In her memoir out this week, actress Pam Grier says she and Richard Pryor broke up in part because his cocaine use had led to a dangerous buildup of the drug in her vagina. Is that even possible?
Here's how Grier recounts the conversation with her doctor:
He said, "Pam, I want to tell you about an epidemic that's prevalent in Beverly Hills right now. It's a buildup of cocaine residue around the cervix and in the vagina. You have it. Are you doing drugs?"
"No," I said, astonished.
"Well, it's really dangerous," he went on. "Is your partner putting cocaine on his penis to sustain his erection?"
"No," I said, "not that I know of. It's not like he has a pile of cocaine next to the bed and he dips his penis in it before we have sex." I had a nauseating flash of one of Richard's famous lines: Even my dick has a cocaine jones.
"Are you sure he isn't doing it in the bathroom before he comes to bed?" the doctor asked.
"That's a possibility," I said. "You know, I am dating Richard Pryor."
"Oh, my God," he said. "We have a serious problem here. If he's not putting it on his skin directly, then it's worse because the coke is in his seminal fluid."
The doctor then asks her if her mouth went numb while performing oral sex on Pryor, which she says it did, and which he links to the Novocaine-like effects of cocaine.
1970s icons aside, is this a real phenomenon? At least one doctor is highly skeptical. We checked in with Dr. Jan Gurley, a physician who works at a public-health clinic for the homeless in San Francisco and, in her spare time, blogs for SFGate.com. The phenomenon was news to her, but she gamely called the San Francisco Forensic Office, where the first medical examiner she spoke to also had never heard of it. A request is in to the San Francisco Forensic Office's Chief Toxicologist and an Ob-Gyn.
But here's why it's unlikely from a physiological standpoint: Cocaine is a form of adrenaline, and your body processes it on a temporary basis, Doc Gurley explained. The speed with which your body processes it depends on the blood flow to the area; toxicologists testing for cocaine often check the eyeballs or the nose, because those are low blood-flow areas. The vagina, however, is a high blood-flow zone — Doc Gurley says the Ob-Gyn surgeons' term of art is that the vagina is "very forgiving." (It really is, if you think about it.)
Bottom line: "It's extremely unlikely that there could be any toxic vagina effect of cocaine," Gurley says.
The one outstanding question is whether ejaculate can store cocaine, and how fast a woman could "heal" from that after sex.
"All in all, having any doctor tell any patient something like that smacks of either misremembered recall on the patient's part, or, possibly more likely, a sleazy attempt by a vaguely irresponsible doc to scare someone into making a major life change," Gurley says. But, she adds, "This whole topic is yet another morality tale showing yet another reason why it's so important to insist on a condom."