Unraveling the Myth of 'Penis Captivus'
Picture it: A couple is engaging in an illicit affair when suddenly, despite their best efforts, the vagina latches on to the penis. No, this isn't vagina dentata (a myth that a woman's vagina can contain teeth), nor is it the passion of the night. It's something else: penis captivus.
It may sound like every couple's nightmare, but the murmurs of an urban legend may carry some truth. Although mostly anecdotal, the condition occurs when the pelvic muscles contract, making the penis unable to move or even exit the vagina; stuck by groinal fate.
You may have heard tales of penis captivus in animals since it’s not uncommon to see two dogs stuck together. On canine breeding websites, it's a well-documented occurrence and noted as a non-threatening and natural moment in mating, also known as a copulatory tie that lasts from five minutes to an hour.
Male dogs have something called a bulbus glandis, which is located on the base of the penis, and when it swells with blood during arousal, it locks the penis inside of the female dog. Getting stuck that way leads to higher chances of puppies. This type of mating can also be found in insects, fish, birds and other mammals. But humans don't have a bulbus glandis, so what the hell causes them to get stuck?
Penis captivus throughout history
Research papers from the 1970s and hearsay accounts explain that penis captivus is caused by vaginismus, a condition in which the "pelvic floor muscles involuntarily contract, typically making any type of penetration difficult and/or painful," explained Rachel Gelman, PT DPT and adjunct instructor in the physical therapy program at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, California. For many people, this causes painful intercourse or the inability to insert any object into the vagina, whether that's a speculum, tampon, finger or penis.
The theory has it that if the pelvic muscles spasm during an orgasm while a penis is inside of the vagina, the penis can become lodged there and remain engorged until the muscles relax. Although Gelman hasn't seen a patient who has experienced this, she said she's heard of it and that vaginismus can contribute to "the feeling that a penis is stuck in the vagina." If the person attached to said penis has an orgasm and the blood drains from the member, the erection will dissipate and the penis can possibly be removed without medical intervention.
"The Sexual Life of Our Time," by Iwan Bloch, published in 1908, had a footnote that mentioned a tale about penis captivus in which a woman "became affected with this involuntary spasm, and the man was unable to free himself from his imprisonment. A great crowd assembled, from the midst of which the unfortunate couple were removed in a closed carriage, and taken to the hospital, and not until chloroform had been administered to the girl did the spasm pass off and free the man."
The theory has it that if the pelvic muscles spasm during an orgasm while a penis is inside of the vagina, the penis can become lodged there and remain engorged until the muscles relax.
In a 1979 paper published in the British Medical Journal, researcher F. Kraupl Taylor wrote that penis captivus is "not entirely mythical," but the occurrence of the condition has become rarer in the latest century. Most accounts of the condition are by hospital workers or gynecologists. Taylor wrote that vaginismus contributed to penis captivus between a couple whose lives ended in a double suicide.
More recently, in 2016, a Kenyan news channel featured a story about a couple who were carried through the streets to a witch doctor to be cleansed after becoming stuck during an affair. But besides a few incidents such as this in the media, penis captivus still appears to be an extremely rare if not mythical occurrence. Lack of accurate research and patient evidence categorizes the condition as "implausible."
OK, so is it real or not?
Tulsa based OB-GYN Corey Babb, MD, noted that he's never treated anyone with penis captivus and said, "If you look at the literature, what seems to be described is that the penis has been trapped due to 'highly contracted vaginal muscles.'" And while this is the definition of vaginismus, it's mostly a reflexive spasm to keep objects out, not in. Babb explained that another theory could be hymenal septums, which is when a tampon gets stuck inside of the vagina after it fills with blood and becomes too large to remove. "If you really wanted to go out on a limb, you could say that that could be a potential cause of penis captivus," he said.
If someone has experienced a feeling of getting stuck, which some Redditers describe as "cool," they don't always get rushed to the hospital as folklore says. According to some people, it can last a few seconds or a few minutes. By staying calm and waiting for the muscles to naturally relax, the penis and vagina can release from one another without any harm to each individual. If one or both people begin to panic, it can cause pain and more contractions.
But most experts claim this isn't common. "While anything is possible in medicine," Babb admitted, "it’s highly unlikely that this condition would occur with any degree of frequency. That said, penile piercings or objects placed around the penis, especially if inserted into the vagina, could potentially become lodged and make withdrawing the penis so painful that it would appear "stuck."
The validity of the elusive condition that ties sweethearts together is still largely unresolved. We do know it's probably rare, it's not permanent (you won't suddenly become a conjoined twin with your partner) and panicking won't help the situation. So, while it might not sound ideal to be stuck with someone, it's safe to say you won't be fused together forever.