To pick or not to pick...

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Getting an eargasm is easy in Vietnam, but like unprotected sex, it carries certain health risks


A man having his ears cleaned on a sidewalk in Hanoi. Photo: Calvin Godfrey

There appears to be no medical reason for a man to clean his ear.

Naturally, however, he has been doing so since the dawn of time. "There is a natural process by which the ear evacuates dead skin and wax from the deeper ear canal," wrote Dr. Stephen T. Khmucha, president of the California Otolaryngology Society in an email. 

"Nevertheless, archeologists and cultural anthropologists have documented instruments dating back many thousands of years purportedly used by many peoples and cultures over the millennia to clean the ear."

Today, most people in the West jam Q-tips into their ears, often driving the offending gunk deeper and deeper towards their brains. According to Khmucha, these misguided efforts have caused impactions that result in pain, dizziness and hearing loss.

During his extensive travels, Khmucha says he saw the good results achieved with ear picks and ear spoons. So has Yvonne Pang, a Chinese businesswoman who discovered the joy of having her ears picked in Japan, where businessmen pay as much as VND1,000,000 for a single session and housewives shell out hundreds of dollars for fiber-optic doo-ads that allow them to peer periscopically into their own heads.

Despite Japan's vigor for ear cleaning, Pang said she hadn't seen anything until she came to Vietnam.

  An ear cleaning technician digs gunk out of the author's head at a barber shop in Ho Chi Minh City's District 3. Photo: Calvin Godfrey

"We discovered that the Vietnamese ["¦] have brought ear cleaning [and] its tools to a whole new level," wrote Pang.

"We have been trying, ever since, to make the tools known to the rest of the world."

Pang now sells a 10-piece set that includes everything from a down puffball on a stick to a miniature ear razor on her site myearpicks.com. The items can be ordered individually through her website (for roughly $5 apiece) or as a set ($26). 

A generic version of the kit can be picked up at almost any local market for a fraction of the price. Alternatively, you can hire old men on street corners or barber shops staffed by young women in skimpy dresses to clean your ears for you. If either option appeals to you, Pang urges you to bring your own set for sanitary reasons.

That said, Pang seems to view ear picking (ray tai) as less of a hygienic exercise and more a form of lovemaking. Indeed, the tagline on her company website (myearpick.com) is "intercourse for your ear" and Pang claims she started her business to bring the joy of an "eargasm" to the world.

She seems to be succeeding. Myearpicks.com is awash in testimonials from women who have lulled their men into blissful submission with her products.

But is it safe?

The short answer is no. Dr. Nguyen Quang Dai, Head of the Ear Nose and Throat Department at the French Vietnam Hospital claims that venturing more than 1mm into the ear could result in lacerated ear canals or worse.

"I've had to reconstruct a few tympanic membranes due to bad ear picking," he said. "Not many, but some."

What's more, the practice can become addictive. "People think that when they remove the ear wax that it will make them better, but they're wrong," he said. "The more often you pick, the itchier you'll be."

When asked why men continue to risk the health of their ears for an unnecessary procedure he burst into laughter.

"Our external ears are very sensitive," he said. "If you do it very"¦ gently it feels very good."

Then, the doctor composed himself. "I recommend people shouldn't do it," he said.

Does he do it? "Never," he said and then laughed again. "Just sometimes, not always."

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