BRISBANE -- A digital rectum examination is no joke for the average male, yet every man who talks about it seems to feel a need to make light of the invasive procedure.
That's fine in private company, but as Australia's "First Bloke" discovered recently, some forms of humour should never leave the locker-room, or the doctor's office.
Tim Mathieson, Prime Minister Julia Gillard's long term partner who is widely referred to as "the First Bloke," made a rare foray into public speaking at the prime ministerial residence in Canberra Monday night.
Mathieson, a good natured man who has "knocked around the bush a bit,'' is not the most mellifluous speaker in the national capital, but he likes to use his position to promote men's health, including the dreaded prostate exam.
Talking to members of the visiting West Indian cricket team about prostate examinations Mathieson appeared to be trotting along well enough, until the rectum hove into view.
''We can get a blood test for it, but the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on your prostate,'' he advised soberly, while Gillard beamed approvingly at his side.
"So make sure you go and do that, and perhaps look for a small female Asian doctor is probably the best way...''
It wasn't a witticism that could be described as Wilde-an, but Gillard's suddenly frozen features signalled she knew it went well beyond the realms of a lame joke.
Tim, who was suggesting smaller fingers might limit the discomfort of the examination, was subject to that tut-tutting now following every innocent utterance carrying the faintest whiff of insult, even when no insult was intended.
And he was merely honouring an edict all who exist in the male universe understand -- never, ever, ever discuss the digital rectum examination without including a humorous reference.
Adult women effortlessly discuss invasive medical procedures with serious demeanours and an absence of adolescent sniggering. But men? Well, they just can't help themselves.
Even male doctors enjoy telling dinner party stories of the comic response prompted by the dreaded gloved finger's movement towards the nether regions.
"What happened to dinner and a movie first?'' is an oldie but a goodie as is -- "any sign of the trapped miners yet doc?''
"Will you send the wife a signed statement that my head is not up there?'' might yet make the Top 10 of rectum rejoinders.
Tim, suitably chastened and downcast, appeared the next day to offer an apology.
"It was meant as a joke and on reflection I accept it was in poor taste," he said.
One of the Canberra Press Gallery's senior journalists, Dennis Shannahan who writes for The Australian, went online to defend a man who was only trying to help.
"Let's just remove this sense of political correctness, get back to common sense, and put good faith comments into context,'' Shannahan urged.
Unwittingly, Tim may have achieved his aim of getting more prostrate examinations than he could have with a thousand town hall speeches.
Medical experts rushed to exploit the publicity and assure Australian males that size doesn't really matter when it comes to probing fingers.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, playing the straightest bat of all, issued a press release commending "Mr. Mathieson" for his fine work in promoting awareness of the illness.
But the PCFA wants everyone to drop the comedy routine.
"Whilst humour is a good way to get men to open up about health issues, PCFA prefers not to use humour in relation to the digital rectal examination.''
Prostate cancer claims the lives of 3,300 Australian men every year.
Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.