Don't Let Your Romantic Evening Land You in the ER
While most sex-related injuries don't require a trip to the doctor, getting hurt in the heat of passion is a pretty common -- but seldom discussed -- problem, sex experts say.
Julieanne Smolinski, 26, a New Yorker and blogger for Lemondrop.com, had her own brush with carnal catastrophe when she was in college.
"I did a kind of accidental back handspring off my boyfriend and cracked myself on the head," she says.
"My boyfriend got the worst of it and 'fractured' his penis. We didn't seek medical attention, [but] later I read that penile fractures can be really serious," she says, wondering in retrospect if they should have taken him to the hospital.
Though they can be embarrassing to report to your doctor, sexual injuries are fairly run-of-the-mill in the emergency department, according to a U.K. poll of one thousand adults.
The study, commissioned by a phone-recycling firm, Phonepiggybank.com, found that a third of Brits reported having a sex-related injury -- five percent admitting that they had to stay home from work while on the mend from one of those bedroom blunders
Most often, these mishaps were sustained while having sex in non-traditional settings, such as on stairs, over kitchen tables, or in closets, or when trying new sexual positions.
ABCnews.com asked sex experts and emergency room doctors to weigh in on the kinds of sexual injuries they encounter most often and how to safeguard against them.
Everyday Erotic Accidents
Not all sexual injuries involve the kind of sexual acrobatics that Smolinski tried. Most often, a simple muscle pull or stumble is enough to leaving you throbbing in a less-than-pleasurable way.
In the U.K. study, the most common sex injury was a pulled muscle, with back injuries, carpet burns, and cricked necks pulling in close behind. And perhaps surprisingly, the most dangerous spots for sex were also the most ordinary: the sofa, a chair, or the shower.
In the U.S., "we don't have a good handle on how common [these injuries] are, mainly because people do not admit that that is how they got injured," says Debby Herbenick, research scientist at Indiana University and author of "Because It Feels Good."
"Patients will say they slipped in the shower if it's something [particularly embarassing]," she says.
The most common issue she hears about is small tears or cuts in the vagina, which can occur when sex is more vigorous and there isn't enough lubrication.
Women will often not feel any pain until after sex, because the arousal raises pain tolerance, Herbenick says, but if the cuts are sizable and bleeding doesn't stop on its own, a woman should seek medical attention to prevent infection.
Irritation or tearing from vigorous sex can be minimized by using a lubricant, she says, "but aside from that, there isn't much you can do. If you want to have rough sex, it's going to be … rough."
When Sexual Play Goes Awry
Those working in the emergency room see the more serious cases of sexual injury, says Dr. Billy Goldberg, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, and "they're not an uncommon complaint." he says.
"People do some strange stuff."
Goldberg says he's seen "a lot of rectal foreign bodies," citing one case in which a man had to be brought to the hospital by his mother after a screwdriver became lodged in his rectum during a sexual act.
Penile fractures, like the one Smolinski's boyfriend may have sustained, are notorious copulation catastrophes, and ones that can cause permanent damage.
One patient of Goldberg's, a man in his sixties, suffered a fracture when he fell down while masturbating in an attempt to rush to the door to lock it when he heard his mother trying to get in.
Penile fractures are not actually fractures so much as tears in the tissue of the penis, Herbenick says. They occur when the erect penis is bent forcefully; there may be a popping or cracking sound.
Women don't escape the wrath of a romantic evening gone bad, says Dr. Gabe Wilson, associate medical director of St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York. He had one woman who came in because her partner had performed oral sex on her too quickly after eating a spicy meal, and she sustained mild burns from the hot sauce.
Lost condoms are a more common affliction for women, Goldberg says, though one that is easily remedied.
A New Kind of Safe Sex
These sexual hazards give new meaning to a desire for "safe sex," but does this mean that protection has to take the form of knee pads and a helmet?
Most of the safety tips are just common sense, says Dr. Mache Seibel, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Massachusetts Medical school.
"If anything causes discomfort it should be discontinued," he says. "Just because something is supposed to be 'fun,' doesn't mean it works for you."
It's also wise not to push yourself past your own level of flexibility or cardiovascular health, Seibel says.
"Some people can't touch their toes…or have been advised by a doctor not to raise the heart rate [following a heart attack or stroke], so when it starts to get physical or acrobatic, they will have a problem."
Herbenick echoes this sentiment, noting that stretching isn't a bad idea if you're injury prone, and it may be wise to clear the area of pointy objects and keep lit candles a good distance from you.
Also, "keep pets out of the room," she say, citing a recent study she conducted on the subject. Cats have been known to jump on the bed and "scratch at genitals" when they see their owners getting frisky.
Ideally, with a little common sense, and maybe a little warmup, your romantic evening will stay between you and your loved one -- no medical intervention required.