Load of the (Wedding and Other) Rings

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

(Image credit: Flickr user M.G. Kafkas)

by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, Improbable Research Staff

The Diminishment of Wedding Rings
A gold wedding band symbolizes permanence, but bits of it disappear as a marriage endures, scraping against the marital skin every moment that metal and finger convene. Georg Steinhauser, a chemist at Vienna University of Technology, calculated how much goes missing, and how quickly, and what that costs.

Steinhauser's study appears in a 2008 issue of a quarterly journal published by the World Gold Council, a group whose stated goal is "to stimulate desire for gold by articulating core truths and discovering new opportunities."

"Quantification of the Abrasive Wear of a Gold Wedding Ring," Georg Steinhauser, Gold Bulletin, vol. 41, no. 1, 2008, pp. 51-7. (Thanks to Mark Lewney for bringing this to our attention.)
"Value creation is at the forefront of all our activities," says the Council's web site. Those activities also have a wake. That's where some of the value goes slightly, steadily poof.

Steinhauser got married. A week later he carefully weighed his wedding ring. He weighed it again every week, usually on Thursdays, over the entire next year. The report shows a graph of the weight, dropping always, losing on average about .12 milligrams per week.

Steinhauser estimated that every year the city of Vienna, with slightly more than 300,000 married couples, suffers an aggregate loss from its rings of about 2.2 kilograms of 18 carat gold, worth (at the time he did his figuring) approximately €35,000.

Anyone who wears a wedding ring spews out a trail of elemental filth. Steinhauser says, "Due to abrasion of metal particles, human fingers wearing gold rings leave a trace of gold almost everywhere." Everywhere translates to: handholds, coins, handrails, steering wheels, cutlery, and also house dust and laundry drier lint.

Steinhauser warns his fellow scientists: "The author strongly suggests to not wear gold rings in analytical laboratories that are dedicated to the analysis of traces of metals, because a gold ring or the skin that has been in contact with the ring are possible sources of contamination."

Penile Strangulation by Wedding Ring
Wedding rings degenerate no matter where you wear them, a fact brought bleakly home, and then to an infirmary, in 2002. The urology department of Bonn University in Germany received a visit from a 59-year-old local man who had slipped his wedding band from its habitual home on a knuckled digit, lodging the ring instead onto a different, non-knuckled digit, to which it became tightly attached. Too tightly.

After a period of questioning and photograph-taking, medical staffers brought out a small machine called a metal ring cutter. They snipped the ring asunder, freeing it from the withered post that it had come to inhabit in a fashion known medically as "strangled."

A quartet of medicos published a graphic study about this, in the journal Urology. "To our knowledge," they write, skipping the romance and emphasizing the mechanics, "this is the first report of a wedding ring used as [a] constriction device".

"Treatment of Penile Strangulation Caused by Constricting Devices," Frank G.E. Perabo, Gabriel Steiner, Peter Albers, and Stefan C. Müller, Urology, vol. 59, no. 1, January 2002, p. 137.

Rings have gotten stuck in other times, in similar places.

The Ball-Bearing Automobile Ring and the Penis (1971)
"Penile Strangulation by an Unusual Object," Khalid M. Durrani, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, vol. 47, no. 2, February 1971, pp 190--1. The author, in Karachi, Pakistan, reports:

A 25-year old male presented himself in the Plastic Surgery Outpatient Department of Civil Hospital, Karachi, complaining of swelling of the penis and difficulty of micturition (associated with some burning) for the past 4 days. Playfully, he had slipped a ball-bearing automobile ring around his penis 4 nights previously and had gone to sleep with the ring on. On awakening in the morning, he noticed some swelling.... I consulted my automobile engineer, Mr. Sagheer. After much scratching of his head, he suggested something that sounded worth trying. The jaws of a mechanic's vise could be tightened gradually around the ring until it would split open.

Hand Doppler for Penile Strangulation by Multiple Metallic Rings (2007)
"Penile Strangulation by Multiple Metallic Rings, Its Treatment, and Use of Hand Doppler," Rajpal Singh and Anshu Singh, Internet Journal of Urology, vol. 5, no. 1, 2007. The authors, at Shri Aurvindo Medical College, Indore, India, report:

We report a case in which a healthy, mentally fit male had put three metallic rings over base of penis with intention to increase sweetness of sexual pleasure, there after presented to emergency department with gross swollen penis and rim of necrosis over penis, as he him self was unable to remove it out.... Initially we thought that ultimately the condition of injured penis may lead to amputation, but we felt sense of relief by confirming pulsation at glans by hand doppler device.... At discharge patient had no problem with micturation or erection, also psychoanalysis revealed no abnormality. 

Indigenous Non-Operative Treatment for Penile Strangulation by Metallic Rings (2011)
"Penile Strangulation by Metallic Rings," Mohammad Rashid Farooqui and R. S. Meena, Indian Journal of Surgery, vol. 73, no. 5, October 2011, pp. 359-60. The authors, at Medical College, Kota, Rajasthan India report:

A case of penile strangulation in a 35-year-old male truck driver by profession reported here. Two metallic rings were self introduced up to the base of penis, in order to prevent spontaneous ejaculation at night. There was marked oedema of penis distal to rings, and these rings were removed with an indigenous technique, non-operatively.

Show possibly NSFW illustration

Retraction of Penile Strangulation by Metallic Rings (2013)
"Retraction Note: Penile Strangulation by Metallic Rings," Mohammad Rashid Farooqui and R.S. Meena, Indian Journal of Surgery, vol. 75, no. 3, May--June 2013, p. 251. (Thanks to Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.)

Rings of Bottles
A ring made of a non-metal substance---especially, for a variety of reasons, a ring comprising the opening of a bottle---can be caused to cause similar problems.

Here is one such case involving glass, and three in which the bottles are plastic.

Entrapped in the Ring of a Glass Bottle "Penile Entrapment in a Bottle: The Case for Using a Diamond-Tipped Portable Glass Saw," F. McGain and D. Freedman, BJU International, vol. 83, 1999, p. 1071. The authors, at Swan Hill and District Hospital, Victoria, Australia, report:

A 55-year-old man was brought to the Emergency Department with a 4 h history of entrapment of his penis in a 375 mL long-necked beer bottle. He was distressed, embarrassed and in considerable pain.... Entry of the penis into the narrow neck of the bottle had been facilitated by the expulsion of hot air, using a lighted match, and subsequent suction on contractional cooling. The spent match was present in the bottom of the bottle. Under general anaesthesia the bottle was removed using a diamond-tipped portable glass saw. This was battery powered and had been obtained from a local commercial glass-supply retailer.

Detail from the study "Penile Entrapment in a Bottle: The Case for Using a Diamond-Tipped Portable Glass Saw."

Entrapped in the Ring of a Plastic Bottle
"Penile Entrapment in a Plastic Bottle," Jürgen Pannek and Wilfried Martin, Journal of Urology, vol. 170, no. 6, 2003, pp. 2385-2385. The authors, at Marienhospital Herne, Germany, report:

A 44-year-old male presented with the penis entrapped in a 1.5 l PET soft drink bottle.... Increasing rigidity prevented removal of the penis. At the time of presentation the glans penis was engorged and cyanotic. The edematous penis was firmly stuck in the bottle neck and could not be removed.... PET is a linear thermoplastic resin made from purified terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol through polycondensation. It is a light material that is rendered unbreakable. In our case an oscillating saw proved to be the only tool that could safely incise the bottle. As PET bottles are subsequently replacing glass bottles, the aforementioned problem may occur more frequently in the future. 

Entrapped in the Ring of a Plastic Bottle (2006)
"Penile Entrapment in a Plastic Bottle---A Case for Using an Oscillating Splint Saw," Matthias May, Sven Gunia, Christian Helke, Reza Kheyri, and Bernd Hoschke, International Urology and Nephrology, vol. 38, no. 1, February 2006, pp. 93--5. The authors, at Berlin-Charité University Teaching Hospital, Cottbus, Germany, report:

We report a case of penile entrapment in a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle in a 49-year-old male. Attempts to cut the bottle with a scalpel or a glass saw were ineffective. Finally, the bottle neck was cut longitudinally with an oscillating saw intended for cutting plaster casts.

Detail from the study "Penile Entrapment in a Plastic Bottle---A Case for Using an Oscillating Splint Saw."


This article is republished with permission from the July-August 2013 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues.

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I'll tell you this much -I did NOT use all the pictures from Improbable Research, because they were too graphic. And they did not use all the pictures from the original study. The original study is online, but behind a paywall.
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From a purely scientific debate point of view, I wonder how much the act of removing, weighing, and putting back on the ring contributed to the wear? I'd suggest repeating the study on yearly intervals. Or not.
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