We’ve all been there before. It all starts with a faint itch, the tingling that foreshadows an erection, or—far worse—the feeling of utter terror that accompanies undergarment entanglement. Whatever the issue, you’re suddenly overwhelmed with discomfort and the burning desire to rearrange your balls. The only problem? You’re in public. And god knows you don’t want to get busted cradling any of your business in the company of strangers.
But surely there’s a surreptitious fix for this all-too-common issue, right? Thankfully, we’re happy to report, there is. We took this question to the highest power in the world of etiquette: the Emily Post Institute. According to the Institute’s Daniel Post Senning, co-host of the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast, it’s an easy-to-master, five-step process. Here’s what you do. And for more great advice on how to comport yourself in public, learn the 40 words and phrases no man over 40 should ever say, ever.
Step One: Maintain eye contact with the person you’re talking to.
Yes, you read that right. “You don’t need to look at what you’re doing,” explains Post Senning. “Just by keeping your focus up and away from what you’re doing, the likelihood that someone is going to see goes down. We follow each other’s attention based on where we’re looking.”
So, sure, if you find it too awkward to gaze into someone’s eyes while your hand is around your junk—this is likely—then, by all means, look at something else: the game, the view, a cool piece of wall art. (Not a passing bombshell, though, for reasons we shouldn’t have to explain.) “Think of yourself as a magician, keeping the audience’s attention elsewhere,” says Post Senning. Just, whatever you do, don’t look down; do that and you’re shooting yourself in the, um, foot.
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Step Two: Use your hand through the pocket.
The most effective, surreptitious method would be to stick your hand in your pocket, and rearrange that way. If it’s an itch, try to get the job done in three scratches, and keep the movements subtle, not vigorous. This method is brief and innocuous enough to come across as a fidget; anything further is suspicious.
A tip: if possible, procure an item from your pocket. You need to check a text, or snag a mint. Or maybe you just have to see that picture of your family that’s tucked away in your wallet. These are all viable distractions. Under no circumstances should you stick your hand in your pants, through the waistband. “You’re not exposing yourself, but you don’t ever want to give the impression that you might be,” explains Post Senning. “If at all possible, [you should] turn away. And go quick.” (Duh.)
Step Three: Don’t raise or spread your legs at all.
The instinct of many men is to not use their hands at all, to wiggle or move their legs, kind of like a grown man’s “potty dance.” Talk about drawing attention to yourself… “It’s going to make other people uncomfortable if what you’re doing is indiscreet,” says Post Senning. “That’s what good etiquette is about: trying to make the people around you feel comfortable.” Leave the stretching for the gym.
Step Four: Act swiftly.
“You’re not here to indulge,” says Post Senning. So act quickly. Just as if you’re caught with your zipper un-done—and etiquette experts tell you to zip it up quickly, immediately, right where you are—don’t dawdle when it comes to adjusting your business. Don’t draw out your agony; take of it swiftly and efficiently.
Step Five: And of course, be considerate.
“Good social graces involves being willing to put up with and tolerate a little discomfort for the sake of others,” says Post Senning. “[Do] a cost-benefit analysis.” In other words, you don’t have to scratch every itch. In short, a good rule of thumb to follow—for this and for all things, really—is: “Ask yourself, ‘If my mother were here, how would I handle this?’ And proceed accordingly,” says Post Senning. If it’s something you need to do, do it. If not, maybe reconsider.
Of course, there’s also one more inviolable cardinal rule: If there are any children around—any at all—find a bathroom.
But you knew that already, right?
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