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
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
Posted on March 17, 2013, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged Nettle fetish, Sado-botany, Sadomasochism, Sexual fetish, Sexual masochism, Sexual sadism, Sexual urtication, Stinging nettle fetish, Urtication. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.
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