The British erotic retail chain Ann Summers recently released a poll asking people if they had ever been injured during sex. One in three said they hurt themselves somewhat routinely, though the injuries were about what you might expect: rug burns (to, ahem, the knees), muscle pulls, a conk on the noggin from, say, banging into the headboard.
But at Sexploration we hear stories, sometimes from emergency room doctors in bars. By the third martini, the stories often begin with, “You wouldn’t believe what I saw last night…”
And so I decided to call around to emergency rooms and ask sober ER docs about the things they see, and, more importantly, what advice they might have based on their experiences, not only how to avoid the damage, but how to handle the delicate task of seeking help once the damage is done.
I didn’t have much luck. One prig in a Phoenix ER became outraged and hung up on me — twice — before I could even explain the context of my questions. “This is a very inappropriate topic,” he shouted as he slammed down the phone.
Inappropriate? Tell it to this guy, who I read about when I started scanning the medical literature: "A 29-year-old man heard a snap during sexual intercourse followed by immediate detumescence and a swelling of the penile basis and scrotum, due to a penile fracture."
I’d call that an emergency.
In fact, as much as I wish it were, breaking your penis isn’t rare. Guys do it when they get all pile-drivery and they miss the bull's-eye, or when she’s riding Bronco Billy and slips off the saddle. Bend a penis past the breaking point and you can snap the inner chambers, releasing blood into surrounding areas.
One guy, whose girlfriend made an awkward landing in 1994, underwent emergency surgery and subsequently sued her claiming that years of sexual dysfunction resulted. He lost in court.
Don't try this at home
But men don’t need women to help them break their penises. It’s amazing what guys do to the poor thing. They “incarcerate” it in steel rings, attach radiator hose clamps, play mumblety-peg with it and a staple gun.
From another journal report: “We report removal of heavy iron (barbell) and steel (sledgehammer head) items incarcerating the penis with a heavy-duty air grinder provided by the fire department.”
If there’s an imaginable way to masturbate, some man has tried it.
“In the hospital the patient reported that his penis got caught in the hose attachment of an old Kobold vacuum cleaner…”
Women are no slouches either.
“We present the radiological findings of a healthy young woman who presented with acute onset of abdominal pain and was found to have extensive pneumoperitoneum.” That means she had air in her abdomen. And where did the air come from? It was “Jacuzzi-jet induced.”
Many sex injuries happen simply because somebody gets a little carried away.
“A 64-year-old Italian woman presented to our department witha three-week history of sudden, severe lower back pain…” Turned out she had fractured her pelvis. “We were enlightened as to the aetiology [origins] of the fracture by anuclear medicine technician who spoke Italian, to whom the patienthad explained the nature of her complaint. The severe pain commencedafter a rather physical sexual encounter with her husband.”
Aside from the old saw about having a heart attack during sex (which isn’t really all that common) going aerobic in bed can cause other problems you’d never suspect.
“Six patients presented with a precipitous decrease in vision in one eye with no apparent predisposing factors. After obtaining a careful history, each patient revealed that he or she had been engaging in rigorous sexual activity…”
In these cases, the patients popped blood vessels in their eyes, perhaps from screaming during orgasm.
You can hurt yourself even when you’re trying to practice safe sex.
“A 27-year-old lady presented with persistent cough, sputum and fever for the preceding six months … history also confirmed accidental inhalation of the condom during fellatio.”
As this case proves, the sex injured wait far too long to seek medical care.
“People often do not seek treatment as soon as they normally would for other injuries,” says Dr. Ted Chan, an ER doctor and professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Diego. “They fear the embarrassment, but there is a lot of privacy in the ER. Their privacy is protected.”
“During the orogenital contact, the patient noted intermittent searing pain, which he subsequently discovered was the result of superficial trauma from dental devices (braces) that inadvertently scraped the glans. After two days, he developed multiple erosions; these rapidly coalesced into an extensive, extremely painful ulcer covered with necrotic debris.”
Call me crazy, but the “intermittent searing pain” would have been a tip off. Had he sought medical care sooner, he could have avoided “necrotic debris.”
Why feel apologetic when totally normal sex can cause serious damage? The same air-in-the-abdomen syndrome, or pneumoperitoneum, can occur during cunnilingus if your lover’s a prankster and decides to blow in your vagina as if it were a balloon. Women have died as a result. No kidding.
Of course, it’s a big sexual world out there and people are always looking to try something new. But again, perhaps from embarrassment, or just to save money, they don’t want to walk into their neighborhood erotic boutique and buy the proper gear. So they DIY, and that’s just not a good idea.
“A prospective database and photographic record of patients who presented with retained colorectal foreign bodies…The foreign bodies included a pen knife, an aerosol deodorant spray can, a blue plastic tumbler, a plastic bag containing two bank notes and some marijuana, a plastic packet containing fish hooks, a penlight [flashlight], a broomstick, a battery-powered vibrator, a primus stove, a cap of an aerosol can, a piece of wire, a piece of hosepipe wrapped with wire, and an iron bar.”
Seriously, if it’s possible to put it up your butt, somebody has done it — everything from tennis balls to samples from all four food groups. But they get stuck up there and then you find yourself in the ER lying face down.
Sometimes the DIY has tragicomic consequences.
“We report two cases in which men used the hydraulic shovels on tractors to suspend themselves for masochistic sexual stimulation. One man developed a romantic attachment to a tractor, even giving it a name and writing poetry in its honor. He died accidentally while intentionally asphyxiating himself through suspension by the neck…”
If you’re going to masturbate with the help of heavy machinery, for crying out loud, use the buddy system.
Sex isn’t a minefield of danger, but accidents can happen. So when you’re imagining how good it will feel, also try to think of how bad it could feel if something went wrong.
And if it does go wrong, do not allow embarrassment or fear of snarky questions from ER personnel to keep you from seeking help. In most cases, says Chan, even your regular doctor doesn’t have to know. So you won’t get any questions about how that zucchini got up there.
Brian Alexander is a California-based writer who covers sex, relationships and health. He is a contributing editor at Glamour and the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" (Basic Books).
Sexploration appears every other Thursday.