It sounds like a scene from a trashy sex comedy. But stories of getting stuck during sex have been with us for centuries – and some of them might just be true.
An emergency trip to hospital is never pleasant, but it’s certainly not something you would want to happen after sex.
“It’s not the most romantic ending a couple can imagine,” says Dr Aristomenis Exadaktylos, author of a study of 11 years of admissions to his hospital in Bern, Switzerland.
He and his co-authors found plenty of patients who had experienced problems after sex – migraines, heart problems, even amnesia. But asked on the BBC’s Health Check radio programme if he had come across a case of the woman’s vagina clamping on to the man’s penis, he said No – and added that the idea was probably an urban myth.
Dr John Dean, a senior UK-based sexual physician, says
“When the penis is in the vagina it becomes increasingly engorged,” he says, giving his hypothesis of what causes the problem.
“The muscles of the woman’s pelvic floor contract rhythmically at orgasm. While those muscles contract the penis becomes stuck and further engorged.”
Finally the vaginal muscles relax, the blood flows out of the penis and the man can withdraw.
In a 1933 manual of gynaecology, the author Walter Stoeckel speculated that penis captivus only affected couples engaged in illicit sex, the fear of detection presumably contributing to the force of the woman’s muscular spasm.
This opinion is no longer held by experts, but the narrative of a clandestine meeting followed by public humiliation continues. Recent media reports of penis captivus – in Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe and the Philippines – all concern adulterous couples.
The Kenyan incident in 2012 supposedly occurred after the cuckolded husband paid a visit to a witch doctor. It was reported that the couple regained their liberty after prayers – and after the cheating man promised to pay the husband 20,000 Kenyan shillings (£140). He was filmed going to an ATM to withdraw the money.
The Zimbabwean media reported last year that a woman was bringing a law case against her long-term boyfriend for putting “runyoka” on her – a fidelity spell that caused her to get stuck on her lover. As one report put it, she was demanding compensation from the jealous boyfriend “for humiliating her and trying to control how she should use her private part”.
But there are several accounts of penis captivus taking place within a marriage, including two unsensational case studies from 19th Century German gynaecologists.