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Written by Joseph Dunsay. After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. Find more Jewrotica writing by Joseph here.
Jews around the world recently read the story of Adam and Eve at the beginning of the Torah. It starts with the formation of the first human who is then split into a man and a woman. Eventually, their love for each other causes them to unite again. The story of history’s first couple brings up the topic of where a person’s body ends and the rest of the universe begins.
Immunologists refer to all the parts of an individual as “self” and anything else found in or on that individual as “nonself”. The immune system will attack any nonself it finds but leave any self alone. Certain organs receive unusual levels of protection that make them different from a thyroid or a rib. The blood-brain barrier and blood-testis barrier put the brain and testicles on their own levels.
The brain is the most private organ in the body. It is encased in the skull, because it is so essential to who a person is and how a person functions. The blood-brain barrier protects the brain on a molecular and cellular level just as the skull protects a brain from blunt trauma. The blood-brain barrier actively decides which molecules and cells can enter the brain. The fact that this barrier protects the brain from outside harm indicates that the brain is more “self” than the rest of the body is.
Testicles are on the other side of the spectrum between self and nonself. They hang outside the body to keep them cooler for the sake of sperm production. The sperm generated inside testicles is genetically different from the rest of a man’s cells. A man’s immune system would identify the sperm as nonself and attack it if not for the blood-testis barrier. This barrier prevents the immune system and toxins from damaging sperm. It’s existence indicates that sperm is separate from a man even before he releases it from his body.
An understanding of male anatomy sheds light on human relationships and the degrees of intimacy a couple can achieve. Perhaps the Torah mentions that Adam and Eve knew each other not as a way of avoiding coarse language but as a way of indicating how intimate their relationship was. Sperm evolved to be released, and a man’s body does it readily and enthusiastically. The neurons of the brain, on the other hand, are the most guarded cells in a man. This suggests that the highest, and most challenging, intimacy with a man comes not from taking his seed, but from making him know someone.