It’s Called Sounding

Sounding Takes Off, but Injuries (Fork in the Penis!) Are Inevitable

Dr. Kent Sepkowitz on the rise of sounding—and the (sometimes incredible) injuries that are following.

ersinkisacik, via Getty Images

The human urethra may seem an unlikely body part to attract much fetishistic attention. It’s just a narrow tube—long in men, short in women—that carries urine from the bladder to the outside world. But once again, as a recent report describing the removal of a fork from an older man’s penis demonstrates, things out there are reliably much kinkier than it may seem.

On a little reflection, though, the urethra as an object of erotic attention makes some sense. After all, the urethra is best known as a medical entity because of the painful, burning condition called urethritis. That used to be caused by gonorrhea—ergo the clap and the drip and the entire set of colorful if-it-isn’t-you euphemisms to describe the symptoms of sharp screaming pain whenever a guy with gonorrhea tries to urinate. With all those pain fibers, evidenced by the intensity of the discomfort, pleasure, for some, can never be far behind.

Plus there is equipment at the ready. A medical device, called the “sound,” long has been used by physicians to relieve persons who have scarring in the ureter, usually because of previous infection, which leads to narrowing and difficulty urinating. In sequence from small to larger, a series of rigid smoothed medical devices are plunged into the urethra to progressively pry open the narrowed areas and provide instant relief. Patients in need of therapeutic dilatation of this sort often need a redo every year or two as scarring reaccumulates.

A while ago, these devices entered the commercial world of sex toys and now are available for purchase on countless Internet sites. For the bargain hunter, offers one up for less than $20, while provides the sound, as well as an array of other male power products.

But though the fancy metal, surgical-tool version of urethral insertions may be only a century or so old, other items have been placed in the urethra for pleasure for who knows how long. Like a fork. And no, the fork was not stabbed, grilled frankfurter-style, from the outside but rather coaxed far upstream into the seemingly too narrow urethra—where, not surprisingly, it got stuck. The fork isn’t the only item to lodge in such tight urethral quarters; indeed, otherwise dour urologists seem to love reporting the objects they have fished out. In a paper from the University of California, 17 patients with 17 objects were chronicled. Objects included “speaker wire, an AAA battery, open safety pins, a plastic cup, straws, a marble, and a cotton-tipped swab.” More recent items have included wires for hooking up to a battery to deliver low-voltage stimulation and urethral intercourse using fingers and perhaps an actual penis.

To which, in the 21st century, we must say—whatever you want to do in your own time, it’s fine with me. But the comfortable, high-minded, libertarian, and liberal view of letting consenting adults do whatever feels right runs aground at times when placed into the realm of public health or, more specifically, public funding of health care. Individual habits and preferences suddenly may not exist in isolation in a world where everyone is footing the bill for each other’s health care. And this crowd-sourced approach to paying the health bills is not new to Obamacare—health care has always been paid for collectively. Obamacare is just one more turn of the screw, an even more forceful reminder that healthwise, we’re all in it together, big and small, young and old, alcoholics and teetotalers.

The collision between personal behavior and health makes everyone uneasy, no matter if the person is a lefty or a stalwart of the right. The premise of each political stance simply unravels in the face of illness. After all, no one can turn away from the suddenly very ill—the kid crossing the street who is hit by a truck or the teenager in need of a heart transplant. No one is that hard-boiled. But what about a guy with a fork in his dick? Or what about a heavy-smoking, overweight, non-exercising person who won’t take his pills, won’t go to the doctor for follow-up, and ends up, preventably, in the hospital again and again? Who pays for the medical pills for this sort of situation?

The answer is that somehow, in that mess that is American health care, it all gets paid for, sort of, in some impossibly confusing way that bankrupts people and hospitals, demoralizes hospital staff, and leaves everyone wondering how on earth we will make it another year at this rate. The staggering complexity of the problem, as well as the itch to make political hay, has kept our politicos from having even a fake adult discussion. They refuse to meet about meeting to discuss a conference to review the problem. But perhaps the fork-in-dick will scare the legions of fading Washingtonians into action. Perhaps this literal fork in the figurative road will remind politicians, talking heads, and the rest of the country that, unlike paying bills and tough talks with your kids, dealing with health is not something that can be forestalled indefinitely. After all, we’re talking about the Grim Reaper—so time is of the essence.