If anything, the variety of sex injuries documented in medical journals shows that humans are a “creative” bunch. (Photo: Peter Cade/Getty Images)
Sex: the hot, sweaty, wonderful, primal activity that’s everyone’s favorite form of exercise. But doing the deed can also have a dark side — in fact, it can hurt, and even kill, you.
As a species, we as humans will go to great lengths to have a mind-blowing orgasm, including risking our very own bodies. While most wounds obtained during sex are minor — like rug-burns to the knees or bruises left over from some overzealous necking — the medical literature is full of bizarre and brutal injuries acquired during coitus. From heart attacks to choking hazards, here’s proof that sex can be a very dangerous sport.
Perhaps the most common sex injuries are the bumps, bruises, and scrapes that we so often overlook in the heat of the moment. The acrobatics of sexual activity cause a staggering number of injuries annually. A British survey, for example, found that roughly one-third of adults have experienced a sex-related injury, with pulled muscles, strained backs, and carpet burns the most common complaints. Five percent said they had an injury bad enough to miss work, including 2 percent who had suffered a broken bone during intercourse.
Then there are the really, really unlucky ones: A 27-year-old woman sought medical attention after six months of persistent cough, sputum, and fever. Despite another four months of antibiotics and other treatments, her symptoms remained. Finally, a chest examination including video bronchoscopy revealed a foreign object in her right upper lobe: a condom she had accidentally inhaled during fellatio.
‘Til Death Do Us Part
The act of orgasming is accompanied by spikes in blood pressure and heart rate, and not surprisingly, it can cause some life-threatening conditions, especially in people who are at risk for heart attacks or strokes. But even otherwise healthy patients can put themselves at risk. There are reports of patients struck with severe, acute headaches right when they finish — which is referred to as benign orgasmic cephalgia — and of those where orgasms have led to bleeding in the brain, a potentially fatal condition.
One woman learned the hard way that even a hickey isn’t harmless. During an intense make-out session, her beau got so zealous that his love-bite actually caused bruising to her blood vessels and a clot to form. Several days later, she was admitted to the hospital for a minor stroke when her left arm became paralyzed. The doctors realized that the hickey on her neck was to blame.
The Harder It Is
Many men attempt to get a harder, longer-lasting erection by cutting off the blood flow at the base of the penis using a penile ring. Such rings can be purchased at a novelty store, but some attempt to create their own out of anything small and somewhat circular, including bicycle parts, bottle caps, rubber bands, and washers. When the ring is not removed promptly, penile strangulation injuries can occur, which range from swelling and skin ulcers, to complete loss of sensation, to enough gangrene and necrosis to require amputation. (Yikes.)
Other men have tried drugs to enhance their virility — literally. There are several case studies in the medical literature of men injecting cocaine right into their shafts to enhance their erections. In one case, a man entered the ER after six days of increasing pain, swelling, and fever. Because he did not use a sterile technique, he had introduced bacteria into his body and become septic, and his penis was gangrenous. He survived, but did not recover all of his previous functioning. Penile cocaine injection in another, similar case led to the loss of both legs, nine fingers, and the man’s penis due to what doctors called “extravagant complications.” The man admitted that prior to the incident, he “occasionally administered cocaine intraurethrally prior to intercourse to enhance sexual performance.”
Broken Hearts = Broken Members
More often than not, when a man presents with a penis injury, the culprit is sex. One study, for example, found that 40 out of 56 patients with penile injuries acquired them during sex or sexual activities (like masturbation). According to the authors, “the classical ‘faux pas de coit’ covers a wide variety of injuries”, from torn ligaments to fractured penises. Yes, you read that right: You can fracture a penis.
In many species, the penis is supported with a bone-like structure, presumably to reduce injury. Human penises are bone-free, but they can still fracture. This occurs when a hardened penis is bent forcibly, causing the rupture of the tunica albuginea, one of the tissues that plays a key role in keeping the penis erect. Often, patients hear a loud cracking noise, which is followed by deep, dark bruising. These injuries can occur during any kind of sex, but a recent study found that they were more frequent when the man’s sexual partner was his mistress rather than his wife, or when the sex occurred outside the bedroom, all of which the authors deemed “stressful situations.” The authors suggested that awkward positioning or hurrying of the act may contribute to such injuries. A broken penis can lead to permanent damage to the urethra or the erectile tissue, leading to sexual dysfunction.
You don’t have to have a partner to end up with a serious sex-related injury. Really, it’s our creative side that gets the better of us — but in the attempt to recreate that special feeling, things can go very, very wrong.
For example, multiple men have come to the conclusion that vacuum cleaner hoses are the right size and shape in which to insert a penis. Scientists have described the use of a vacuum for masturbation as “rather ingenious,” but that it has “disastrous results.” In reported cases, pain, swelling, and lacerations to the penis are the main complaints, but for the most part, patients healed after treatments with few complications.
In another case, the choice of lube proved life-threatening. A male teenager was rushed to the ER after a day of shortness of breath, chest pain, and excessive thirst. Doctors diagnosed him with salicylate poisoning, but only later learned the source: The boy had rubbed an entire 60-gram tube of Bengay® into his penis through repeated masturbation.
You Put What, WHERE?
The staggering variety of solids, liquids, and gases that human beings have inserted “up there” for sexual pleasure is unfathomable. Not surprisingly, such cases are usually only reported when there is physical trauma to the person’s behind that requires medical attention. In one such case, a 27-year-old man required medical attention after confessing that he had injected epoxy resin into his anus with the aid of a glue gun for “erotic enjoyment.” The resin had solidified, making a 16-centimeter, 300-gram cast of his rectum that was subsequently causing the man quite a bit of “lower abdominal discomfort.” The doctors were unable to successfully induce passage of the cast using enemas, and had to eventually cut into the man’s abdomen to massage the hardened glue out of his body.
His case is hardly unique: A study review in 2009 identified dozens of patients in the medical literature who sought help for something they shouldn’t have up their anuses (many admittedly during sexual activity). The objects ranged from oven mitts to toothbrushes and screwdrivers — even liquid concrete. A whopping 97 percent of the patients were men, and most of the time the only complications were mild abrasions or cuts in the gastrointestinal tract, which healed easily. But several experienced large tears, especially those who attempted to remove the object themselves. For example, one patient who inserted a bottle attempted to use a hook made of coat hanger wire to retrieve it, which only caused further injury. Such complications can be gravely serious: another patient, who waited several days after getting a cricket ball stuck in his rectum before seeking medical attention, died from his wounds.
And it’s not just the “back door” entrance: There are also cases of vaginal and penile insertion that would make even the least squeamish person a little nauseous. A man in Ireland went to the ER after seven days of increasing pain and trouble urinating. He soon admitted that 10 days earlier, he had inserted a long, skinny balloon into his urethra during consensual intercourse. According to the patient, the device was “purchased for this specific purpose”, which surprised the doctors more than the location of insertion.
“The nature of objects placed and lost in the urethra in pursuit of sexual pleasure runs the gamut from light bulbs and pencils to glass rods and electric cable,” they write, but they are “unaware of previous cases of sex toys being sold for this specific purpose.” Even so, they cautioned that just because it was designed for urethral insertion doesn’t mean it’s safe, and that specialty sex toys pose the same risk as improvised ones.
Rumor Has It
Not every cringe-worthy sex injury is recorded by doctors or scientists for posterity. There are several particularly awful tales of coital injury that deserve mentioning, even if there’s no peer-reviewed paper to corroborate the stories.
Penis Captivus: A recent viral story tells of an elderly Russian couple who got stuck together while attempting a complex Karma Sutra position. It’s unclear if the duo’s tale is true or not, but they aren’t the first to claim being sexually glued. Scientists debate whether such stories of “penis captivus” (literally, captive penis) — which date back centuries — are real: Are they rare cases during which vaginal spasms trap the male’s organ inside the vagina temporarily, or a myth based on hearsay?
Head-On Collision: A woman in China accidentally bit her boss’ penis off while giving him oral sex when their parked car was hit by a reversing van, according to news reports. To add insult to injury, the whole ordeal was witnessed by a private investigator hired by the woman’s husband to catch her cheating. However, the truth-sleuths at Snopes don’t buy the story and think it’s just another variant of a common urban legend.
Power Dildo: A young couple in Maryland made headlines when they decided to amp up their sex toy by affixing it to a saber saw. Unfortunately, when they turned on the machine, the blade cut through the plastic penis and injured the woman, who sought medical attention immediately. This story has been reported by several reputable outlets, but so far, the doctors have chosen not to write up the incident. Perhaps they felt that cautioning against the use of power tools as sexual devices was unnecessary as the danger should be evident… but experience would suggest otherwise.