Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Turns out, sex can be deadly

Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet (Photo: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)
Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet (Photo: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: Death during consensual sex

What it’s about: Sex is one of life’s great joys, at least for people who spend their time engaging in satisfying social interactions instead of reading some crank on the internet recapping Wikipedia pages. But in rare instances, it can also be one of life’s great dangers. Roughly 0.6 percent of sudden deaths occur during what the medical profession refers to as “doing it.” Usually when la petite mort segues into la réel mort, it’s because the strenuous act puts too much pressure on the heart, but there are a number of ways to go from lights out to, well, lights out. Better stick to reading about it on Wikipedia, for safety’s sake.

Biggest controversy: Every politician knows the old saw about being caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. But it’s politicians themselves who tend to end up dead in bed. Nineteenth-century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston is rumored to have died while having sex with a maid on a pool table. (Alternately, he may have died of pneumonia. Tomato, tomahto.) Félix Faure, prime minister of France at the end of the 19th century, died of a cerebral hemorrhage “while receiving fellatio from his mistress.” More recently, former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller went out on a high note while having sex with his secretary.

Strangest fact: Your cheatin’ heart… may explode during sex. According to a 2011 study in the Journal Of Sexual Medicine, men are more likely to have a heart attack during sex if they’re being unfaithful. (And it’s men who are more likely to die during sex than women.) Cocaine increases your likelihood of going out with a bang even more so. So, please, for your own safety, don’t combine these two risk factors—do cocaine with your wife, as God intended.

Thing we were happiest to learn: Even the Wiki page about death during sex points out sex’s health benefits. It stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone that helps people form emotional bonds and wards off depression. And it only very rarely can kill you.


Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Your heart isn’t the only cause of catastrophic coitus. One woman died after falling off a balcony during sex with her boss (presumably, they were leaning against the railing). Another was electrocuted by poorly constructed homemade nipple clamps (her death was ruled a homicide). One couple asphyxiated when they were having sex in a running car, in a garage, which filled up with carbon monoxide. And believe it or not, a woman in Zimbabwe was mauled to death by a lion while having sex with her boyfriend, who survived.

Also noteworthy: Sir Billy Snedden, an Australian politician, died “at the peak of physical congress,” as the police put it. Nearly 20 years later, his son was involved with the same woman, and made sure to notify the public that his father assuredly died happy, saying, “Anyone would be proud to die on the job.”

Further down the Wormhole: The earliest well-known case of being done to death involves Pope John XII. His cause of death is believed to have been a stroke while having sex with a woman named Stefanetta. Either that, or her husband caught them in the act and threw him out a window, or beat him to death with a hammer. (Clearly, the medical examiner’s art has come a long way since 964). His mistress also may have been the source of the legendary (and almost certainly fictional) Pope Joan, who we mentioned a few years ago. We’ll look at this colorful, scandalous Holy Father next week.

Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in early 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.

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