Irritating the genitals by various means

One of the most popular stories on this blog is that of the nineteenth-century Frenchman who cut his own penis in two for sexual gratification. If you type the keywords ‘man cut penis two’ into pretty much any search engine, it’s the top hit – on the entire internet.  If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.

That case is so deeply bizarre that for a while I despaired of ever finding anything to match it. And then I stumbled across this oddity published in the New York Journal of Medicine in 1852. The events described in the article had taken place sixteen years earlier, in the practice of Dr D. Pond from Granville, Vermont:

Rupture of bladder by the introduction of a foreign object

Peter Williams, fifty years of age, of a vigorous, healthy constitution, intemperate habits, by occupation a tanner and currier, has been in the habit for several years of practising masturbation.

A currier is a person who colours and finishes leather after the tanning process. This may have been Mr Williams’s day job, but his true vocation was an activity altogether less reputable.

He has a wife and several children, but has had no intercourse with them for the last five years: he is very illiterate, half-civilized, and leads for the most part a solitary life.

By ‘intercourse’ the author presumably means social interaction, but it seems clear that Mr Williams wasn’t interested in the other sort of intercourse either.

In the practice of his disgusting habit, he has been accustomed to amuse himself by distending the bladder with air blown through a tube, and then allowing it to escape, and irritating the genitals by various means: in this manner he has removed the hair from the pubes, and the adjacent parts have the appearance of unnatural treatment.

A resourceful manner of pursuing one’s proclivities, you’d think. But Mr Williams wasn’t finished.  He now brought a truly heroic degree of innovation to his secret passion.

Three years since, he obtained the penis of a bull: and after many painful attempts and with commendable perseverance, he succeeded in introducing a portion of it into the urethra.

Yes, it occurred to him to insert an animal’s penis inside his own. I struggle to understand how somebody would come up with such an idea, let alone put it into practice.

Finding its removal rather difficult, he divided it at the meatus urinarius, and endeavored to force the portion introduced further forward.

The meatus is the opening at the tip of the penis.

In this painful predicament he applied to Dr Pond for advice, who removed the offending substance with a pair of long forceps.

No doubt muttering about the follies of humanity under his breath as he did so.

Some time after this adventure, he prepared for himself a bougie of lead, ten inches in length, three-fourths of an inch in diameter, and weighing seventeen ounces.

A bougie (a word still in use today) is a long probe, used to aid the insertion of a tube into the trachea. In earlier years it was an instrument employed to dislodge foreign bodies stuck in the oesophagus. But such were Mr Williams’s appetites that he chose to use it on an entirely different part of his anatomy.

While practising with this instrument, it slipped from his fingers and passed beyond his reach along the urethra. For several days he went about in this condition, suffering from the irritation which this unaccommodating instrument produced, but unwilling to seek medical assistance.

This object was almost a foot (28 cm) long, and weighed more than a pound (500 g). It is hardly surprising it caused him some discomfort when lodged inside his urethra.

Gray's Anatomy urinary system
Male urinary and reproductive system from Gray’s Anatomy (1918)

At length, however, he was compelled, by the severity of his sufferings, to yield, and he again applied to the doctor for relief, giving a simple explanation of his situation and the circumstances leading to it.

Imagine the start of that conversation! “Dr Pond, you remember the bull’s penis? Well I’m afraid I’ve done something even worse…”

When he inserted a finger into the patient’s rectum, Dr Pond could immediately feel the large lump of lead that was the cause of all the mischief.

It was resolved to remove the lead on the following day, by an operation practised above the pubes. After consulting his physician, however, he went to the tavern, drank very freely, became quite humorsome, and then rode home in a lumber wagon. His sufferings returned with the return of soberness, and early on the following day, in a paroxysm of dysuria, the bladder ruptured, and its contents, both urine and lead, passed into the cavity of the peritoneum.

Horrendous. The metal object had probably caused the rupture by piercing the wall of the bladder, but it’s also possible that it had simply blocked the urethra, preventing any urine from leaving the bladder. After a few hours’ drinking the resulting pressure could easily have caused the tissue to tear.

He satisfied himself of this fact by blowing through a tube introduced into the urethra, as formerly, when he could feel the air pass through the rent in the bladder into the abdomen.

This is not an experiment it would occur to me to perform in such circumstances.

The proposed operation was performed, but for the purpose of removing the instrument from the cavity of the abdomen instead of the bladder. The piece of lead above described was found in the cavity of the peritoneum, entirely without the bladder, having escaped through a rent in the posterior part of that organ.

The prospects were probably hopeless by now: infection was a virtual certainty.

The only further note of this case is, that for nine days he seemed in a fair way to recover; but at this time becoming unmanageable, the wound was broken open, and he died on the fifth day after, fourteen days from the occurrence of the accident.

The author comments that the case provides

another novel instance of the singular instruments which inveterate onanists sometimes resort to, to accomplish titillation.

That’s one way of putting it.

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