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Homer described how Mars and Venus were caught together to the 'inextinguishable laughter' of the Gods (Joachim Anthonisz, J. Paul Getty Museum collection)

Homer described how Mars and Venus were caught together to the ‘inextinguishable laughter’ of the Gods (Joachim Anthonisz, J. Paul Getty Museum collection)

During sexual intercourse it is normal for the muscles of a woman’s vagina to clamp on to the penis of her partner. There are rare instances when the vaginal muscles, exert an unusual firmer grip on the penis. In this condition, withdrawing the penis from the vagina, even after the man loses his erection, becomes impossible. This condition is known as “penis captivus“. It is a form of “vaginismus“.

Some consider penis captivus as a mythical medical condition.

Mars and Venus were caught together to the “inextinguishable laughter” of the Gods. Brief allusions to the concept of penis captivus are found in ancient times in Homer and Lucretius. Homer described how Mars and Venus were caught together to the “inextinguishable laughter” of the Gods.

Lucretius wrote:

“History is a symptom of nature. Time is the symptom of symptoms. Let us take the war now, be it the current one or the Trojan War. Mars is only an accident of stable Venus, a temporary relief outside the assembled convention. Mars passes by, badly connected. Vulcan would have to capture him in his net, as Homer says, meaning a penis captious. Otherwise, Mars is only in transit, passing through.”

Startling stories of penis captivus appeared in all genres of medieval didactic literature of the 12th through 14th centuries. All had religious connotations. They focused on consecrated soil such as a church, a monastery, a cemetery, or near the shrine of a saint as the locus of transgression. The people considered it a miracle. Separation was usually effected by the prayers of the monks.

As time progressed, the scenario of the immoral offense tended to move indoors or nearer to more consecrated localized.

All the stories of that genre used the following template: A man and a woman have intercourse in a holy precinct. As a punishment for this inappropriate act, the couple is stuck together in a miraculous manner. People find them in this humiliating predicament. The wondering populace’s reaction ranges from high hilarity to a deep disgust. The couple is then released from each other by the united prayers of the community.

The earliest versions of these stories surfaced around 1100 AD. A couple had committed the sexual offense on the tomb of a bishop known to St. Guignerius. The people carried the couple, locked together like dogs, to the shrine of the saint. There, “by the merit of the witness of Christ and by the intercession of the faithful they were liberated.”

The later versions, highlighted the identity of one or both actors.

In the 14th century, Chevalier de La Tour Landry helped by his chaplains prepared a manual of instruction for his daughters. It purported to teach them “how one ought to conduct oneself in church.” It included no less than two versions of a story about fornication on holy grounds.

The first story allegedly occurred less than three years before the Chevalier compiled his book.

“On a Sunday, just after Matins and before High Mass, the monk Pigière of Poitou, the nephew of the prior, was discovered by his confrères in the church. He was adhering to a nameless woman. He remained frozen in this act until all the monks, including his uncle, had witnessed his embarrassment. His shame was so great that he left the monastery.”

The second story concerned Perrot Luart, a sergeant of the church who had sex with an unidentified woman on the altar on a vigil of the Virgin Mary:

Thus a miracle occurred whereby they were caught and stuck together like dogs, to such a degree that they were also trapped in this way the entire day, so that those from the church and those from the countryside had enough time to come and see them; for they could not separate from one another; and it was necessary that a procession be made to pray to God for them, and finally around evening they separated. Then it was necessary that the church be rededicated and that for penance [Perrot] go for three Sundays around the church and cemetery, beating himself and recounting his sin.”

The chevalier’s second rendering of this narrative creates a heightened sense of sacrilege. The transgression takes place in a holy precinct within a holy period. A vigil of the Virgin or a Sunday, especially before mass, were technically sacrosanct and off-limits for sex.

Accounts by medical writers began to appear during the 17th century. J. Diembroeck, the well-known 17th century anatomist, gives the following account of a case:

“When I was a Student at Leyden, I remember there was a young Bridegroom in that Town that being over wanton with the Bride had so hamper’d himself in her Privities, that he could not draw his Yard forth, till Delmehorst the Physician unty’d the Knot by casting cold Water on the Part.”

Penis captivus was first described in the medical literature in the 19th century. But well-documented accounts by medical professionals are rare. Medical historians have demonstrated the breadth of the dissemination of penis captivus and vaginismus. In the Transactions of the Obstetrical Society (London) 3: 356-367, 1862; see p. 362., J. Marion Sims, the inventor of the term “Vaginismus” said:

“… by the term Vaginismus I propose to designate an involuntary spasmodic closure of the mouth of the vagina, attended with such excessive super sensitiveness as to form a complete barrier to coition.”

There are two cases of Penis captivus described in the 19th century medical literature in Germany.

Friedrich Wilhelm Scanzoni von Lichtenfels (1821-1901)

Friedrich Wilhelm Scanzoni von Lichtenfels (1821-1901)

German gynaecologist Friedrich Wilhelm Scanzoni von Lichtenfels (1821-1891), said that one of his patients was a healthy young woman, married for six months. She and her husband had to abstain from sexual intercourse due to her intense vaginal contractions. They were “most painful to him and… did on several occasions end in a spasm… which sometimes lasted more than ten minutes and made it impossible for the couple to separate“.

In the same period of time, German gynaecologist Sven Hildebrandt described about one of his woman patients. She had been married for about a year. Sexual intercourse with her husband had always been painless until one evening. Hildebrandt gives the husband’s account of what happened:

“He [the husband] reported that just at the moment when he thought intercourse, which had been quite normal till then, had come to an end, he suddenly felt that he, or rather his glans, was held back deep in the vagina, tightly gripped and imprisoned, while his whole penis was in the vagina. All attempts at withdrawal failed. When he forced the attempts, he caused severe pain to himself and his wife. Bathed in perspiration through agitation, alarm and his failure to free himself, he was finally forced to resign himself to waiting in patience. He could not say how many minutes this lasted, his imprisonment seemed endless. Then — the hindrance vanished on its own; he was free.”

 Next → Penis Captivus: Part 2 – The Great Medical Hoax