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Growing Segment of Prison Inmates Perform DIY Penile Implants out of Boredom

Update Date: Feb 01, 2013 12:33 PM EST

When you think of prison, what do you think of? Do you think of penile implants? Well, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia, you might want to start. A small but growing number of men are undergoing penile implants that may cause infectious diseases and be associated with risky behaviors. Most troublingly, these dangerous implants likely seem to be taking place out of boredom.

According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, penile implants have appeared in certain parts of Asia for centuries, first documented in the Kama Sutra, with stimulating objects inserted by perforating the penis or glans.  It appears to have been reintroduced to Thailand in the years following World War II. Over the decades, the practice spread to Eastern Europe and Russia, where the penile implants were called "sputniks". In the western world, tattoo parlors perform similar procedures, as do urologists, though penile implants are intended to treat erectile dysfunction, not issues with appearance. However, these procedures are performed with sterile instruments, unlike those performed in prison.

The study, conducted in Australia and published in the journal PLoS One, reveals that nearly six percent of randomly contacted prisoners had a penile implant. However, of those, 75 percent of those men had performed the procedure in prison. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in light of the history of the procedure, the majority of the men who'd had such a procedure were ethnically Asian; they were also relatively young and were likely to have been incarcerated before. The researchers write, "Men with penile implants were also more likely to report being paid for have had body piercings...or tattoos in prison...and to have taken non-prescription drugs while in prison."

Many of the men perform the procedure ostensibly for a more memorable sexual experience, but their wives and girlfriends report that the implants can make sex uncomfortable, painful and cause infection. The procedures also cause infection for the men themselves. As researchers wrote in an article published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine about three inmates who had performed the procedures in the United States, "In each case, an incarcerated Hispanic male or fellow inmate filed a domino into a unique shape for placement under the penile skin. Utilizing the tip of a ballpoint pen or a sharpened shard of plastic to create a puncture wound, each man inserted the domino fragment into the subcutaneous tissue of the penis. All three men presented with infection requiring operative removal."

So why do these procedures take place? Researchers believe that they are performed mostly out of boredom. Ness McVie, from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, explained to The Atlantic, "What you have in jail is a very condensed sample of people with problems, so while people who engage in these behaviors probably don't have psychotic illnesses, or primary mental health problems, they would no doubt have dependency issues, substance abuse problems, or personality disorders. They want to entertain themselves. If they were out in the general community they would go out and get illicit substances, drive around in their car, get intoxicated, do stupid things. While they are in jail they haven't got access to that, but they've got the same drive to get the same high."

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