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Gerbil remedies: The fact and fiction of felching

I apologize for what I am about to write as some of you reading this may be disturbed by what you read in this blog about the alleged practice of felching. In the Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, Dr. Brenda Love defines felching as a sexual practice in two very different ways. The first variant is said to refer to the act of sucking semen from the anus of a sexual partner following anal sex. The second variant is said to refer to the stuffing of small animals, typically rodents (e.g., gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats) into the vagina or anus for sexual stimulation. No-one doubts the existence of the first variant. However, there are countless online debates about whether the practice of inserting small animals into bodily orifices really exists. (If felching does exist, it could possibly be a sub-type of musophilia that Dr. Anil Aggrawal defines in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices as involving sexual arousal from mice but makes no reference as to how this sexual arousal might actually occur).

The most infamous felching story involves US actor Richard Gere. An untrue story started circulating in the mid-1980s that Gere had checked into the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in California for an emergency ‘gerbilectomy’. In fact, the Gere story has become so well known that it has been alluded to in popular both mainstream films (e.g., Scream in 1996, and Urban Legend in 1998) and television comedy programmes (e.g., The Vicar of Dibley when Dawn French’s character on commenting on the sex appeal of Richard Gere says she wouldn’t have minded being the hamster). In 2006, US actor Sylvester Stallone stated in public that he believed Richard Gere personally blamed him for starting the rumour. Before this, a Philadelphian KYW TV newscaster (Jerry Penacoli) was rumored to have visited an emergency room to dislodge a gerbil from his colon. Same story, different person.

Jan Harold Brunvand, the author of The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends – and citing an academic paper published by Becky Vorpagel in a 1988 issue of International Folklore Review (“A rodent by Any Other Name: Implications of a Contemporary Legend”) – says the ‘gerbilling’ story began in 1984 started out as a story involving an unknown gay man and a mouse. Over the subsequent years, the unknown gay man became Richard Gere, and the mouse became a gerbil.

There were then two stories that did the rounds online, dating back to as early as 1993. These “news” stories (the first one having constantly been attributed to the Los Angeles Times but no such story ever appeared) have been repeated in many online articles about felching (and here I am repeating them yet again):

  • News story 1: “In retrospect, lighting the match was my big mistake. But I was only trying to retrieve the gerbil,” Eric Tomaszewski told bemused doctors in the Severe Burns Unit of Salt Lake City Hospital. Tomaszewski, and his homosexual partner Andrew “Kiki” Farnum, had been admitted for emergency treatment after a felching session had gone seriously wrong. “I pushed a cardboard tube up his rectum and slipped Raggot, our gerbil, in,” he explained. “As usual, Kiki shouted out ‘Armageddon,’ my cue that he’d had enough. I tried to retrieve Raggot but he wouldn’t come out again, so I peered into the tube and struck a match, thinking the light might attract him.” At a hushed press conference, a hospital spokesman described what happened next. “The match ignited a pocket of intestinal gas and a flame shot out the tube, igniting Mr. Tomaszewski’s hair and severely burning his face. It also set fire to the gerbil’s fur and whiskers which in turn ignited a larger pocket of gas further up the intestine, propelling the rodent out like a cannonball.” Tomaszewski suffered second degree burns and a broken nose from the impact of the gerbil, while Farnum suffered first and second degree burns to his anus and lower intestinal tract”
  • News story 2: “A 26-year-old male arrives at the ER complaining of rectal bleeding. He is too embarrassed to provide an accurate history but provides the examining doctor a clue: “There might be something stuck in my rear end.” Examination reveals a non-tender abdomen, but a rectal exam shows blood coming from his anus. A speculum exam reveals bloody stool and a dead gerbil. Apparently, through the cardboard tubing from a paper towel roll, the rodent had been forced into his rectum. Once the animal was in, the tube was pulled out. The idea is that as the gerbil suffocates, it scratches and claws at the lining of the rectum, providing an intense sensation to the patient. The rodent should then have been defecated, but the swelling and bleeding had caused the retention of the animal. The patient required pain medication and antibiotics after the animal was removed, but was then allowed to go home”.

I carried out a full literature search on academic databases and couldn’t find one example of somebody seeking treatment to remove a rodent from their rectum. However, Dr Siu Fai Lo and colleagues (at the Kwong Wah Hospital, Hong Kong) reported the case of a 50-year old man who had to have a live eel removed from his rectum (If you really don’t believe this, you can check the reference below). The authors specifically stated that the insertion of a live animal into the rectum causing rectal perforation has never been reported in the medical literature previously. It is also worth mentioning at this point that a paper on anorectal trauma in a 1989 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology by Dr. W.G. Eckert and Dr. S. Katchis. They commented on felching. More specifically they said: “A sexual practice has been mentioned recently where living rodents, including gerbils and mice, have been inserted into the rectum; the animal’s futile efforts to claw its way to safety result in mucosal tears in the rectum”. However, they didn’t present any evidence for its existence.

There’s always the chance that the sexual practice has occurred but had never gone awry. Other journalists have tried to find evidence for the practice. For instance, an online essay on felching reported:

“Researchers, including Mike Walker from the National Enquirer, strove in vain to document an instance of gerbil-stuffing by anyone, anywhere. A promising lead popped up in a book published in 1992 by the American Hospital Association. The Hospital Emergency Department: A Guide to Operational Excellence, edited by Theodore A. Matson, included the entry “rectal mass – gerbils” under the category of emergency-room procedures that require 25 minutes to perform. But when an investigator contacted John A. Page, the author of the section in question, he claimed that the proofreader at the AHA obviously had a sense of humor”

My research into the topic came across a 2010 story in the Huffington Post about a convicted cocaine smuggler (Douglas Spink) who was arrested for running a “bestiality farm” in Washington State. State officials found dozens of dogs, horses and pet mice along with thousands of images of bestiality. The report said the mice were euthanized, had their tails cut off, were smothered in Vaseline and had string tied around them. Given the mice were covered in Vaseline and had string tied round their bodies suggests that they were for used for inserting into bodily orifices and for easy retrieval. A case of necro-felching perhaps?

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

Further reading

Adams, C. (1986). Is it true what they say about gerbils? The Straight Dope, March 28. Located at: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/478/is-it-true-what-they-say-about-gerbils

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

Brunvand, J.B. (2001). The Colo-Rectal Mouse. In Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. London: W.W. Norton & Company.

Eckert, W.G, & Katchis, S. (1989). Anorectal trauma: Medicolegal and forensic aspects. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 10, 3-9.

Emery, D. About that Thing with Richard Gere and the Gerbil. Urban Legends. http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/celebrities/a/richard_gere.htm

Homosexinfo (2007). Rectal insertion of foreign bodies by male homosexuals. December 7. Located at: http://www.homosexinfo.org/Sexuality/RectalObjects

Huffington Post (2010). Douglas Spink arrested in bestiality case: Mice in Vaseline, dogs, horses Found At Exitpoint Stallions Limitee. June 16. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/16/douglas-spink-arrested-in_n_541379.html

Lo, S.F., Wong, S.H., Leung, L.S, et al. (2004). Traumatic rectal perforation by an eel. Surgery, 135, 110-111.

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

Mikkelson, B. & Mikkelson, D. (2001). From Gere to Eternity. Snopes, November 18, Located at: http://www.snopes.com/risque/homosex/gerbil.asp

The Sneaky Badger (2005). Gerbil felching. October 26. Located at: http://badgerbob.blogspot.co.uk/2005/10/gerbil-felching.html

Vorpagel, B. (1988). A rodent by any other name: Implications of a contemporary legend. International Folklore Review, 6, 53–57.

Wikipedia (2012). Gerbilling. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerbilling

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