Have you ever been playing sexually, alone or with a partner, spotted an object—maybe a vegetable or an appliance—and decided to basically turn it into a sex toy? If so, you have used “pervertables,” a word used to describe common household objects that get all sexed up. Sometimes these adventures go really well. Other times, they land folks in the emergency room.
For the past decade, journalist Barry Petchesky has been chronicling what he calls “our country’s cavity misadventures.” In other words, objects folks get stuck in their body holes during sex to the point of needing medical care. He draws the information from reports from a federal database of ER visits and his reports are published each year in VICE.
I recently explored his latest report with sexologist, relationship expert and body image specialist Dr. Megan Stubbs. We talked about harmful items that should be kept out of the vagina and anus, ways to safely use pervertables, how to make sure actual sex toys you choose are good for your body and more.
Stream the Girl Boner Radio episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio or below! Read on for a lightly edited transcript.
Butts and Vaginas: What to Keep Out with Dr. Megan Stubbs
So Dr. Megan Stubbs can speak to the topic of pervertables from both personal and professional experience.
I don’t want to speak for all sex educators. But I feel like if you’re in this space you’ve definitely explored with some pervertables. So, I mean, I’ve definitely explored with things like silicone spatulas or using close pins or things like vegetables, or even bring in syrups, chocolate, honey, whipped cream, all those things. So if we’re in the grocery store, I’m like, how can we use this?
Megan told me that exploring with these pervertables pretty much always provides a learning experience. Spontaneously playing with a spatula might help you realize you enjoy impact play, for example. But moving forward, you’d probably want to switch to a silicone spatula or paddle that’s designed for sexy spanking, versus keeping your favorite cake baking spatula on your nightstand.
The use of pervertables can bring other benefits, too, giving us a chance to get creative and resourceful, especially if actual sex toys aren’t within reach.
Yeah, sometimes you’re camping and you’re like, You know what? Let’s fashion something out of this cucumber here.
Of course, personal safety is incredibly important. A certain fruit or vegetable might have a shape or texture you’re looking for, but they can also make way for infections if parts end up lingering inside of you. Thankfully, there are workarounds for that.
When you’re looking at pervertables you have to [ask] you know, how can you be safe with this product? Because obviously, we’re eating cucumbers, not necessarily putting them inside ourselves. So ways to protect yourself are by putting barriers on them. External columns are super great for this. It helps keep any of the plant or vegetable juices or whatever inside become them and not in you because depending on what it is, it could upset your internal flora and fauna and then that leads to infections and sadness.
Megan told me she looks forward to reading the VICE list each year, because it shows how curious folks are sexually and some of the things they’re curious about.
What’s the thought process behind like, Hey, I’ve got this perfume bottle. Let me just put it in my vagina and see what happens. And it’s just wow, fascinating. So it tells me two things: people are curious and two, people need education around what is permissible and what is going to wind up in the ER for you things you can put inside of you.
Here’s what fell on the 2019 list for items that did lead folks to the ER, starting with the vagina category:
- “A METAL AND PLASTIC CONTAINER”
- CELL PHONE
- PERFUME BOTTLE
- MAKEUP SPONGE
- LARGE PIECE OF UNDERWEAR
- TOY ACTION FIGURE
- RUBBER BALL
- Someone else claimed they “JUMPED OFF COUCH LANDED ON SPOON”
The rectum category included these gems:
- METAL AIR FRESHENER CAN
- FOLDING KNIFE
- TOOTHBRUSH HOLDER
- PLUNGER HANDLE
- MATTRESS FOAM
- TWO RAZOR BLADES
- TURKEY BASTER
- CONDOM WRAPPER
- COAT HANGER, “PATIENT UNSURE HOW IT GOT THERE”
- GARDEN HOSE CAP
- CIGARETTE LIGHTER
- TOY HOCKEY STICK
- WATER GUN
- EGG TIMER
- SMALL SHAMPOO BOTTLE
- LIGHT BULB
- APPLE SAUCE CAN
- CHRISTMAS ORNAMENT
Santa’s voice: “Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, everyone!”
Some of these items seem like choices of convenience. You’re in the bathroom, naked, and hey, there’s a toothbrush and a plunger! I’m all for getting creative. I also realize that we all make mistakes. When you’re in the heat of the moment and certain brain chemicals are flowing, we might not make the most ideal judgment calls 100% of the time. Or maybe alcohol-induced tipsiness is involved. I did cringe a bit imagining the injuries some of these objects brought to mind. Some sound downright painful, which may be part of the draw, in certain cases. Scientists have found pain indicators in the same brain circuits that give us pleasure.
I definitely don’t want to discount the people who do enjoy that kind of pain. I think a lot of times, with the random items that were like what? I think it might have just been a curiosity and we’re committed: Let’s just do it and see what happens. And then inadvertently, it’s like, this is painful. Oh man, this hurts. I ripped something. And so I think it’s the fall out of like, I didn’t realize this was gonna be so painful. Because you know, you’re maybe exploring your butt for the first time you don’t realize how sensitive it is and your two sphincters are like what are you doing?
If you do want to engage in some anal play, here’s a phrase to hold close to your heart and your boners: Without a base, without a trace.
So you know anything that goes in your blood has to be with a flared base or be attached to a human body something it’s stuck up in there. So if anything does get sucked up into your butt and you cannot remove it that definitely requires a trip to the emergency room and be honest, don’t just say like, “I don’t know.” Be clear. Be like, “Listen, light bulb stuck in my butt. It’s been like three hours.” Be really clear on what’s going on because they’re there to help you. They’re not gonna be able to guess and be like, if you’re like, “I’ve got some pain back here.” “Do you have any idea what that could be from?” “No, no idea.” Don’t feel shame about going to the doctor because that’s for your medical health.
So important, right? And you don’t need to get into tons of specifics about the sexual activity. You could say something as simple as, “we were having sex and got this lightbulb stuck in my vagina.” If whoever you tell seems judge-y, that’s on them. Regardless, I’m with Megan. I’m pretty sure most healthcare providers will appreciate your honesty so that they can provide the care you need. And you definitely don’t want to leave any unnecessary guesswork that might really help you heal and feel better soon.
Megan pointed out a few other reasons you might need medical care, too, including non-menstrual blood or bleeding during sex, significant pain during or after sex and lingering discomfort, whether you used an object or not.
So what about the more common everyday items lots of folks play with during sex? Some are safe, some are not and many could be used more safely. If you want to play safely with whipped cream, go for it, but take Dr. Stubb’s advice by making a sexy sundae—one that only goes in one type of hole: the mouth.
I would even just say stay away from the genital region if you’re a vulva owner and external you know, kind of like foreplay, fun licking kind of situation. Definitely feel free to make a sundae out of your penis owner friend, but as far as vulva whipped cream, probably not the best mix.
Vaginal douching is another common practice, and it’s also a risky one. This type of douching is linked with irritation and a range of conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections and even cervical cancer. And once you experience irritation, the microtears can make it easier for STIs to enter in.
If you currently douche, Megan had this advice:
Please stop! Just shy away from that. Our vaginas are not meant to smell like mountain meadows or fresh rainforest rain. They’re supposed to smell like vaginas because they are vaginas. And it’s so true when you’re douching you’re literally wiping out maybe the “bad bacteria,” bad-smelling bacteria, but you’re also taking out all the “good bacteria.” And the first team to come back in is the bad bacteria, because they’re like, Yeah, empty house. Let’s take over. Now we have a yeast infection. Now we have BV. Don’t do that.
And it’s also a good thing to have a baseline knowledge of what your vagina normally smells like. So if anything’s off, you’ll know that hey, something might be going on, because that’s a really great way for your body to be like, Hey, something’s wrong. Something’s strange. I’ve got this strange discharge, not just wipe it all away and say, Oh, it’s fine now, but really pay attention to what your body’s telling you, what it’s doing and producing, to let you know things are okay and things are not so great.
The vagina is self-cleaning. How awesome is that? And by vagina, I mean that canal that starts at the vulva, or everything on the outside. To keep the whole vulva area clean, you only need warm water and, optionally, a gentle soap. The same goes for washing a penis.
Anal douching is another story, and a type Megan Stubbs is onboard for.
So if you want to explore anal play and you really want to be totally cleaned out—just so you know, like your lower colon is, it’s like a storage facility. It’s not the keeper of the poo. So if you’re having regular bowel movements and everything is normative, like it was a clean break, nothing loose, you should be okay. But if you really want to have that deep clean, a quick enema is totally okay, and easily accessible at most drugstores around the country. Do a wash to rinse it out and you’re good to go.
There are some people though who like to do the deep enemas, where you’re really getting past the sigmoid colon and getting everything cleaned out. That is not a fast one. That is not we’re gonna do anal tonight and think you’re gonna be able to wash everything out and be good to go. That’s a longer process.
When you’re playing with items designed for sex, you still want to choose the safest options, especially if you have sensitive skin or are prone to or concerned about infections. Sex toys are usually classified as “novelty items,” so the FDA doesn’t regulate them the way they do other health products. So paying attention to the materials they’re made of tends to be important. You can also look for the term “body safe” on product packaging.
A body-safe toy is any toy that’s going to be nonreactive. Think about things you have in the kitchen: stainless steel, silicone, glass. Those products that are very safe, easy to clean can be sterilized easily, and look for that in sex toys. So silicone toys, glass toys, metal dildos, all these different things can be cleaned easily.
On the flip side, toys that have a squishier are porous, which means they can trap bacteria. I told Megan about one of the first toys I ever purchased, a dildo from some adult website years ago. It was a fun toy, but it left this oily film on your hands and had a rubbery smell. I developed a couple of UTIs once I started using it. I now think it’s likely there was a link.
Yeah, I remember those toys. They smell like that new Barbie smell and those are those balance those plastic softeners that make it feel “like real skin,” and that’s why they’re oily or greasy or they say “store me with cornstarch” and you’re like, Yeah, that makes sense. And you’re like, No what? We’re not making cake. And I think there’s a lack of awareness around that materials matter when it comes to toys, but especially when we’re putting them in our vaginas. Are they clean? Are they gonna still harbor bacteria? Yeah, apparently! Because they’re going to come in and it’s gonna affect us.
Those softeners, phthalates (pronounced “thal-ates”) are also known to have carcinogenic properties. So risky, some variants are banned from being included in kids’ toys in the U.S. Thankfully, if you have such a toy and love it, or just really prefer the feel of porous toys, you can take steps to use them safely.
You can still buy them and then put a cover over them, like an external condom, and still use them. But you don’t have to spend three figures to buy a nice sex toy. There’s many, many, many value priced toys that are available that are made with good products.
Before we finished chatting, I asked Megan to share a bit about the book she’s written that will be published in April of next year. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from her around then—at least, I hope so. Here’s a sneak peek at her creation, entitled Playing Without a Partner: A Singles’ Guide to Sex, Dating, and Happiness.
So it’s a book about how to lead a happy single life, whether you are newly single or super single like me—just how to find happiness in being single and really living a fulfilling life both on your own. And also sexually. You don’t have to seek out sexual validation from people. You can totally build that within yourself. And it’s also a kind of field guide to how to date in the wild.