I recently fell down the rabbit hole that I will call (for lack of a better word) home-extraction porn on Youtube. By this, I mean the entire genre of Youtube videos that have sprung up around pimple-popping, cyst-extraction, and boil-lancing, with what I would call subgenres for eyelid pore inflammation and cauliflower ear. When I first read about this phenomenon on Jezebel in 2008, the genre was just getting off the ground and the videos were still somewhat tame. Beware, however, clicking any of the videos on the Jezebel link or googling “pimple popping” on Youtube is not for the faint of heart. If the internets can teach us anything, it is that no matter how gross your ailment may seem, there is someone out there whose situation is even grosser.
Like any film genre, there are certain conventions now in place in extraction porn. First, we usually begin with a shirtless young guy with a humongous pimple/cyst/boil on his back or chest. Bonus points if he continues to wear a baseball cap despite being shirtless. A woman, probably a girlfriend or wife, usually does the extraction, though we rarely see the face of the person doing the squeezing. There are varying degrees of hygiene involved in these proceedings, though people aren’t usually sensible enough to disinfect their tools. Some of the women wear gloves, though I amusingly noticed that one extractor appeared to be using dish-washing gloves she pulled directly from the sink. The hygiene measures that are taken are usually less about the threat of infection and more about not getting pus on the person doing the squeezing. (A brief caveat, all of the medical sites I visited advised infections resulting from home cyst and boil extraction and draining are not to be taken lightly and that you really ought to see a doctor for this sort of thing. In fact, I think all the evidence we need in favor of socialized health care can come from a single Youtube search of “giant cyst.”) As the cysts have gotten larger in the genre, people have now begun using Exacto-knives, most of which do not appear to be disinfected. I think that this actually technically qualifies as surgery (bodily incision with instruments). There is the initial gasp from the squeezer and video-camera holder when pus begins to ooze out of the pimple/cyst/boil, followed by the scream when something pops out with some momentum behind it. Ironically, while many people in these videos are talking about the genre as a whole (“We love these videos!” “We decided to make this video because of the World’s Biggest Pimple video that went viral last year!” etc.), every single one seems to be genuinely shocked about two inevitable events: 1) that pus occasionally spurts out with a great deal of force and an uncertain trajectory and 2) that this kind of thing smells bad, I mean, really bad. I would say that the final genre conventions include statements of incredulity that the human body can produce such monstrosity (“I can’t believe how far that one shot!” “What if we are just pulling all the fat and tissue out of his back?” “I don’t think fat smells like this!” “What if it stretches all the way to my leg?” and my personal favorite, “Oh my god, I think it has a brain!”) and the sound of gagging in the background. As far as I know, nobody actually pukes in these videos, but the smell is indeed terrible enough to make wretching noises a requisite part of the proceedings.
Tracie Egan of Jezebel rightly points out that there was a definite gender component to these videos, namely that it is usually a woman doing the extraction on the body of her boyfriend. While the genre has expanded exponentially and now there are a variety of kinship structures represented in this strange ritual—including families and bachelor parties—it does seem that cohabitating heterosexual couples film the majority of these videos. It seems that lancing your lover’s boil and posting a video of it on the internet is a way of demonstrating not only your commitment, but also your love and intimacy with another person.
Lest you try and write this off as a fringe phenomenon, many of these videos have view-counts in the hundreds of thousands. Lots of people are making these videos, and even more people are watching them (yours truly included). While most of them are just flat-out gross, I did find myself intrigued by the relationships that lead to this kind of bodily intimacy. I’ve only reached the pimple-popping level with a few boyfriends and I largely regret it – I think that maintaining a certain level of physical mystery in one’s relationships can go a long way in prolonging desire. But I’m single, and many of my happily partnered and married friends go at each other like gorillas: picking, squeezing, and even lancing their partner with great love and attention. And as now a mild connoisseur of home-extraction porn, I’ll say that there is nothing sadder than the guy filming himself lancing his own boil, alone. The camera angle is always off, the sound is never quite right, and you can’t help but wish that the poor guy had some pus-crazy girlfriend to help him out. God help him if the thing is on his back. There are certain things one shouldn’t be alone for and the mother of all back-cysts certainly is one of them.
David Sedaris has a lovely piece about his partner Hugh in this capacity that ends with a boil-lancing that is downright tender. It’s definitely worth a read, and a much better articulation of this kind of bizarre kind of physical intimacy than sifting through a million Youtube videos might yield you. But if you are still interested in the Youtube videos and could care less about the shades of deep intersubjective rapport signaled by all this pus, then I suggest you start with the search “biggest pimple in the world.” You’re welcome.