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Years ago you answered a question about gay men getting gerbils and other items stuck up in their anal canals. But what about vaginas? A good friend of mine, who is also a paramedic and EMT instructor, informed me of several women he has treated with a variety of items stuck helplessly up their own little “tunnels of love.” One case allowed a hot dog to rot and fester for several weeks before finally becoming concerned with the pain, pus, and, of course, the smell. What more information can you provide? –royjwood, via the Straight Dope Message Board

This is a topic we’ve shamefully neglected, and it’s time to put matters right. Here’s a partial list of “vaginal foreign bodies” drawn from the medical journals. Warning–if you’re the type with a queasy stomach, don’t read this on a crowded bus:

An orange, an eggplant, a flashlight bulb, a screw, a crayon, a pencil, the metal top from a lead pencil (remained in place 20 years), a wax candle, the broken-off heel of a wooden shoe tree (remained in place 53 years), a pessary (57 years), another pessary with a two-and-three-quarter-inch base (a pessary is a device inserted in the vagina to support internal organs; it’s supposed to be checked periodically), tampons, “lost” IUDs (string no longer visible), thermometers, a drinking glass (measuring 5 by 7 by 8.5 centimeters), a metal speculum mistakenly left in place following a gynecological exam (she didn’t get far), a cucumber (14 inches), a saltcellar (8 by 4 centimeters), what appears on the X ray to be a Coca-Cola bottle, a brandy bottle (0.35 liters), carrots, a dead housefly, a bag of cocaine wrapped in a condom (1 by 10 by 16 centimeters), two 85-gram bags of cocaine (discovered posthumously), a cylindrical tin container (3 by 6 centimeters; remained in place two years, during which time it became encased in a giant calculus or stone), a jade bracelet (65 millimeters in diameter, hidden during a communist uprising, remained in place more than 40 years, discovered at autopsy), a bottle cap (3.7 by 3.8 centimeters) encased in a cauliflowerlike mass (4 by 5 centimeters), an aerosol deodorant cap, a hair-spray can cap, miscellaneous other caps, a plastic cup (3 by 3 by 4 centimeters), an oxidized iron rod that protruded 2 centimeters out of the vagina (“identified by X-ray examination as one handle of an iron forceps often used for cutting metal wires”), a completely calcified plastic stopper, surgical gauze, “avian pulmonary tissue which was artfully introduced in the vagina of [a two-year-old] girl by her schizophrenic mother,” plus a lot more in Dutch, Japanese, Hungarian, etc, that I didn’t feel like translating. But you get the general idea.

In some cases the victim inserted the VFB for sexual purposes, only to have pieces or occasionally the entire thing get lost inside. Often the woman was too embarrassed to seek help and the object remained inside for years, as with the shoe-tree heel. Frequently the object became encysted or calcified, eroded the vaginal wall, or resulted in other complications you don’t really want to hear about. Sometimes the women were “packers” (drug couriers); in other cases they inserted the objects as children. Some were mentally incapacitated; others wouldn’t talk or feigned ignorance. Sometimes the explanations make no sense. In the case of one four-year-old, “the parents recognized the tubular foreign body as the shell of a suppository that had been mistakenly placed in the vagina by a layman during a febrile upper respiratory infection two years ago.” Huh?

In quite a few cases the woman was the victim of sexual or other abuse. The Coke bottle above had been kicked into the woman’s vagina by four rapists; she subsequently died. The candle had been inserted in a 20-month-old infant. In one investigation of 12 girls brought to a clinic for VFBs, 8 definitely and 3 possibly had been sexually abused. Even in cases of accidental VFBs the victim’s troubles were often prolonged by medical incompetence. I found several reports of women who had been repeatedly examined over a period of years before somebody found the object. (Granted, a small plastic cap can be tough to spot on an X ray.)

Thermometers often get stuck when some quack tells a woman to take her temperature vaginally for purposes of contraception, ignoring repeated injunctions by experts that taking your temperature orally works just as well. I have here an X ray of one such woman showing that the thermometer–a conventional glass job–has gotten stuck inside her crosswise. Girls are told to be careful about what they let into their vaginas; the advice applies to inanimate objects too.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.