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You Can't Put That in There! A Look at Sex-Injury Data

Happy Valentine's Day! We went through nearly 450 sex injuries in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System to find the most common reasons for a sex-related visit to the emergency room.

by Sydney Lupkin
Feb 14 2016, 2:20pm

Imagen por Vivatier vía Flickr

This story is part of a partnership between MedPage Today and VICE News.

If you find yourself alone this Valentine's Day, we have a gift for you: knowledge that it could always be worse. Like way, way worse.

A 17-year-old man presented to the emergency room with abdominal pain and a foreign body in his anus. He told doctors he had inserted a pencil into his rectum and then had anal sex with the pencil still in there. He was treated and released.

The man's case is one of nearly 450 sex injuries found over six years in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which is compiled by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"It's not uncommon that we see this, but it's not a daily occurrence," emergency physician Dr. Robert Glatter, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said of sex-related injuries. "We've had a woman with a head injury and fractured cervical spine, who basically ended up going forward into a headboard. She was very dizzy at the time and was on top of this gentleman lurching forward into a headboard."

In another sex injury in the database, a 62-year-old man sustained a penile crushing injury after putting homemade PCVP pipe rings and the ring off a horse halter around his penis. He, too, was treated and released.

Most of the sex injuries involved foreign objects used for pleasure that disappeared and got stuck in certain orifices, according to the data. Objects included vibrators and other sex toys as well as some other objects, including a "spikey (sic) rubber ball that lights up," a screwdriver, the handle of a toilet plunger, and a pool ball.

Sometimes, patients waited several days before going to the emergency room to have these objects removed.

"We see a ton of these. Patients delay and sometimes don't come in for a few days," Glatter said, explaining that perforation can occur with catastrophic results. "The longer you wait, sometimes you can even get septic."

Other sex injuries in the federal database included sprains and fractures, concussions, lacerations and conditions like syncope, in which the blood pressure drops rapidly and the person loses consciousness. None of the injuries were fatal, and most patients were treated and released.

Glatter said patients shouldn't wait to go to the emergency room, even if they're embarrassed.

"We always have respect and privacy and never pass any judgement," Glatter said. "We want to make sure they're OK. I think that's what contributes to delays — fear staff will react in a negative way."

Most sex-related injuries affected the lower trunk and pubic regeon, but others included the head, neck and even mouth.

A 19-year-old woman sustained a sex-related dental injury after her "sex swing" fell out of the ceiling and she hit her mouth.

Although these injuries account for less than .02% of the 2.3 million reported injuries from 2009 through 2014, most sex-related injuries never get reported, experts say.

Pepper Schwartz, PhD, of the University of Washington, said most of these injuries stay under the radar because patients try to avoid the emergency room. Schwartz, a sociologist who specializes in sex, added that the stress of an intercourse injury can bring couples together or tear them apart.

"The important thing is not to let yourself panic," she said, stressing that the vagina and the anus are not cut off from the rest of the body and sex injuries can have serious consequences. "Get it fixed."

The database does not include penile injuries related to drugs like Viagra and Cialis, which Glatter said are also common. Adverse events from using medications would not be expected to appear in this data, and would instead appear in a Food and Drug Administration database.

Glatter added that alcohol and mood-altering drugs often also play a role in sex-related emergency room visits.

Valentine's Day is this month, but February actually not the top month for sex injuries, according to the data. That month is July.

Photo via Vivatier