Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Woman Sues Sex Toy Company for Violating Privacy

Martha Kempner

A popular sex toy sends information about how it's being used back to its manufacturer, and that's sending the company to court. California officials are keeping an eye on cases of shigella infection, which recently caused two deaths. And there eventually may be another way to treat erectile dysfunction, without drugs but with an injection straight to the penis.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

An Illinois woman filed a lawsuit this month against a vibrator manufacturer, claiming that the maker of a popular sex toy violated her privacy by collecting usage data without permission.

The vibrator in question, a We-Vibe Rave, is sold as a G-spot stimulator. Purchasers can also download a smartphone app called We-Vibe Connect. Using the app, couples can text, video chat, and even control the device from a distance. However, the app also transmits some usage details, including times it’s used and at what vibration, to Standard Innovation, the Canadian manufacturer of We-Vibes. If an app user chooses to register an email address, that information can also be sent to the company.

The woman—known only by the initials N.P.—bought the vibrator in May for $130 and soon after downloaded the app. She claims she was not aware that each time she turned on the app, the company was collecting data.

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The device made headlines this summer at Def Con, an annual hackers conference. In one presentation, hackers explained that Standard Innovation collects data on the device temperature and vibration speed in real time. They also claimed to have discovered a security flaw (which has since been fixed, according to Standard Innovation) that could allow hackers to take over the device.

The lawsuit claims the device violates the federal Wiretap Act and Illinois’ eavesdropping law by capturing electronic communications without consent. It also suggests that the device violates the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act.

Standard Innovation attempted to calm concerns with a statement on its website that clarified: “As a matter of practice, we use this data in an aggregate, non-identifiable form.” Still, it defended its data collection, explaining that it uses chip temperature to determine if the device is operating correctly and vibration speed to know if the design is working. For example, knowing that most users turn to the highest speed might lead the company to create a new model that is even stronger. Though they also reminded users that the app can be used without registering or providing any personal information, it is understandable that users might feel uneasy about someone else knowing that their vibrator is in use at a particular moment in time even if that person (or corporation, as the case may be) doesn’t know their name.

Nonetheless, Eve-Lynn Rapp, an attorney with the law firm that filed the suit, said in the Chicago Tribune: “This is one of the more incredible invasions of privacy we’ve ever dealt with.” The lawsuit is seeking unspecified punitive damages, a stop to data collection without consent, and the destruction of already-gathered information. The lawsuit may also become a class action suit that could affect thousands of customers.

A spokesperson for Standard Innovation told the Chicago Tribune on Monday that they had not yet received the suit but would examine it carefully. He added that in the last few weeks the company had hired outside security experts to review its data collection practices.

Shigella Kills Two Men in California

Public health officials in Los Angeles County have issued a health alert after the bacterial infection shigellosis (also called shigella) killed two men in the state and affected more than a dozen others. The condition is caused by the Shigella bacteria, and its symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, and fever. Shigella is transmitted through fecal matter, which means it can spread through contaminated food or certain sexual behaviors such as oral-anal sex (or rimming). Some people can carry and transmit shigella without ever getting ill.

The alert said that all cases involved men who have sex with men (MSM), who are more likely to get shigella than other adults.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there have been many outbreaks of shigella among MSM in the United States and around the world since 1999. MSM are also more likely to be infected with an antibiotic-resistant type of the bacteria.

To reduce the likelihood of infection through sex, the CDC suggests that individuals wash their hands, genitals, and anus before and after sexual activity, and use barriers like condoms, dental dams, or latex gloves when engaging in oral-genital sex, oral-anal sex, fingering, or fisting. Other ways to reduce the risk include washing hands meticulously after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or otherwise coming into contact with feces. And washing hands before eating can prevent the spread of many diseases.

Can a Shot Replace the Little Blue Pill for Erectile Dysfunction?

For years, men with sexual dysfunction have turned to Viagra or its competitors to help them achieve erections that are harder, last longer, and show up “on demand.” But proponents of a new treatment that takes part of a patient’s own blood and injects it directly into the penis claim that this is a better option than medication because it can lead to permanent positive changes.

The therapy, known as the Priapus shot or P-shot, starts by drawing a patient’s own blood and separating platelet-rich plasma (PRP) from the rest of the blood product. The PRP is then injected into the patient’s penis (after an anesthetic lotion is applied, of course). Proponents claim that PRP activates the body’s growth factors and can begin to grow new tissue and blood vessels, which lead to “increased blood flow, increased sensations, and better nerve sensitivity.”

PRP injections are not new. They have been used to help patients after spinal injuries and plastic surgeries since the 1990s. More recently, some doctors have been using them to treat athletes—both amateurs and professionals—for a variety of sports-related injuries. But many health-care providers are skeptical about how well these injections work.

When it comes to erections, there is some research that this therapy has potential (at least in mice). Still, it may not have the widespread appeal of popping a little blue pill. It costs $1,900 and is not covered by insurance. And did we mention the shot directly into the penis?

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