Health & Fitness

Did You Know | Butt plugs used to be sold as a ‘miracle cure’ for headaches and acne

Americans once used butt plugs as ‘miracle cure’ device for everything from insomnia to bad breath. Sold under the name ‘Dr Young’s Ideal Rectal Dilators’, early primitive forms of butt plugs have been traced back to the late 1800s.  Most forms of anal intercourse were illegal at the time under harsh sodomy laws, so of course they were strictly used for medical purposes and definitely not for Ye Olde Bum Fun.

Dr Young’s Ideal Rectal Dilators were made from jelly-like material, with one set the dilators coming in a set of four “torpedolike” rods, from a little half-incher to a four-inch long and inch-wide version (ouch!). Despite little evidence of a medical benefit, the devices caught on around the turn of the century, with one ad claiming they “may be used by any intelligent person” for treating piles or constipation.

Writing in a 1893 medical journal, the eponymous Dr Young touted the devices as a cure for insanity, insisting that it could cure 75% of people considered insane  “in a few weeks’ time”. The device grew in its alleged benefits the longer that it was on the market, benefiting from lax regulation on medical devices that permitted its sale as a ‘cure’ for a range of maladies.

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However, Big Government eventually put a stop to all the fun with 1938’s Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, which introduced probably-quite-sensible regulation for the first time, consequently clamping down on the sale of magic butt plugs.

Just two years after Act came into effect, Dr Young’s Ideal Rectal Dilators were banned outright, according to court records. The court noted: “The rectal dilator would be dangerous to health when used with the frequency and duration prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the labeling.

“The label-ing of both products bore false and misleading representations regarding their efficacy in the treatment of the conditions indicated below. “The rectal dilator was alleged to be misbranded in that representations in the labeling that:

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  • – It was a simple, harmless, convenient, nonhabit-forming, and ideal treatment to bring satisfactory results and permanently overcome constipation and piles by inducing natural and regular bowel movement by reaching and correcting the cause of constipation by strengthening and toning the muscles controlling defecation
  • – It would improve and strengthen the body, not weaken or injure it; that it would be efficacious in the treatment of piles and troubles caused by faulty elimination
  • – It would restore the sphincter muscles to a normal condition, relieve congestion of blood and establish a healthy, vigorous circulation
  • – It would relieve constipation of long standing
  • – It would bring health and comfort and promote more refreshing sleep, and would be efficacious to aid nature in conditions commonly associated with constipation such as coated tongue, foul breath, bad taste in the mouth, sallow skin, acne, erythema, urticaria, anemia, lassitude, mental hebetude, insomnia, more or less marked degree of anorexia, headache, “spurious” diarrhea, colicky pains caused by enterospasm, neuralgic pains, hemorrhoids, fissure pruritus, occasional prolapse, auto-intoxication, flatulence, indigestion, nervousness, irritability, and cold extremities.”

It also warned that claims “that one need have no fear of using it too long or too much, were false and misleading, since the article would not be efficacious for such purposes and might be used too long or too much.”

The court order helpfully recounts the provided instructions for the devices.

These state: “Adults begin with No. 1 Dilator. First warm dilator in warm water ; then lubricate outside of dilator with Dr. Young’s Piloment (or if it is not available, with vaseline) and while in a squatting position—or while lying on the side with knees drawn up—gently insert in the rectum as far as the flange or rim. Hold in place a minute and the anal muscles will close and retain it. Sit or lie down and allow it to remain for half an hour or an hour to get the best results. Ten minutes will accomplish much.

“When ready to go to the next larger size, it is best first to use for a few minutes the same size you have been using, inserting and with-drawing It several times. This is very beneficial and should not be overlooked.”

The instructions warned that “the Dilators should not be used by any child under 8 years except under the instructions of a physician”, and “larger sizes for [older] children should be used only under direction of a physician”.

The FDA concluded: “[The ads] were false and misleading since it would not be efficacious for such purposes. On December 6, 1940, no claimant having appeared, judgments of condemnation were entered and the products were ordered destroyed.”

And that was that. One destroyed batch of magic butt plugs later, and the mysterious Dr Young was persona non grata.

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