In the seventies, they were called “social injuries of the rectum,” bestowing a certain refined dignity upon an often-solitary ritual. Between 1993 and 2002, they became more common: the University of Southern California General Hospital admitted one patient per month who had stuck and lost something up their butt for the first time. Since then, emergency rooms have officially stopped classifying foreign rectal bodies as an uncommon reason for admittance, according to a 2012 study by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital.

But what hasn’t really changed over time is society’s childish attitude toward them. To the embarrassment and misery of individuals who have embraced the “insertion lifestyle,” admittance into a hospital still means answering the inevitable question: “Why?

The question is packed with judgment, though the existing medical research on the practice suggests that the haters should take the sticks out of their asses. Or rather, to leave them there and open their minds as well.

Buttplug Gnome butt B^)
Look, it's fine. Really.

To understand the why, let’s first look at the who. While much of the snickering about things in butts has to do with their sexual implications, the medical records show that most rectal foreign bodies are actually various household items, dentures, or chicken bones that were swallowed and got stuck along the way. Because of that, the data on colorectal search and rescue missions skew toward the very old and the very young. But the data, of course, also reveal that some of those foreign bodies were introduced on purpose.

If you look at the Massachusetts General Hospital data on what is deliberately inserted, you also get various household items, but fewer dentures. According to some of the earliest literature on the subject, penned by a surgeon named Alfred Poulet in 1880, just about everything that could conceivably be inserted into a body’s cavity already had been. The individuals involved are frequently men seeking out erotic stimulation. In fact, according to the data, for every woman who puts something inside her rectum, there are 37 men. Of those people, half found or suspected that they would find it erotic, while some others were trying to cure constipation.

butt anal coke bottle soda catheter insertion colon B^)
Doctors see this a lot, and they've worked out the best techniques for each impromptu toy.

The research also reveals a darker side to this behavior: others who wind up with objects in their rectums are trying to hurt themselves. While cases of people trying to harm or kill themselves by putting things into their body don’t actually involve rectal insertion, doctors lump swallowing dangerous or toxic items and stabbing oneself into the same category. They note that it’s particularly common in people with bipolar personality disorder who struggle to cope with difficult emotions.

But the majority of men who practice self-insertion generally do so out of sexual curiosity. A great deal of the “science” trying to figure out why people are drawn to the act is disappointingly Freudian. One of the doctors who worked at Massachusetts General Hospital and wrote the definitive report on butt insertion suspected that a patient who got a vase stuck where the sunflowers don’t shine wanted, by filling up his body’s orifices, to fill the gap left in his life from his relationship with his mother. His patient denied that explanation, yet it still became the official conclusion for his behavior.

As of a result of this type of reasoning, repeated self-insertion of colorectal foreign bodies came to be considered a paraphilic disorder, suggesting that repeat customers simply had a fetish, just like everyone else out there. Today, fetishes are less often considered disorders — at least less so compared to how they were viewed back when research into buttplay first emerged — though Freud’s long-since-debunked ideas still persist.

Why did this anonymous patient — like so many others experimenting with the insertion life — really do it? Well, probably because it felt good. The rectum-adjacent prostate, after all, is key to male sexuality: As one urology study showed in 1996, cancer patients who had their prostates taken out could not maintain a full erection, and only about one in four of those patients could still have an orgasm that was as good as it had been prior to the operation. Using a foreign object to milk the region for pleasure, then, totally makes sense.

If you were on Reddit on Thursday, you probably came across a thread asking emergency room doctors for the silliest explanations patients gave for why something was stuck up their butt. The stories are pretty out there — you wouldn’t believe how many people trip and fall while gardening or watching TV in the nude. But the implausibility of these stories also represents the very real shame that many of these people feel when things go wrong — feelings that a giggly hospital staff or waiting room patron will only make worse. These concerns often make patients wait several days or weeks before seeking medical attention because they would rather try and wait it out than have to tell anyone what they did. In one case, this shame-induced hesitance ended in the death of one man who likely would have lived had he felt comfortable getting help sooner.

So yeah, these stories are pretty funny. But next time you hear one, just be cool about it, okay?

Photos via Flickr / Nina A. J. G., Cook County Hospital, Chicago, Flickr / Podknox