Friday Weird Science: Careful with that Toy! (NSFW)

Category: Friday Weird Science
Posted on: July 10, 2009 12:46 AM, by Scicurious

I think we can all agree that the American population has become a little more open with regard to sexual practices than it was in, say, the 1950's. The existence of premarital sex is discussed in multiple media outlets, and there are homosexual relationships discussed with candor. However, there are still several sexual practices which are still considered relatively taboo with regards to public discussion. While male masturbation, for example is discussed (often as comedic relief) pretty openly, female masturbation remains an extremely taboo topic in popular discussion. However, another topic also remains un-discussed (well, except for on Sex and the City, and they've discussed EVERYTHING).

Sex toys. Griffin and McGwin. "Sexual Stimulation Device-related Injuries" Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 2009.

Sci would like to take this time to note that Neurotopia claims no responsibility for what happens if your boss catches you clicking around below the fold.

Having conducted an informal poll myself (in this case, known as asking my friends) most women, and some men of my acquaintance, own sex toys. Every woman I've ever met has at least HEARD of 'the rabbit', and most people know a bit about rings, dildos, beads, or regular vibrators. Studies report that 68% of adults between 18-39 use sex toys more than once a month (Foxman et al, 2006). And yet, they're the kind of things that most people wouldn't discuss in public if their lives depended on it, and in private, only with close friends or after a few drinks (or both).

(Behold the rabbit. In the immortal words of Charlotte from Sex and the City, "Look! Oh, it's so cute! Oh I thought it would be all scary and weird, but it isn't! It's pink, for girls! I love the little bunny, it has a little face! Like Peter Rabbit.")

Now you might think, well, what's the problem? This is people's private business, and not something that most people want to talk about, so what's the big deal? Well, it turns out that some of these things...aren't so easy to use. After all, we're talking about delicate openings in the anatomy, and in some cases, small machinery. If you don't know what you're doing...things could get lost in there. Or stuck. Or rip things. Or leave pieces. Or...ow...

And it turns out, this happens more frequently than you might think. The authors of this study collected data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), and found that, between 1995-2006, 6799 people came in to the ER with "sexual stimulation device" related injuries. And the rate increased over time (presumably as the use of sex toys became more widespread in the population). Average age of sex toy related injuries was 30-39, and white males had the highest rates of injury (indicating either increased usage for which the toy was not intended, or an inability to read the instructions).

Of the injuries studied, 78.1% were anorectal, and 18.2% were vaginal or penile in nature. The most frequent misuse of a device was with those devices that vibrated (73.5%), with the second highest injury rate occurring among users of dildos (12.9%). 95.2% of male injuries were anorectal, and 74.8% of those injuries were using vibrating devices. Women tended to injure themselves vaginally, and yet again, those vibrating devices were to blame.

The authors have several possible explanations for this. First it's possible that sex toys have become more dangerous over the years, particularly after the year 2000, though this seems pretty unlikely, as the technology hasn't really changed. The more likely explanation, though, is that more people are using them. With more overall numbers, the likelihood increases that someone is going to be stupid uninformed about their use, and wind up in the ER with "private pain problems".

But the other question is, why more male injuries than female? The answer to this question is actually pretty simple. Women are more likely to use the vaginal route of insertion. The vagina is a lot more forgiving than the anus, and tends toward more natural lubrication, making injury less likely. Another possibility that the authors discuss is the idea that women are less sexually active than men as age increases, and so you're going to see more male injuries overall, as use of sex toys in females begins to decline. Sci thinks it's probably a combination of both factors.

There are a couple major issues with this data, of course. First of all, the population statistics are based on the idea that 100% of the adult population is using sex toys, which they probably aren't. Secondly, there's the major issue of whether or not the person involved in an injury seeks medical care in the first place. After all, this can be a bit embarrassing to explain to your doctor. I mean, what if they really DO keep a drawer full of things they found up people's anuses in the ER, like in Scrubs?

The fear of embarrassment means that the average time between getting the injury (or getting something stuck) and going to the ER is TWO DAYS. Or MORE. People, you're dignity isn't worth two days of pain and the possibility of multiple expensive and highly difficult surgeries. Hie thee to the ER.

The moral of this journal article, is this: whatever you're using, make sure you use adequate lubricant, and READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. After all, some of the battery-powered devices, for example, can't be taken in water, and how would that look if someone found you electrocuted in your bath in the morning with your vibrator. At least when you have to go in to the ER, you can make up an excuse! And if you do get injured, get to the ER. They've seen it all before.

Griffin, R., & McGwin, G. (2009). Sexual Stimulation Device-Related Injuries Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 35 (4), 253-261 DOI: 10.1080/00926230902851249