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.
Two listeners, however, wrote in to dispute this.
“I must tell you it is no myth,” wrote one woman who asked to remain anonymous. “It happened to my late husband and myself one night. He literally could not withdraw i.e. was ‘stuck’. I attributed it to the intensity of the vaginal muscle response during orgasm.”
Another correspondent, who asked to be referred to simply as John, grew up near an airport in southern England. “I remember hearing a story when I was 14 or 15 about an American airman who got stuck inside a lady and they had to get an ambulance and get them to a hospital to get them parted,” he says. John eventually joined the merchant navy and started an on-off relationship with a woman in Japan.
On one occasion he and his partner were having “very enjoyable sex” when he suddenly found that he couldn’t withdraw. “Proceedings came to a halt and we decided that we’d better separate,” he recalls. It took two or three minutes of fumbling and laughing – the experience wasn’t painful for either of them.
John, who is now 75, has never before spoken about the incident and it was never repeated.
Dr John Dean, a senior UK-based sexual physician, says that both accounts are credible examples of a rare phenomenon that doctors sometimes call “penis captivus” (captive penis).
“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.
Many dog-owners will have seen their pets getting stuck during copulation, which breeders refer to as a “tie”. However, there are distinct anatomical reasons for this, according to Peggy Root, an expert in animal reproduction at the University of Minnesota. A dog’s penis has a compartment which fills with blood after intercourse has begun, effectively locking the male in place.
Dr Dean says that several of his patients have discussed with him their experience of getting stuck over the years, more out of curiosity than because it was a major problem. He draws a distinction between penis captivus and the more common and serious condition of vaginismus, in which a woman’s vaginal muscles contract involuntarily, preventing intercourse.
Two reviews of the history of penis captivus, published in 1935 and 1979, highlight the public’s longstanding fascination with it.
In 1372, Geoffrey de La Tour-Landry related how a voluptuary named Pers Lenard “delt fleshely with a woman” on top of an altar of a church, and God “tyed hem faste togedre dat night”. The following day the whole town saw the couple still entwined “fast like a dogge and biche togedre”. Finally prayers were spoken and the couple’s prolonged intercourse came to an end (although they were obliged to return to the church on three Sundays, strip naked and beat themselves in front of the congregation).