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Not to be sniffed at: The weird and stupid world of ‘condom snorting’

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

Further reading

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/

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.