Hoover damn! A brief look at sexual injury by vacuum cleaners

While researching an article on bizarre sexual injuries, I recently came across a paper on penile skin loss in a 2014 issue of Surgical Science by a group of plastic surgeons led by Dr. Adel Tolba. In the paper, the authors noted that penile skin loss “can result from traction by mechanical devices, such as farm or industrial machinery, or by suction devices, such as vacuum cleaners”. This got me wondering to what extent sexual injuries caused by vacuum cleaners had been reported in the medical literature. The earliest paper that I could on the topic was published in a 1960 issue of the British Medical Journal by Dr. Miles Fox and Dr. E.L. Barrett, and simply entitled ‘Vacuum cleaner injury of the penis’. They reported three cases of similar looking penile injuries caused by three British men seeking sexual stimulation from a vacuum cleaner.

  • Case 1: “A widower aged 57 attended hospital…because of penile lacerations…Returning from having a few drinks in a public-house and seeking erotic satisfaction, he introduced his penis into the end of a vacuum cleaner tube and switched on the machine. However, pain soon caused him to stop, and then he found his penis was congested and bleeding. On examination the glans penis was extensively lacerated, the lacerations appearing almost ‘explosive’ in nature. The urethra was not involved. The lacerations were sutured with catgut, and a soft rubber catheter was introduced for several days. Recovery was uneventful”.
  • Case 2: “A 28-year-old bachelor attended hospital…with similar extensive lacerations of the glans penis extending into the external urethral meatus. The prepuce was also lacerated. He had produced the injuries in exactly the same manner as the [patient in Case 1 above]. Circumcision was performed, the lacerations of the glans were sutured with catgut, and a self-retaining urethral catheter was introduced. Healing was satisfactory without any sign of stricture”.
  • Case 3: “A widower aged 75 [years] attended hospital…in great mental distress and complaining of pain, swelling, and laceration of the penis. He stated that while cleaning the stairs his penis had accidentally slipped into the end of a Hoover ‘Dustette’ vacuum cleaner. However he then attempted to obtain erotic stimulation by switching the motor on and off…The lacerations were not extensive enough to warrant suture or circumcision, and healed satisfactorily in two weeks”

Fox and Barrett described the use of masturbation via a vacuum cleaner as “rather ingenious but had disastrous results”. They concluded that no previous cases of penile injury by vacuum cleaner had ever previously been reported in the medical literature.

In 1973, Dr. Robert Zufall published a letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) describing a penile laceration caused by a vacuum cleaner. Dr. Zufall did not mention any sexual motive for the injury but a follow-up letter in the JAMA by Dr. Rodney Mannion responded that:

“[Dr. Zufall] appears to regard these injuries as possibly accidental. We in urology tend to believe that they occur as a form of masturbation. I have had a patient with this injury who admits to this practice, and a number of urologists also have had similar cases as we discovered at a meeting of the New England Section of the American Urologists Association in October 1972. Many of the urologists present knew of this injury”.

In 1980, another four case studies of penile sexual injuries caused by vacuum cleaners were published in the British Medical Journal by Dr. N. Citron and Dr. P. Wade:

  • Case 1: “A 60-year-old man said that he was changing the plug of his 
Hoover Dustette vacuum cleaner in the nude while his wife was out shopping. 
It ‘turned itself on’ and caught his penis, causing tears around the external 
meatus and deeply lacerating the side of the glans. The external meatus was 
reconstructed and the multiple lacerations of the glans repaired with catgut. 
The final result was some scarring of the glans, but the foreskin moved easily 
over it”.
  • Case 2: “A 65-year-old railway signalman was in his signal box when he 
bent down to pick up his tools and ‘caught his penis in a Hoover Dustette, 
which happened to be switched on’. He suffered extensive lacerations to the 
glans, which were repaired with catgut with a good result”.
  • Case 3: “A 49-year-old man was vacuuming his friend’s staircase in a loose-fitting dressing gown, when, intending to switch the machine off, he 
leaned across to reach the plug: ‘at that moment his dressing gown became 
undone and his penis was sucked into the vacuum cleaner’. Because he had a 
phimosis [a condition in males where the foreskin cannot be fully retracted over the glans penis] he suffered multiple lacerations to the foreskin as well as 
lacerations to the distal part of the shaft of the penis, including the 
external meatus. His wounds were repaired with catgut and the phimosis 
reduced with a dorsal slit”.
  • Case 4: “This patient was aged 68 [years], and no history was available except 
that the injury was caused by a vacuum cleaner. The injury extended through 
the corpora cavernosa and the corpus spongiosum and caused complete division 
of the urethra proximal to the corona. A two-stage urethroplasty was 
performed, and the final result was satisfactory”.

Citron and Wade then noted that (apart from the patient with phimosis) that the injuries were predominantly lacerations to the [penile] glans, “presumably because the 
foreskin was retracted at the time”. The final case was the most serious and required significant surgery to repair the damage. It was also noted that 
at least two of the penile injuries were caused by a Hoover Dustette (as was one in the 1960 paper), which 
the authors noted had fan blades of about six inches from the inlet. They concluded that the “patients may 
well have thought that the penis would be clear of the fan but were driven to 
new lengths by the novelty of the experience and came to grief”. In response to this paper, Dr. J.T. Hill wrote a letter to the British Medical Journal and noted that:

“In a series of 57 penile injuries reported at the annual meeting of the British Association of Urological Surgeons in June 1980, I reported three patients with this condition. Their ages were, typically, 66, 55, and 60 years. They had suffered degloving injuries and two patients required suturing of multiple lacerations and one required split skin grafting. All three patients underwent urethral catheterization for urinary retention”.

In a 1979 issue of European Urology, Dr. U. Wenderoth and Dr. U. Jonas examined 48 masturbation injuries. Of these, they reported that 12 comprised ‘foreign bodies’ introduced into the urethra and urinary bladder while the other 36 cases comprised ‘vacuum cleaner injuries’ to the penis. In 1984, Dr. Jack McAninch and his colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection and Critical Care that examined major injuries to the testicles, penis, and genital skin from trauma in 62 of their patients over a six-year period (1977 to 1983). They reported seven suction-end vacuum cleaner injuries in their sample.

In 1985, Dr. Ralph Benson wrote a paper in the journal Urology asking whether vacuum cleaner injuries to the penis were a common urologic problem. He presented five cases studies of such penile injuries (including a case of a man that had lost the glans of his penis). He concluded that contrary to apparent public appreciation, injury due to this form of autostimulation may not be unusual”.

An Italian paper Rossi et al in a 1991 issue of Minerva Urologica e Nefrologica reported the case of penile injury caused by masturbating using a vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner caused skin lesions and urethral lacerations (but were successfully treated). The authors stressed “the extreme rarity of the case”. Since then academic papers in the topic appear to have dried up somewhat.

In 1998, a news story made worldwide headlines when a 51-year-old man from Long Branch (New Jersey, USA) cut off half an inch of his penis (and nearly bled to death) after masturbating with a
vacuum cleaner. He first told legal and medical authorities that he had been stabbed in his penis by someone as he slept. However, it later became apparent that he was trying to gain sexual pleasure from the vacuum cleaner’s suction. However, he hadn’t realised there was a blade that pushed dust into the vacuum cleaner’s bag. Fortunately, medics at Monmouth Medical Center stopped the bleeding (saving the man’s life) but
were unable to reattach the severed part of his penis. As far as I am aware, this case was never reported in the medical literature and only in the popular press.

The most recent (possible) case that I have come across was a 2005 case study published in a German journal by Dr. J. Falk and his colleagues. They reported the case of a 61-year-old man that was admitted to hospital with a partially severed penis. The authors reported:

“The head of the penis (glans) had been completely severed, and the skin of the shaft and the corpora cavernosa had been ripped open. In the hospital the patient reported that his penis got caught in the hose attachment of an old Kobold vacuum cleaner that he was using to inflate an air mattress. He later made contradictory statements in his report to the insurance company, so we were asked to reconstruct the circumstances of the accident. The literature available to us only makes clinical observations about similar accidents, always with the assumption that the vacuum cleaner was used during masturbation or in order to achieve an erection. According to our reconstruction of the accident and an investigation of the vacuum cleaner attachment, however, we could not rule out the possibility of a household accident as described by the patient”.

The lack of more recent (and definitive) reports about masturbatory penile injuries caused by vacuum cleaners in the medical literature suggests they are either less commonplace than they used to be and/or there are as many as there have ever have been over the last few decades but are not as journal-worthy (as they are no longer novel).

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

Further reading

Benson, R. (1985). Vacuum cleaner injury to penis: A common urologic problem? Urology, 25(1), 41-44.

Citron, N.D., & Wade, P.J. (1980). Penile injuries from vacuum cleaners. British Medical Journal, 281(6232), 26.

Falk, J., Riepert, T., & Rothschild, M. A. (2005). [Traumatic partial amputation of a penis – A reconstruction of the circumstances of the accident]. Versicherungsmedizin/herausgegeben von Verband der Lebensversicherungs-Unternehmen eV und Verband der Privaten Krankenversicherung eV, 57(1), 17-19

Fox, M., & Barrett, E.L. (1960). ‘Vacuum cleaner injury’ of the penis. British Medical Journal, 1(5190),1942.

Hill, J. T. (1980). Penile injuries from vacuum cleaners. British Medical Journal, 281(6238), 519.

Mannion, R.A. (1973). Penile Laceration. Journal of the American Medical Association, 224, 1763-1763

McAninch, J.W., Kahn, R.I., Jeffrey, R.B., Laing, F.C., & Krieger, M.J. (1984). Major traumatic and septic genital injuries. Journal of Trauma-Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, 24, 291-298.

Morey, A.F., & Rozanski, T. A. (2007). Genital and lower urinary tract trauma. Campbell-Walsh Urology, 3, 49-50.

Nolan, J. (1998). Love story with a cutting edge. Philly.com, may 14. Located at: http://articles.philly.com/1998-05-14/news/25742370_1_vacuum-love-story-unidentified-man

Pryor, J. P., Hill, J. T., Packham, D. A., & Yates‐Bell, A. J. (1981). Penile injuries with particular reference to injury to the erectile tissue. British Journal of Urology, 53(1), 42-46.

Rossi, M., Cascini, F., & Torcigliani, S. (1991). [Penile injuries caused by masturbation with a vacuum cleaner. Description of a case and review of the literature]. Minerva Urologica e Nefrologica, 44(1), 43-45.

Tolba, A. M., Azab, A. A. H., Nasr, M. A., & Salah, E. (2014). Dartos fascio-myo-cutaneous flap for penile skin loss: A simple flap with an immense potential. Surgical Science, 5, 6-9.

Wenderoth, U., & Jonas, U. (1979). Curiosity in urology? Masturbation injuries. European Urology, 6, 312-313.

Zufall, R. (1973). Laceration of penis from hand vacuum cleaner. Journal of the American Medical Association, 224, 630.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction 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 600 research papers, four books, over 130 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 December 22, 2014, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Pain, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. If you do find yourself feeling a little horny while vacuuming to avoid any of those kind of injuries I would suggest using to lowest setting and do it over your pants to avoid any unfortunate & painful not to mention embarrassing incidents .

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