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Sex toy injuries surged after ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was published

Babeland store manager Shonee Strother arranges merchandise playing to the movie <em>Fifty Shades of Grey</em> at one of their stores in New York.  (AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD)

The number of Americans requiring emergency room care for injuries involving sex toys has approximately doubled since 2007, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Much of that increase happened in 2012 and 2013, following the release of the wildly popular erotic novels in the Fifty Shades of Grey series. And the overwhelming majority of these injuries -- 83 percent -- require "foreign body removals."

These injuries all involved what we'd think of as sex toys -- the full range you might imagine, and a few you might not. (Follow to the CPSC data and dig into product code 1610 for the full R-rated descriptions.)The figures are estimates from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which is a nationally representative annual survey of hospital emergency room data, with an emphasis on injuries involving consumer products. Patient information is completely anonymized to protect privacy. According to the CPSC, it collects this data "to measure the number of injuries associated with the thousands of different consumer products in the marketplace."

The CPSC has tracked ER visits related to "massage devices and vibrators" going back to 1991. Until the early 2000s, there were a small number of these injuries each year -- hence, the lighter shaded bars in the chart above represent low-confidence estimates. But around 2003, the number of these injuries surpassed the agency's significance threshold, giving a greater degree of confidence in the numbers for the years after 2004.

In analyzing the data, I omitted incidents involving plain old run-of-the mill massage devices -- primarily people getting hurt by massage chairs at the mall, people burning themselves on heated massagers at home, and little kids putting back-scratchers in their mouths and jumping off furniture, injuring themselves in the process. These accounted for about 20 percent of the records in this product category.

The agency shares the demographics of this group of patients. The median sex toy injury victim is a middle-aged man -- 58 percent of the patients are male, and the median age among this group is 44. The women skew younger, with a median age of 30. The oldest man in the dataset is 85, while the oldest women is 67.

Most of the injuries aren't terribly severe, although some are. Seventy one percent of patients are treated and released, while 25 percent require hospitalization or transfer to a different facility. A handful end up refusing treatment. Some good news: none of the cases required assistance from the fire department, and there were zero deaths recorded.

Brief incident descriptions written by hospital staff provide a graphic and narrative arc to some of these cases. I won't quote them directly due to their frank and clinical nature, but they involve the whole range of mishaps that you might expect from such a variety of devices and contraptions.

There's no proof that the book caused the surge, but we probably can thank Fifty Shades of Grey, which featured bondage and other sex practicesfor at least some of this phenomenon. The book, which has been read by tens of millions of people, and upcoming movie have been a boon to the sex toy industry. At Target, you can buy any number of 50 Shades-themed movie tie-ins. Market research firm IBIS World estimates that adult toys were a $608 million business in 2013, and credits the erotic novels with driving much of the industry's 7.5 percent year-over-year growth.

With sales rising and the use of sex toys becoming more widespread, it's only natural that a certain percentage of people will take things too far and require hospital care as a result. And with the release of the movie this weekend, it's likely that interest will only increase.