In previous blogs I have examined some bizarre (and arguably extremely frivolous) human behaviours such as ‘used condom fetishism’ and ‘cremainlining’ (i.e., the snorting of human cremated remains). Today’s blog takes a brief look at ‘condom snorting’, something that I never would have believed existed but having seen dozens of YouTube clips of teenagers engaging in the behaviour, I have to admit that it is no myth. (There are also various newspapers who have compiled a selection of condom snorting videos such as the page on the Philadelphia Post website).
I often get asked where I get the ideas to write my blogs and on this occasion I was simply sent a press cutting by one of my PhD students who suggested that I might like to write about this bizarre practice. The article my student sent me was from a British tabloid newspaper (The Sun). The author of the article (Ian Garland) began by reporting that:
“A teenage girl unravels a condom on camera, pushes it up her nose and snorts it – before gagging as she pulls it out of her mouth. The pretty brunette is the latest teen to take part in a vile and deadly new internet craze called The Condom Challenge. Dozens of youngsters have posted similar videos on YouTube – including two giggling British girls who perform the sick stunt side-by-side on camera. The horrifying fad has been condemned by other internet users. One commenter wrote: ‘Why the hell would people do something so stupid?’ Another added: “Sheer stupidity. This is sick and disgusting’”
The girl snorting the condom was Amber-Lynn Strong, and the video she uploaded to YouTube went viral and got over 2.2 million views before being removed. In addition to The Sun, the video (and the “condom snorting craze”) was discussed in many other media outlets including the Huffington Post, Metro, Massive, Gawker, and Buzzfeed. Kat Stoeffel writing for New York’s online magazine The Cut wrote:
“Teenagers are snorting condoms up their noses and pulling them out of their mouths, on camera and on the Internet, that raises more questions than it answers. A YouTube search for ‘condom challenge’ yields more than 200,000 results, most of them [not safe for work] due to gross noises. Is this the ‘gateway sexual activity’? Or is this what happens when there’s no sex [education]? Is it an elaborate ruse to buy and possess condoms? And is this better or worse than the condom’s intended purpose?”
Following the posting of many ‘condom snorting’ videos on YouTube, almost all newspaper articles reported that medical experts around the world were advising teenagers not to engage in the activity because it can cause infections, coughing fits, vomiting and, in extreme cases, death. An article in Massive magazine claimed that hospitals around the world had “seen the arrival of teens with condoms stuck in the back of their throat, leaving them helpless and needing assistance to remove the condoms”. The Sun’s resident medic Dr Carol Cooper reported in The Sun article that:
“[Condom snorting is] shocking and incredibly stupid. The nose is connected to the back of the mouth – it’s also connected to the airwaves. There’s every possibility something you push up your nose will end up in your windpipe, or in your lungs. With potentially fatal results.”
However, another article by Samantha Cheney in the US Metro newspaper interviewed a leading physician in Australia (Dr. Joe Kosterich) who provided an arguably more balanced view and was quoted as saying:
“Although it is highly unlikely to be fatal it could trigger a coughing fit in some. The nasal linings could get irritated but this would be annoying rather than serious. If it were to get stuck it would make for a pretty embarrassing trip to the E.R.”.
There was a lot of reader reaction to the article in The Sun some of which pointed out that although the practice might be stupid, (i) there was no evidence that the practice had caused any large-scale medical problems, and that (ii) the practice wasn’t new. Typical comments included the following:
- Extract 1: “Apparently, no-one has ever died or been injured from doing this. [People] have been doing it for over 20 years. It is not new. There were almost 280,000 videos of kids doing this before YouTube pulled all the [videos]. So, maybe a million+ kids have done this and not a one has suffered dire effects? I know it may be ‘shocking’, but until I see [legitimate statistics] of how many kids have been hurt/or have died from doing this, I am not going to lose any sleep over it” (Perlins).
- Extract 2: “This is so stupid but not new. People were doing this when I was younger [but] it’s just you see more of it now due to the internet, I’m only 30 so not too long ago really” (Weebird).
Almost all of the literature relating to medical condom emergencies concern either ‘lost’ condoms inside body cavities following sexual activity, or from drug-smuggling ‘body packers’ who get drug-filled condoms stuck after swallowing or rectally inserting the condom-filled package. For instance, I came across a case study by Dr. Shehnaz Somjee in a 1991 issue of the Journal of Laryngology and Otology who reported the case of a 28-year old man in prison who got a cannabis-filled condom stuck in his upper oesophagus.
Having read these reports I searched the medical literature to see if I could locate any medical reports on condom snorting that had gone wrong. I only found one report of ‘accidental condom inhalation’ and that concerned a woman who accidentally inhaled a condom during oral sex with her boyfriend (and reported in a 2004 issue of the Indian Journal of Chest Diseases and Allied Sciences by Dr. C.L. Arya and colleagues). A recent study led by Dr. Maarten Timmers and published in a 2012 issue of Pediatric Emergency Care examined all the cases of foreign body-related trauma in 8149 children and adolescents in their clinic over an 18-year period (1991-2009). They collected detailed data including age, sex, type of foreign body, injury severity, and anatomical location of the foreign body. They reported that the most predominant anatomical sites where foreign bodies got stuck were the respiratory tract/gastrointestinal tract (39.1%); ears (23.9%); nose (19.4%); and extremities (8.8%). The commonest objects were coins (20.8 %), (parts of) jewelry (9.5%), and food (8.7%). None of the foreign bodies removed were condoms (although the majority of the sample were aged below 10 years).
As there are no empirical studies on condom snorting, when it comes to why teenagers would engage in the behaviour, the wider question is why they would engage in risky behaviour in the first place? I have spent my whole career researching why adolescents engage in risky behaviours such as gambling and if you ask teenagers to explain their behaviour there are a consistent set of reasons given such as engaging in the activity because (i) it is fun, exciting, mood-enhancing, and/or dangerous, (ii) others around them do it (friends, relatives), (iii) they have a low boredom threshold, (iv) it is an act of rebellion against parents and other ‘authority’ adults, and (v) it may change others’ views on how they are perceived (with the person engaging in the act hoping they will be viewed more positively by their peers).
To me, the Condom Challenge is akin to other challenges usually taken on by teenagers in an attempt to impress their friends. For instance, there are thousands of YouTube videos with young people taking the ‘Cinnamon Challenge’ (where a tablespoon of cinnamon is put into someone’s mouth and the challenge is to swallow all of it within a 60-second period without drinking any water). It’s virtually impossible to do (it burns, it makes you cough, and you’ll most probably regret having tried in the first place) but it hasn’t stopped people trying.
Some recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Dr. Agnieszka Tymula and colleagues at the New York University reported that adolescents were riskier in uncertain situations, and more willing than adults to accept ambiguity and take action even when they don’t fully understand the consequences. Interestingly the study found that adolescents were generally no more risky in their behaviour than adults but (in a gambling-related task) they went for the risky option more often when the outcome was not exactly known. In reports to the media, Dr. Tymula said that:
“Teenagers’ high tolerance to ambiguity is compounded by the fact that they often put themselves in situations where they might not even recognize the ambiguity of the full spectrum of consequences. The acceptance of the unknown makes teenagers engage in riskier behaviour”.
Unless condom snorting becomes an epidemic that leads to serious health risks, I can’t foresee there being any scientific research on the topic although I wouldn’t be surprised if a few extreme cases make it into the medical literature.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Alvarez, A. (2013). What is the Condom Challenge and why are there videos? ABC News, April 17. Located at: http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Entertainment/condom-challenge-videos-youtube-bad-idea/story?id=18977460#.UXfoULXvtqU
Arya, C.L., Gupta, R. & Arora, V.K. (2004). Accidental condom inhalation. Indian Journal of Chest Diseases and Allied Sciences, 46, 55-58.
Cheney, S. (2013). Snorting condoms becomes latest YouTube craze. Metro, June 20. Located at: http://www.metro.us/philadelphia/entertainment/2013/06/20/snorting-condoms-becomes-latest-youtube-craze/
Garland, I. (2013). Condom snorting: teens take part in vile and deadly new internet craze. The Sun, April 16. Located at: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/4890174/condom-snorting-the-vile-and-deadly-new-internet-trend.html
Huffington Post (2013). Condom Challenge: Teen condom snorting trend hits YouTube. April 15. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/15/condom-challenge-snorting-condoms-videos_n_3085258.html
Somjee, S. (1991). A narcotic foreign body in the throat. Journal of Laryngology and Otology, 105, 774-775.
Stoeffel, K. (2013). Why are teenagers snorting their condoms? The Cut, April 17. Located at: http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/04/why-are-teenagers-snorting-their-condoms.html
Timmers, M., Snoek, K.G., Gregori, D., Felix, J.F., van Dijk, M. Sebastian A.B. (2012). Foreign bodies in a pediatric emergency department in South Africa. Pediatric Emergency Care, 28, 1348-1352.
Tymula, A., Belmaker, L. A. R., Roy, A. K., Ruderman, L., Manson, K., Glimcher, P. W., & Levy, I. (2012). Adolescents’ risk-taking behavior is driven by tolerance to ambiguity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 17135-17140.
Wheeler, T. (2013). Condom snorting, the latest craze. Massive (Volume 2, Issue 5), July 22. Located at: http://www.massivemagazine.org.nz/blog/9716/condom-snorting-the-latest-craze/