When Sex Toy Misuse Sends People to the Emergency Room
July 28, 2021 by Justin Lehmiller
You all know that I’m an advocate for sex toys. The data are clear that most people who use them report benefits and overwhelmingly positive effects. For example, sex toys are an easy way of interjecting novelty into a relationship and keeping the spark alive (which is why sex toy use is one of the biggest things that differentiates the most from the least sexually satisfied couples!).
Sex toys can also help you to explore your body and to discover new sources of pleasure. They can help you to live out your fantasies. They can help to facilitate orgasm—and close the orgasm gap. They can even potentially help people to deal with sexual difficulties (for example, masturbation devices can help some men to develop better ejaculatory control).
However, it’s important to use your toys correctly—and to understand how to use them safely—in order to avoid risk of injury because some people wind up in emergency rooms every year due to misuse of toys.
A recent study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy sought to quantify how often sex toy-related injuries occur. Drawing upon data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, researchers tabulated information on dildo and vibrator injuries that led to emergency room visits between the years 2000 and 2019 in the United States.
Extrapolating from the data, they estimated 18,547 vibrator injuries and 6,468 dildo injuries in total during that time period. On average, that translates to about 1,250 sex toys injuries per year; however, it’s important to note that rates of injuries increased over time, going from a few hundred per year around 2000 to a few thousand per year by 2019.
For both vibrators and dildos, men were more likely than women to show up in the ER with an injury. Injuries were also more common among younger adults (injuries were highest among those in their 20s) and they became less common with age.
The vast majority of injuries (71% for vibrators and 84% for dildos) were due to the device being lodged in the rectum and irretrievable. The next most common type of injury was due to the device being stuck in the vagina (18% of vibrator injuries, 4% of dildo injuries).
While patients were often able to be treated and released, a fair number (35% of vibrator cases and 48% of dildo cases) necessitated hospitalization.
This study is, of course, limited in that it wasn’t able to assess injuries for every single type of sex toy. It is also possible to injure oneself with other toys that weren’t included in this analysis, such as improper use of bondage gear, wearing cock rings for too long, and so forth. Thus, the numbers presented here are probably an underestimate because they don’t speak to all possible sex toy injuries.
That said, what these results tell us is that, while certainly not common, sex toys injuries can and do occur—and they seem to have increased as more people have begun using them.
This points to a need for sex educators and therapists to provide more education around proper sex toy use, for consumers to do their due diligence before playing with their toys, and for manufacturers to produce devices in ways that minimize risk of injury.
Given that the single most common type of injury that emerged was the toy being stuck in a body cavity, some practical recommendations from this research are to (1) look for insertable toys that have a safety ring or flared base that will prevent it from going all of the way inside the body, and (2) to take care when using insertable toys (whether alone or with a partner) to ensure that they are not inserted completely to the point where they become irretrievable.
Again, let me reiterate that sex toy injuries aren’t common and you certainly shouldn’t be afraid of sex toys, throw them away, or start panicking about them—research points to far more benefits of sex toys than risks! The takeaway from all of this is that, as with any sexual activity or practice, a little bit of education can go a long way toward ensuring a safe, pleasurable, and healthy experience for everyone involved.
Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology? Click here for more from the blog or here to listen to the podcast. Follow Sex and Psychology on Facebook, Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit to receive updates. You can also follow Dr. Lehmiller on YouTube and Instagram.
Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >