This Week in Sex: Let’s Get Digital, Digital

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Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Let’s Get Digital, Digital

Martha Kempner

This week, we examine a rise in sex toy injuries, the careful marketing sex toy retailers in India must employ to dodge the country's restrictive laws, and the "wankband," which harnesses the power of masturbation to create energy.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Sex Toy Injuries on the Rise

According to estimates released last month from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, sex toy injuries have more than doubled in recent years. Based on a representative survey of hospital emergency room data from around the country, the agency estimates the number of injuries that are caused by all kinds of consumer products, including “massage devices and vibrators.” According to the estimates—and a Washington Post analysis—emergency room visits peaked in 2012, when 2,500 people were treated for sex toy injuries, compared to slightly more than 1,000 in 2003.

Men accounted for 58 percent of the visits, and the men who seek treatment were generally older (average age 44) than the women (average age 30). The oldest man to be treated was 81, the oldest woman 67. By far the most frequent reason for the visit was foreign body extraction, which was required in 83 percent of the cases.

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Most of the injuries were pretty minor—of those patients who accepted treatment, 71 percent were released right afterward. Twenty-five percent, however, required hospitalization or a transfer to another facility. Nobody died.

Still, the sex educator in me feels compelled to note that it is important to be safe when using sex toys. A recent story of a sex toy lodged near a woman’s uterus for more than ten years notwithstanding, few things get stuck or lost in the vagina—it is only about six inches long and it stops at the entrance to the uterus, which would not let a sex toy go farther. Most of the extractions were likely necessary because toys that were not specifically designed for the purpose were inserted into the anus. This can be dangerous, as the anus is a muscle that expands and has no natural stopping point on the inside. Using butt plugs or other sex toys that have a wider base (that stays outside the anus) is the best way to keep yourself and your partner(s) off of the sex toy injury list.

The Growth of India’s Online Sexual Wellness Market

Buying a sex toy in India is not as easy as walking into the local Walmart—or even the sex shop in the sketchy part of town—because of age-old restrictive laws that limit what can be sold and how it can be marketed. Most sex toy crackdowns in the country rely on Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, which says that any book, drawing, figure, or object “shall be deemed to be obscene” if it fuels lascivious, or overtly sexual, thoughts and behavior. A newer law applies the same language to the Internet.

Sex toys are pretty much designed to fuel overtly sexual thoughts and behavior, but that doesn’t mean they are unavailable. In fact there’s a growing market for sexual wellness in the country, especially online. Healthkart, one of India’s leading online marketplaces, reports that the number of women buying lubricants, condoms, fertility supplements, and sexual accessories has grown by 75 percent in the last year alone. Some estimate this market to be worth $1.4 billion by 2020 (though this would be a gigantic leap from the $161 million it earned last year).

Whether these sales violate the law has everything to do with the products and the marketing techniques. Vaibhav Parikh, a partner at international law firm Nishith Desai Associates, explained it this way to Quartz India: “Some products fall into the grey area and depend on circumstances—a massager is legal, but one that is shaped like a private part is considered to be illegal.” When the courts decide these cases, he said, they usually look at whether a product or the way it was advertised made people act with a “depraved mindset.”

By offering these items under categories like personal health and care, online sellers try to be subtle about the purpose of their products.

Unfortunately, there is another challenge looming. An official in India’s Supreme Court filed a complaint against online retailers Snapdeal and Ohmysecret (which has already gone out of business) for selling anal lube and vibrators shaped like penises. Suhaas Joshi, who filed the complaint, is arguing that these products violate the country’s anti-homosexuality laws as well as the anti-obscenity ones. He told Quartz India, “There is a lot of confusion. Companies are selling products which are used for same sex activity, but at the same time, Indian government says such acts are illegal.” The police were asked to investigate and a report is expected this month.

In the meantime, people in India are finding ways to sell and buy sex toys. Ira Trivedi, author of India in Love, told Quartz India, “Yes there is censorship, yes it’s under the radar, but people are trying to get around that.”

Harnessing the Power of Masturbation

Remember back in middle school science class when you learned that you could power a lightbulb with a potato? Yeah, well this is like that. Kind of.

The latest in wearable technology is being brought to us by PornHub, a British site for adult entertainment. The site notes in a charming video that by providing reasons for people to stay online, it has contributed to our global power problems. However, it promises, it can now be part of the solution. Man power, as they call it, can be an endlessly renewable source of electricity.

To harness this power, they have developed the wankband, which is worn on the wrist. When said wrist is moved up and down repeatedly, the band creates and stores kinetic energy. The makers promise the band is unisex, though the motion required may not be quite as useful for people with certain parts as it is for others.

Once enough energy has been generated, users can charge their laptops, cell phones, and other devices by plugging them into the band’s built-in USB port. It’s that simple. And fun.

The device is in beta testing now, and PornHub has not yet said how many hours of masturbation equals an hour of cellphone charge—but we can already say we’ll never look at low battery warning the same way again.