpose of this article, Orange County-based urologist Aaron Spitz wagered a theory.
Someone might think the vaccine was making them impotent when the underlying cause was actually performance-related, said Spitz, the author of “The Penis Book: A Doctor’s Complete Guide to the Penis.”
“The way this can happen is if a guy gets the vaccine he may experience flu-like symptoms for a day or two, which is a typical reaction due to the immune response that the vaccine causes ― and is supposed to cause,” he said.
Any attempt at sex during this time might be pretty lackluster since your energy levels are zapped.
“Your body may just not be up to it and you may experience a weak or failed erection,” Spitz said.
“If this is the first time such a thing has happened to a guy, it may alarm him and cause him a great deal of anxiety the next time he has sex,” Spitz said. “He’ll think, ‘I wonder if I’m going to have trouble with my erection like I did the last time?’ and that could lead to some performance anxiety.”
Again, this is just a guess; Spitz is not this person’s doctor. But, like the other urologists interviewed for this piece, Spitz wanted to stress that there’s no concrete evidence the vaccine itself harms a man’s reproductive system.
“Bottom line: If a man is concerned about COVID causing harm to his testicles or harming his sexual function, then he should get vaccinated,” Spitz said. “It’s hard to have good sex if you’re dead.”
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.