Each year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission updates its database on “consumer product-related injuries” that occur in the United States. It’s a public health tool that tracks emergency room visits related to consumer products. Inevitably, someone makes a list of each year’s product mishaps, like this one, which details the various objects people got stuck inside themselves in 2019, separated by orifice. Let’s look at a few examples from the most recent list, and then explore the psychology that prompts people to stuff potentially dangerous household items inside themselves in the first place. Hint: a lot of it happens for sexual reasons.
Items stuck in people’s rectums that prompted ER visits last year included: a toothbrush, a plunger handle, a turkey baster, a toy hockey stick, a water gun, a small shampoo bottle, a large shampoo bottle, a can of apple sauce, a lightbulb, and a Christmas ornament.
Items stuck in people’s vaginas that prompted ER visits included: a toothbrush, a cell phone, a toy action figure, a rubber ball, and a perfume bottle.
Items stuck in people’s penises that prompted ER visits included: crayons, a chopstick, a ballpoint pen, a lollipop stick, a screwdriver, a bobby pin, and a wedding ring (I’m not quite sure how that one happened!).
Many of you are probably wondering why people put these things inside their nether regions in the first place. Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of it likely has to do with the pursuit of sexual gratification.
According to a 2012 paper titled “Insertion of Foreign Bodies,” sexual gratification is a commonly reported motive for patients who engage in what doctors call polyembolokoilamania—this is basically a fancy term for the insertion of a foreign object into one or more body orifices . Sexual motives are most common when the orifices in question are the rectum, vagina, or penis (specifically, the penile urethra).
For instance, a man who inserts items into his rectum may be seeking prostate stimulation while he masturbates; likewise, a woman who inserts items into her vagina may do so as a part of self-stimulation. In both cases, people may utilize household objects because they don’t happen to own any sex toys or have any such toys handy.
Similarly, men who insert things into their urethras may do so as part of BDSM play. Sounding is the technical term for the insertion of items into the urethra, and it’s often practiced in a BDSM context because this activity can be quite painful (those who derive pleasure from the experience of pain are known as masochists).
Another point worth mentioning here is that sexual arousal simultaneously lowers disgust responses and increases risky decision making. In light of this, it suddenly becomes a lot clearer why aroused people might end up sticking all kinds of things inside themselves.
However, not everyone who inserts foreign objects into an orifice does so for sexual purposes—and this is often the case when non-genital orifices are involved, such as the ear and nose. Other possible motivations can include a desire for self-injury (this sometimes happens among persons with borderline personality disorder), an attempt at suicide, hallucinations and psychosis, dementia and other cognitive disorders, as well as attempts to get attention through feigned illness .
While there are thousands of documented cases of polyembolokoilamania, we don’t yet know the exact prevalence. However, for those who have tried it, this tends to be a repeat behavior, with many people necessitating multiple ER visits for the same issue.
Also, people of all backgrounds and ages have been observed doing this; however, it does seem to be a bit more common among men than it is among women. In addition, motivations for this behavior appear to change with age. For example, among adolescents, it’s more likely to stem from risk-taking and sensation-seeking, whereas among older adults, it’s more likely to stem from other cognitive factors .
Although we have more to learn, what’s clear for now is that there is a very complex psychology behind why people insert household items inside their genitals and other orifices. As a result, when people seek treatment for this issue, it’s important for healthcare professionals to explore the underlying motivations in the interest of providing the best possible care and reducing the risk of future injury.
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 Unruh, B. T., Nejad, S. H., Stern, T. W., & Stern, T. A. (2012). Insertion of foreign bodies (polyembolokoilamania): underpinnings and management strategies. The Primary Care Companion to CNS Disorders, 14(1).
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