17,616 Men Went to the ER for Zipper-Related Penis Injuries Between 2002 and 2010

May you never have to become familiar with any zip-detachment strategy.

Careful  (flickr/twodolla)

Staring down at a zipper, it makes little sense that this object's two sets of teeth would line the primary means of egress for one's penis during everyday bathroom use.

The original American zipper brand was Talon, for crying out loud.

Are there no alternatives? Of course there are. Zippers were not even in common usage until the 1920s, we find in Robert Friedel's study, "Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty." In 1937, a zipper company memo held, "Retailers were made to worry that they could be held legally liable if a man injured himself with the newfangled machine on his trouser fly." Nowadays, button-fly pants abound, selling alongside their more dangerous brethren. Also, velcro exists. We don't need zippers.

Perhaps zippered pants remain in circulation because harm to one's genitals only exists in jokes or urban legend. As University of Utah folklorist Jan Brunvand would have it, "[F]olkloric zipper stories, especially stories involving troublesome zipper flies on men's trousers, became part of the cultural history of the product."

Brunvand continues, "The possibility of a man zipping part of himself into a pants zipper fly must occur to many men." But really, who would believe that this happens? 

Not even when one is in a real hurry or the hole formed by the fly is uncomfortably narrow or in a dimly lit bathroom could such a grave mistake ever be made. No one actually gets his penis stuck in the zipper of his pants, right?

Wrong. A new paper in urology journal BJU International puts data to the folklore: "Zip-related genital injury." 

Between 2002 and 2010, 17,616 people went to the emergency room with zip-related genital injuries. And as the University of California, San Francisco team put it, "The penis was almost always the only genital organ involved." (Which is good news for testicles everywhere.) Those roughly 2,000 injuries per year represent about one-fifth of annual penile injuries and "amongst adults, zips were the most frequent cause of penile injuries."

The authors conclude that the problem affects both adults and children and that "practitioners should be familiar with various zip-detachment strategies for these populations."

For our age of lowered expectations, a new benediction: May you never have to become familiar with any zip-detachment strategy.

Via Brian Frank

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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