Hoovers and shakers: Another look at vacuum cleaner sex

In a previous blog I briefly looked at the medical literature relating to penile injuries arising from autoerotic interactions from vacuum cleaners. While researching that blog I also came across other literature that had examined vacuum cleaners being used for sexual purposes that I thought I would make another interesting blog. A number of references in the psychological literature make reference to particular types of people using vacuum cleaners as a source of sexual stimulation for masturbatory purposes. For instance, in a 2005 chapter by Lynne Moxon about sexuality and Asperger Syndrome (i.e., an autism spectrum disorder typically characterized by major difficulties in social interaction and non-verbal communication) noted that among Asperger’s sufferers:

“Lack of awareness of the use of the imagination for sexual fantasy can lead to the use of more physical forms of stimulation, such as the vibration of washing machines or public transport, or the use of vacuum cleaner pipes, holes in chair backs, socks, bottles and more unusual items, such as TV remote controls and golf clubs. Females unaware of the use of sex toys have used deodorant cans, scissors, keys and candles”.

In a 2013 study by Dr. Remigiusz Kijak published in the journal Sexuality and Disability, 133 people (mainly older age teenagers with ages ranging from 17 to 25 years) with mild intellectual disability were surveyed about their sexuality and sexual practices. Dr. Kijak reported that:

“During the studies it has also been determined that 7 % of the studied teenagers stimulate themselves in an untypical manner. The teenagers studied admitted to masturbating with tools, certain objects or to masturbating in a way other than a natural one. The study subjects masturbate using grease, food, furniture and even vacuum cleaners. Such masturbation can be determined as dangerous, mainly due to the fact that it fixes a certain, repeatable chain of strange rituals, often impossible to use in a partner relationship, and may result in a pleasure decrease”. 

As noted in my previous blog on the use of vacuum cleaners as a masturbatory aid, most writings on the topic concern penile injuries that have come to the attention of medics when things go wrong. However, there are a couple of case studies in the forensic literature that have featured vacuum cleaners in autoerotic deaths. In 1988, Dr. R.H. Imami and Dr. M. Kemal published a paper in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology about a 57-year old white American male with a history of heart disease and chronic pancreatitis. The man was found naked slumped over his vacuum cleaner after a neighbour wondered why the vacuum cleaner had been on continuously for a long time. The man was found leaning against the dining table with his testicles, buttocks and thighs tightly bound with women’s tights. Near the table was a jar of urine, jars of lubricant and a wooden table leg covered in faecal excrement. The man was covered in burns from the vacuum cleaner. No defect was found in the vacuum cleaner. The autopsy revealed that the man had a heart attack while engaged in the autoerotic activity. The wooden table leg had been used in an attempt to stimulate orgasm via anal penetration. His wife had caught him masturbating with the vacuum cleaner before (and they hadn’t had sex for five years). The death was classes as natural rather than accidental.

In 1994, Dr. Clive Cooke, Dr. Gerard Cadden and Dr. Karin Margolius published a paper concerning four “unusual fatalities where death occurred during autoerotic practice”. Three of the four accidental deaths (electrocution, hanging, and courgette inhalation) involved young to middle-aged men. However, it is the fourth case that is of interest here. This involved an elderly man that (like the previous case) had heart disease. The authors reported that:

“The naked body of this 77[-year] old widower was found in the bathroom of his home…Adjacent to the body, and switched on and working, were a vacuum cleaner and a hair dryer. A pair of men’s underpants was impacted in the hose of the vacuum cleaner. Autopsy examination showed the body of an elderly man of normal build. There was no evident injury; in particular there were no apparent marks of electrical injury. Internal examination showed enlargement of the heart with extensive ischemic fibrous scarring of the thickened left ventricular myocardium. Extensive calcified coronary arteriosclerosis was present, with no thrombosis. There was no significant valvular disease. The lungs were mildly congested and there was benign hypertensive nephrosclerosis. Toxicological analysis was unremarkable. The vacuum cleaner and hair dryer, together with the electric circuitry of the house, were assessed by an electrical inspector and cleared of malfunction. The cause of death was therefore believed to be combined arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease. The scene examination suggested the likelihood that the electrical appliances were being used autoerotically”.

In their discussion of this particular case, Cooke and colleagues noted that sudden autoerotic deaths due to a natural disease process (e.g., heart disease) have seldom been reported in the forensic literature. To their knowledge, only two previous case reports had been published prior to their own study – both males who after autopsy:

“…showed significant arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. One was the case of a 61 [-year] old man who died whilst bound with chain restraints; a vibrator was nearby [Hazelwood, Dietz & Burgess, 1981]. The second case was of a 57 [-year] old man whose body was found naked alongside a running vacuum cleaner; the testicles, thighs and buttocks were tightly bound with pantyhose [Imami & Kemal, 1988]. Such deaths are probably less frequent than sudden natural death associated with heterosexual or homosexual activity, particularly if with a novel partner [Malik, 1979]”.

Finally, the only other vacuum cleaner-related autoerotic death I located in the forensic literature was a 2005 case study report by Dr. Andrew Hitchcock and Dr. Roger Start in the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine. This was actually a case of hypoxyphilia where the device built to cut off the oxygen supply involved a vacuum cleaner. More specifically, the paper reported:

“A case is reported of a 36-year-old man who died following occlusive entrapment within a device for the purpose of hypoxyphilic gratification. The device was constructed in his own home using instructions found on his home computer down-loaded from the Internet. The device comprised a tough plastic cocoon large enough to accommodate an adult human and incorporating a system of plastic piping connected to a household vacuum cleaner for the evacuation of air within the cocoon. The mechanism of death was thought to be traumatic asphyxia after examination of the deceased and re-construction of the apparatus with the body in situ”.

The prevalence of autoerotic acts involving the use of vacuum cleaners is unknown as only those cases that result in serious genital injury and/or death come to the attention of medics and/or forensic scientists. As noted in my previous blog, the number of cases that are being reported is on the decrease but this may be because the topic is less novel than it used to be and may not be seen by journal editors as worthy of publication.

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.

Cooke, C.T., Cadden, G.A., & Margolius, K.A. (1994). Autoerotic deaths: Four cases. Pathology, 26(3), 276-280.

Hazelwood, R.R., Dietz, P. E., & Burgess, A.W. (1981). The investigation of autoerotic fatalities. Journal of Police Science & Administration, 9, 404-411.

Hitchcock, A., & Start, R.D. (2005). Fatal traumatic asphyxia in a middle-aged man in association with entrapment associated hypoxyphilia. Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, 12, 320-325.

Imami, R. H., & Kemal, M. (1988). Vacuum cleaner use in autoerotic death. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 9, 246-248.

Kijak, R. (2013). The sexuality of adults with intellectual disability in Poland. Sexuality and Disability, 31(2), 109-123.

Klintschar, M., Grabuschnigg, P., & Beham, A. (1998). Death from electrocution during autoerotic practice: Case report and review of the literature. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 19, 190-193.

Malik, M. O. (1979). Sudden coronary deaths associated with sexual activity. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 24, 216-220.

Moxon, L. (2005). Diagnosis, disclosure and self-confidence in sexuality and relationships. In D. Murray (Ed.), Coming out Asperger: Diagnosis, Disclosure and Self-Confidence (pp. 214-229). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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.

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 October 9, 2015, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Gender differences, Obsession, Pain, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction, Unusual deaths and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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