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Prophylactic shock: How dangerous is a ‘used condom fetish’?

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that I have covered some pretty weird sexual fetishes since I started writing it. Nothing ever surprises me when it comes to what humans find sexually arousing, but a few months ago I came across a short paper published in a 2009 issue of Sexually Transmitted Infections (which I’ve since discovered is the world’s longest running journal on sexual health) which took me a little by surprise. It was written by Vincent Tremayne (Staff Nurse, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust) and entitled Used condoms: a dangerous fetish?” Tremayne’s article is the only academically written publication that I have ever read that explores the topic of ‘used condom fetishes’ (I did some other searches of academic databases but failed to locate a single other paper on the topic). He noted that:

“For someone with a condom fetish, this might mean gaining pleasure from looking at pictures or videos portraying people ingesting or masturbating with used condoms. Others might search for discarded condoms to masturbate in to or ingest the contents. Some men ‘condom hunt’ in areas where people have public sex, such as car parks or wooded areas”

Tremayne’s own research indicated that used condoms can be purchased online. He made reference to a particular fetish website (Condom Swappers) which allows men to swap used condoms (by mail) for (presumably) sexual purposes. In the name of research I checked out the site and can report that at the time I accessed the site there were currently 3,984 members (with nearly 11,000 posts on 182 different topics, over 15,000 photographs, and 358 videos). There were also 45 specialist sub-groups within this particular used condom community. Most of the members appear to be gay or bisexual although that is my impression rather than anything empirically based. Tremayne reported that most of the membership (at the time of his paper) were men from the United Kingdom and the United States.

Tremayne’s interest in the topic of used condom fetishes came from his concerns about whether men who engaged in this particular sexual practice were at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Tremayne reported that:

“Some might consider this practice to be risk-free as it is accepted that organisms causing STIs cannot live outside the human body. However, a few reports suggest that some microorganisms survive in the right conditions. [A 1986 study by Dr. L. Reznick and colleagues] experimented with a highly concentrated preparation of HIV to see how long it would live in differing environments. The virus was recovered after a week from an aqueous environment at room temperature and for more than 3 days following drying. This study used a falsely concentrated viral preparation, but it is not known how long HIV could survive in a knotted condom, sent in a sealed envelope and received within a day or two”.

There are also other studies indicating that micro-organisms that cause STIs can survive on public toilets. For instance, 1999 study published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology (by Dr. I. Potasman and colleagues) tested for the presence of three specific STI microorganisms (i.e., Ureaplasma urealyticum [UU], Mycoplasma hominis [MH], and Chlamydia trachomatis [CT]) in 50 public toilet bowls. They reported that five (of the 50) bowls (10%) were contaminated with at least one of these microorganism. More specifically, UU was detected in four toilet bowls, MH in three, and CT in one (with UU surviving on the rim of the toilet for up to two hours. Tremayne also reported that there is at least one case in the medical literature of a man contracting gonorrhea following the use of an inflatable doll. I tracked down the original case study published in the journal Genitourinary Medicine:

“The skipper from a trawler, who had been 3 months at sea, sought advice for urethral discharge. His symptoms had lasted for two weeks. A urethral smear showed typical intracellular gram-negative diplococci, and a culture was positive for [gonorrhea]. There had been no woman on board the trawler; he denied homosexual contacts; and there was no doubt that the onset of the symptoms was more than two months after leaving the port. A few days before onset of his symptoms, [the skipper] had roused the engineer in his cabin during the night because of engine trouble. After the engineer had left his cabin the skipper found an inflatable doll with artificial vagina in his bed, and he was tempted to have ‘intercourse’ with the doll…The engineer was examined, and was found to have gonorrhea. He had observed a mild urethral discharge since they left port… He admitted to having ejaculated into the ‘vagina’ of the doll just before the skipper called him, without washing the doll afterwards”

Other researchers have noted that gonorrheal cells can survive on various materials stored at room temperature. For instance, Dr. A. Srivastava has reported in the Journal of Medical Microbiology, that live gonorrhea calls can be recovered up to three days on both hard and soft materials. Because of this (and other evidence), Tremayne speculated that:

“It is possible that those who satisfy their used condom fetish are placing themselves at risk. It is conceivable that STIs could be transmitted by the act of masturbating, ingesting or inserting the contents into the anus. At some point, this could mean that sexual health professionals could be meeting men presenting with STIs without the implied sexual contact”.

As far as I can ascertain, there is no research and no statistics on how prevalent ‘used condom fetishes’ are but I would expect them to be fairly rare. There are certainly online accounts suggesting that some people engage it the imbibing of the contents of used condoms (check out this online forum discussion – but be warned you may find the content distasteful – no pun intended), and other anecdotal cases I came across online suggest that heterosexual females may sometimes have an attraction for such behaviour (such as an online account by Lisa). Tremayne’s paper raises interesting (theoretical) possibilities as to whether ‘used condom fetish’ could result in the spread of an STI. However, it would appear that – to date – there are no recorded instances of an STI being contracted via a used condom.

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

Further reading

Gilbaugh, J.H., & Fuchs, P.C. (1979). The gonococcus and the toilet seat. New England Journal of Medicine, 301, 91-93.

Kleist, E., & Moi, H. (1993). Transmission of gonorrhoea through an inflatable doll. Genitourinary Medicine, 69, 322.

Neinstein, L.S., Goldenring, J., & Carpenter S. (1984). Nonsexual transmission of sexually transmitted diseases: an infrequent occurrence. Pediatrics, 74, 67-76.

Srivastava A. (1980). Survival of gonococci in urethral secretions with reference to nonsexual transmission of gonococcal infections. Journal of Medical Microbiology, 13, 593-596.

Potasman, I., Oren, A, & Srugo, I. (1999). Isolation of ureaplasma urealyticum and mycoplasma hominis from public toilet bowls. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, 20, 66–68.

Tremayne, T. (2009). Used condoms: a dangerous fetish? Sexually Transmitted Infection, 85, 483.