Fact Check

Penis Captivus

Is the medical phenomenon known as 'penis captivus' for real?

Published Aug. 4, 2000


Claim:   In a rare phenomenon called penis captivus, a man becomes stuck inside a woman when her vaginal muscles suddenly clamp down. Sometimes the man is unable to withdraw even after he loses his erection, requiring a trip to the emergency room to separate the couple.

Status:   LEGEND.

Origins:   Medical experts disagree about

Male anatomy

whether the phenomenon known as penis captivus is real. Although there have been sporadic reports of allegedly real cases, many specialists feel that vaginal spasms severe enough to cause penis captivus are extremely unlikely, and that the male partner would be able to withdraw his penis once it was sufficiently relaxed. An oft-cited medical journal report of an actual case of penis captivus, published in 1884, was a hoax.

On 4 December 1884, the Philadelphia Medical News published an account of a case of penis captivus from Pentonville, England, submitted by one Egerton Y. Davis. The account was in fact a fabrication, submitted under a pseudonym by Sir William Osler, a member of the Medical News' editorial board. Osler's colleague, Theophilus Parvin, had just written and published an anonymous article about vaginismus (a painful, spasmodic contraction of the vagina), and Osler apparently felt that Parvin had used his pull as a board member to publish an article about a trifle of no real importance to the general medical community. Osler decided to embarrass Parvin by writing a phony letter under his "Egerton Y. Davis" pseudonym and having it mailed to the Medical News from Montreal. Osler's correspondence was printed in the 4 December 1884 issue of Philadelphia Medical News, and it has since been cited numerous times as an actual case report of penis captivus by those unaware of the hoax.

Sightings:   A brief mention is made of this legend in the 1998 film Urban Legend. You'll find this legend in the 1983 Jackie Collins novel Hollywood Wives as well.

Additional Information:   The following articles, taken from various medical journals, discuss the hoax perpetrated by Sir William Osler and the phenomenon of penis captivus.

    Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality: March 1971 Penis Captivus: Fact or Fancy? (Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality)

    Urology: October 1973 William Osler on Penis Captivus and Other Urologic Topics (Urology)

    British Medical Journal: 20 October 1979 Penis captivus -- did it occur? (British Medical Journal)

    Southern Medical Journal: May 1983 Penis Captivus and the Mischievous Sir William Osler (Southern Medical Journal)

    British Medical Journal: 5 January 1980 Penis Captivus Has Occurred (British Medical Journal)

Last updated:   11 July 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Altaffer, Lawrence F. III.   "Penis Captivus and the Mischievous Sir William Osler."

    Southern Medical Journal.   May 1983   (Vol 76, No. 5; pp. 637-641).

    Bondurant, Sidney W. and Stephen C. Cappannari, Ph.D.   "Penis Captivus: Fact or Fancy?"

    Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality.   March 1971   (pp. 224-233).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Choking Doberman.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.   ISBN 0-393-30321-7   (pp. 143-144).

    Nation, Earl F.   "William Osler on Penis Captivus and Other Urologic Topics."

    Urology.   October 1973   (pp. 468-470).

    Taylor, F. Kräupl.   "Penis Captivus — Did It Occur?"

    British Medical Journal.   20 October 1979   (pp. 977-978).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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