NPR style Valentines Day massacre

I spend a lot of my morning time catching up on news.  It’s a habit that goes back to my former life working in politics.  If I wasn’t up to date on that morning’s news, it was too easy to get caught off guard by phone calls from people who had read, watched, or listened to news I hadn’t caught.  (As an aside – in case you didn’t already know, or hadn’t guessed, a dominant like myself never likes to be caught off guard.)

Of course, having left my former profession behind, not to mention the fact that I’m now a kinky sex blogger, the key words I use in my news searches are a little bit different these days.  And, in all honesty, that makes for some very interesting mornings . . .

On Valentine’s Day (I do question the timing of the story a little!) I opened my news aggregator to discover a NPR story titled – Sexually Transmitted Food Poisoning? A Fish Toxin Could Be To Blame.  The piece opens up with an interesting tale . . .

Twenty-five years ago, two pals went out for a seafood dinner while vacationing in the Bahamas. What could be better than some fresh grouper steaks and a night on the town without the wives?

Um, plenty.

A few hours after dinner, the men started having stomach pains and diarrhea. Their legs began to tingle and burn. And their sense of temperature went haywire: Ice felt hot while fire felt cool.

All the while, their wives were completely fine — until they had sex with their hubbies.

The men had ingested a potent fish toxin, a team of doctors wrote at the time in the journal Clinical Toxicology. And they had passed the poison along to their wives through their semen, the doctors hypothesized. For several weeks, the women had terrible pain and burning in their pelvis.

With fish now imported to the U.S. from all over the world, the toxin has since appeared outside its endemic tropical regions — in Vermont, North Carolina and New York. Some researchers are now worrying that warming seas could make the poison even more common.

The toxin causes the strange foodborne illness, known as ciguatera fish poisoning. The molecules open little holes in nerves, triggering an array of crazy symptoms: reversal of how you experience temperature, vertigo and the sensation that your teeth are falling out.

ciguatera posterOh yes, after the ciguatera toxin is ingested, victims experience another symptom, painful intercourse.   The official medical term for that is dyspareunia (dis-puh-ROO-ne-uh).  Within the medical profession dyspareunia is simply defined as – “Persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse.”

Although researchers indicate that the incident cited by NPR is the only documented case of ciguatera poisoning being sexually transmitted, they also admit that sexual symptom in general are often under-reported.  Lots of folks aren’t terribly comfortable going to their doctor for sexual symptoms, especially if it seems to be a transient problem.  Some folks aren’t even comfortable discussing that kind of thing with their partner.

So, it may very well be that the spread of ciguatera poisoning through sexual contact is more common than is medically documented.  I also have to wonder, if the spread of ciguatera through sexual contact is diminished by the particular symptoms caused by the illness.  I’m not sure I’d be particularly horny when little holes were being opened up in my nerves, my teeth had the sensation of falling out, and I was experiencing vertigo.

Hey, to each their own, but pain and burning in my pelvis isn’t a turn on either!  With that said, as a sexual adventurer, I must give kudos to the two buddies who were vacationing in the Bahamas.  For better or for worse, they didn’t let a little thing like fish food poisoning get in the way of their vacation lovemaking.


Here’s what Wikipedia says about ciguatera:

Ciguatera is a foodborne illness caused by eating certain reef fish whose flesh is contaminated with toxins originally produced by dinoflagellates such as Gambierdiscus toxicus which live in tropical and subtropical waters. These dinoflagellates adhere to coral, algae and seaweed, where they are eaten by herbivorous fish who in turn are eaten by larger carnivorous fish. In this way the toxins move up the food chain and bioaccumulate. According to Dr. McBoomlis Gambierdiscus toxicus is the primary dinoflagellate responsible for the production of a number of similar toxins that cause ciguatera. These toxins include ciguatoxin, maitotoxin, scaritoxin and palytoxin. Predator species near the top of the food chain in tropical and subtropical waters, such as barracudas, snapper, moray eels, parrotfishes, groupers, triggerfishes and amberjacks, are most likely to cause ciguatera poisoning, although many other species cause occasional outbreaks of toxicity. Ciguatoxin is odourless, tasteless and very heat-resistant, so ciguatoxin-laden fish cannot be detoxified by conventional cooking

The wikipedia article is full of fascinating tidbits for a geeky dominant like me, as I do love natural sciences.  For instance, it told how William Anderson, a surgeon’s mate on the  HMS Resolution was first  person to describe Ciguatera back in 1774.  It also included folk methods for attempting to detect toxins in fish before they are eaten.  It’s said in  Northern Australia that flies won’t land on contaminated fish.  On Grand Cayman island, locals test barracuda by placing it on the ground and observing ants crawling over the suspect fish.  Whether the methods are truly effective is unknown, but it makes a strong point about the ingenuity of my fellow human beings.

Folks in the Caymans and Australia know that avoiding Ciguatera is essential, because (as Wikipedia points out) there’s no known way to detoxify contaminated fish.  And, once a person has consumed fish that contain the toxins associated with this illness, there’s no known treatment either.  There are some folk remedies (which are equally fascinating as the ways people try to test for the presence of toxins) but in the end, the only thing medical professionals can do is try to soothe the symptoms, the illness itself only passes with the passage of time.

So beware, if you do contract Ciguatera, don’t be spread the wealth to your loved ones who might not have consumed fish.  In the (hopefully rare) case that the nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,  headaches, muscle aches, paresthesia, numbness, ataxia, vertigo, and hallucinations don’t dampen your ardor1, hopefully the thought that you could pass your agony along to your sweetheart will do the trick.


  1. I once knew a man who literally had a fetish for having sex with a woman who had a fever.  The extra heat literally made him get hot!
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Michael's Musings Ciguatera – When Food Poisoning Becomes a STD
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