On Tuesday, Huffington Post UK posted a video of self-proclaimed Facebook prankster Brad Holmes playing a "hilarious" "prank" on his (allegedly unsuspecting) girlfriend, Jen. The clip showed Holmes rubbing a red chili all over one of Jen's tampons, then laughing as his partner experienced the genuinely excruciating pain of having capsaicin, the active compound in peppers that causes their notorious burning sensation, touch her genitals.
Holmes's video was rather swiftly removed from HuffPost, but it might actually be, for lack of a better word, instructive. (Bear with us.) While the "prank" illustrates quite deftly what a complete d-bag looks like in the wild, it also highlights an experience many of us have had, but rarely discuss: The terror of spicy sexy parts.
As Jezebel noted (sagely) all the way back in 2011, sometimes we do, in fact, "get hot pepper down there" — usually unexpectedly, and not on purpose. Maybe your partner went HAM on the chili oil at dinner, then decided to perform oral sex on you, her tongue still tingling from all that spice. Perhaps your husband didn't think to wash his hands thoroughly three times after slicing jalapeños to garnish that carne asada he made for dinner. Hell, you might not even have been having sex at all.
"I cut a poblano the other night while I was on my period," my sister texted me recently. "Poblanos — you think they're a mild pepper. Not mild enough. That's all I have to say about that."
Even mild peppers (with the exception of bell peppers) contain capsaicin, which has the capacity to cause blistering wounds (or trigger a respiratory response) when a large quantity comes in contact with human tissue. The compound isn't absorbed through the skin, though, and instead just hangs out (or, rather, tingles) on a person's fingertips until it's fully removed — or until it's transferred by touch to a mucous membrane, like the ones present along the walls of the vagina. Then it starts to burn.
So if you've ever felt that creeping heat between your legs explode suddenly in your lower gut, as if someone poured a jar of ground cayenne on a stack of matches and lit the whole thing inside your vagina, know that you are not alone. It even happened to jalapeño-loving cook Chrissy Teigen once.
For the record, you don't have to have a vagina (and/or a taste for food with a kick) to be at risk of experiencing spicy sexy parts. Capsaicin tends to indiscriminately irritate mucous membranes, which means any part of the body that contains them — for example, the anus or glans penis (i.e. the head of the penis) — can burn real, real bad when it comes in contact with the compound.
Capsaicin typically won't cause permanent, long-term damage, though — assuming it's not applied in massive quantities. In most cases, the burning sensation will eventually go away within a few hours, according to emergency room physician Dr. Ken Weinberg.
"In 32 years as an ER and urgent care doctor, I haven't seen anyone come in with [capsaicin on their genitals]," Weinberg said by phone on Tuesday. "I don't know of a direct antidote. You could always use topical antihistamines or benzocaine, but that's not going to make it go away. Copious irrigation" — or watering the affected area — "is the best way to get rid of it." That said, capsaicin can be removed more effectively with dish soap, rubbing alcohol or fatty dairy products, like whole milk or yogurt.
But even though plenty of us have no doubt experienced the dreadful effects of accidentally touching our most sensitive areas with chili hands, we neither talk about it nor seek help. Weinberg chalks that up to "a large embarrassment factor." "People decide to deal with it instead of exposing themselves, as it were," he said.
We can certainly deal with an accidental capsaicin-on-the-genitals incident without rushing to the hospital, and can maybe even laugh about it later. Together, though, we can all avoid this hazard. Go forth and enjoy your peppers, but wear gloves or have yogurt ready. And seriously: if you think it's funny to put chili residue near someone else's genitals without that person's explicit consent, you can go straight to hell. You are a monster and hell is where you belong.