Nettle down: A brief look at sexual urtication

“I find applying stinging nettles to my body highly pleasurable. I’ve tried the web for more information but either get herbalist pages or, when searching the words ‘nettles’ and ‘fetish’ together, get directed to [sado-masochsistic]-type pages. I don’t really go for that. Can you direct me somewhere where I can get advice? Are there any long-term dangers in exposing my ‘delicate areas’ to the little green temptresses?” (Seriously Twisted Into Nettle Games, letter in The Stranger)

In a previous blog I examined the sexual use of bee stings as a method used by men to increase the size of their penis. It was while researching that blog that I came across another sting-related sexual practice called urtication. According to the Wikipedia entry on stinging nettles, urtication, refers to the “flogging with nettles [and] is the process of deliberately applying stinging nettles to the skin in order to provoke inflammation”. In a sexual context, Dr. Anil Aggrawal (in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) defines urtication as the use of stinging nettles to create extra sexual sensation.

Although there are numerous scientific papers on urtication (particularly in relation to the physiology of nettle stings, the treatment of nettle stings, and medical uses such as the use of stinging nettles to treat joint and back pain), I was unable to locate a single paper on the sexual use of stinging nettles. Dr. Brenda Love (in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices) included a whole section on sexual urtication. She notes that:

“Urtication refers to those who use stinging nettles to stimulate the skin for sex games. The active ingredients in the stinging nettle do not spread to other areas but are restricted to the site at which the plant comes into contact. Nettles have tiny hair-like projections rather than thorns which can break and stick to the skin. The skin becomes sensitized without the injury that certain types of flagellation can produce. Skin exposed to nettles will redden and in a short time produce small bumps. The person will feel a sharp hot sting that fades to a warm tingling glow which may last several hours. Nettles may be applied in various ways. Some lie the stems down and press the hairs into the skin, others hold them in a cluster and tap it against the chosen area, or put them into a bottom’s underwear. Men who wear condoms have found that briefly applying nettles to the penis before putting on the condom can compensate for the sensation lost by the latex barrier”.

Obviously the claim about condom use is anecdotal and there is no empirical evidence that supports the claim made (although I have no reason to doubt it). However, I did come across a semi-corroborative source in a short online article on ‘unusual sex practices’ that included a paragraph on urtication. It noted that:

“The sexual practice which is technically called urtication is concerned with the desire for stinging plants, for example nettles that we use to ‘torture’ the partner’s body. It all depends on our courage, which means that some people who like doing this go very far and ‘burn’ their genitals as well. A confession of a man who admitted he put a nettle leaf on the inside of his condom in also very interesting. Supposedly, this really arouses him during intercourse and provides him with additional pleasure. The same goes for a woman who said that she adores it when her partner stimulates her vagina with nettle during foreplay. It has a similar effect to hot wax and whipping. The skin is naturally much more irritated after contact with the nettle”.

Writing for The Stranger, the US journalist Dan Savage addressed stinging nettle fetishes in one of his columns. His own research (which from what I can gather involved reading Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Herbs) led him to write that the Romans thrashed men “below the navel” to improve their virility. He also interviewed Tracy Mehlin (Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington, US). She was quoted as saying she once knew a farmhand “who occasionally lashed himself with stinging nettles” but never asked him why he did it. She also reported that:

“The leaves and stems of stinging nettles are covered with tiny hollow hairs. When a person comes in contact with the plant, the tips of the hairs break off, stick in the person’s skin, and then, like a lot of little hypodermic needles, pump in a venom that makes the skin itch, swell, tingle, and burn for hours. There are some people who enjoy the effect”.

An online article on ‘Organic S&M’ noted the many different uses of stinging nettles throughout history. The only ones of a sexual nature was their use by English herbwives to ‘encourage’ prize bulls during the mating season, and by English mistresses for much the same purpose. And they were as common in Victorian era erotica as figging, birches, and caning”.

An online article at the London Fetish Scene website discusses the sexual use of stinging nettles. The article notes that stinging nettle effects differ in intensity from variety to variety (and even the soil they are growing in). There is also great individual variation (in that the same stinging nettle used on one person may exact different effects in another). The article also claims that the same person can feel different effects based on other factors such as whether a women is menstruating.

In addition to using stinging nettles for flogging, the article also lists four other sexual uses. These include (i) using stinging nettles as an alternative to ginger for ‘figging’ (i.e., the act of inserting something into the body that will cause a stinging, burning sensation for sexual pleasure), (ii) putting stinging nettles into the victim’s underwear, (iii) applying stinging nettles to the penis just before putting on a condom (as noted above by Dr. Brenda Love), and (iv) forcing a submissive to consume stinging nettles (although the article then adds that the safety of this is very uncertain given that raw nettles are poisonous). Finally, if you’re really interested in learning more about the use of stinging nettles in BDSM practices (from a practical rather than academic point of view), then check out the FAQ page of the Sado-Botany website.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Alford, L. (2007). Urtication for Musculoskeletal Pain? Pain Medicine, 9, 963-965.

Christopher (2000). Organic S&M, December 16. Located at: http://web.archive.org/web/20031211012237/http://www.utahpowerexchange.org/articles/organicSM.html

Kowalchik, C. & Hylton, W.H. (1999). Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.

London Fetish Scene (2009). Nettle. February 5. Located at: http://www.londonfetishscene.com/wipi/index.php/Nettle

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Randall, C., Meethan, K., Randall, H. & Dobbs, F. (1999). Nettle sting of Urtica dioica for joint pain – an exploratory study of this complementary therapy. Complimentary Therapies in Medicine, 7, 126-131.

Savage, D. (2003). Gas huffer. The Stranger, June 12. Located at: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=14566

Urtication.com (2012). Urtication: Sex & Nettles. Located at: http://www.urtication.com/

Wikipedia (2012). Stinging nettle. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stinging_nettle

Zee News (2012). Unusual sexual practices: Urtication. Located at: http://zeenews.india.com/entertainment/print.aspx?aid=117201

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Gambling Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 430 research papers, three books, over 120 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on March 17, 2013, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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