A rumor began circulating over the weekend that there’d been an outbreak of crabs at Brigham Young University, but not quite the way you might think. Though completely unverified, the claim — some version of which circulates every few years — was that undergrads were catching the STI not in their nether-regions, where pubic lice typically hang out, but in their armpits. The implication was that the majority-Mormon student population was using an intercourse workaround, possibly known as bag-piping, where one partner pumps his penis in the armpit of the other. In theory, at least, this creates a pleasurable experience for at least one party involved while not compromising the participants’ commitment to chastity. It sounds a little too spot-on to be true, but ex-Mormons and an STI expert who spoke with Rolling Stone say it isn’t impossible. (BYU did not respond to requests for them to confirm or deny the occurrence of an armpit crabs outbreak on campus, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not reply to a request for comment on such intercourse alternatives.)
Members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which includes 99 percent of BYU students, follow a strict set of ethical rules, which includes abstaining from sex until marriage, avoiding swear words, dressing modestly, and not consuming drugs, tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, or caffeinated soda. Beards and long hair have been banned at BYU since 1971, when a rule was instituted as a rejection of the hippie counterculture movement. All of this straight-lacedness makes the group pretty easy for the general population to dunk on, and they do. Comedian Daniel Spencer has gone viral in the past few weeks for Tiktok videos where he interviews BYU students about whether they’d rather drink a cup of coffee or a cup of cooking oil, or die an excruciating death or watch a porn video. (“Cup of coffee and then repent later,” said one guy. “I mean, I don’t really wanna die,” said another student. “But I don’t really wanna watch porn either.” )
Armpit sex isn’t the only intercourse-workaround rumor that’s made the rounds online. Perhaps most famously, there’s soaking, sometimes also called docking or floating, where one person puts their penis inside their partner but doesn’t move. The idea has cropped up online every now and then for over a decade. One Utah-based sex therapist demonstrated the concept in a viral 2019 Barstool Sports video, using a teabag and a cup of hot water. “We put it into the vagina, and then you just don’t move. There’s no thrusting, you just kind of enjoy the warmth,” he said. “Let the tea bag steep.” Typically, it’s talked about as something people supposedly do, lending it an air of urban legend, but in 2017 Mel Magazine interviewed a person who claimed to have done it: “I was inside of her; it felt good; and sometimes we would kinda grind involuntarily,” he said. An apparent add-on to soaking, known as jump-humping, has also circulated online in recent years. This allegedly involves getting a willing pal to jump on the bed while you’re docked, creating some movement without you doing it yourself.
The most recent story sprang up over the weekend from a Twitter account with 10,000 followers belonging to a fitness coach in Texas. The account happens to be named Gumbo Crab. Suspicious? Maybe! “There was an outbreak of armpit crabs at BYU,” the user said. “Sit with me for a moment, and think about how that happened.” The tweet has been liked more than 87,000 times. It quickly began popping up on TikTok, where people made reaction videos to the Tweet, some entreating the Mormons to “Just have sex!”
The Gumbo Crab user confirmed to Rolling Stone they’d heard the armpit rumor from a TikTok video that circulated in July from an ex-Mormon couple, Jordan and McKay, who posted about the alleged crabs outbreak in July, dancing together and trying to smush their armpits into one another’s. A smattering of TikTokers, including other ex-Mormons, posted videos about armpit STDs around the same time. “If u think your life is bad or you’re making poor decisions just remember there’s couples in Provo, Utah, who get armpit STDs,” one user wrote.
Catching crabs in one’s armpit isn’t impossible, according to Dr. Sue Milstein, a human sexuality educator. “It’s totally within the realm of possibility to spread crabs that way,” she says. “Crabs like to live in all the hair except like the hair in your head.” The lice can appear in chest hair, mustaches, eyebrows, and armpit hair. It’s also possible for crabs to wind up in an armpit without direct genitalia-to-pit contact, Milstein says, since they can also live for a day or two away from human hosts with the potential to spread through bedding or towels. Another online rumor suggested there’d been an armpit chlamydia outbreak in 2017. Dr. Milstein says that’s almost certainly not true. “For chlamydia, you need more sexual fluids,” she says.
Jordan and McKay, who prefer to go by their first names to maintain their privacy, married in the Mormon church before leaving together in early 2021, put off by what they saw as contradictory values and unhealthy teachings. Now, they run a YouTube channel where they educate viewers about the inner workings of Mormonism. They found the idea of armpit fucking “outlandish,” but not impossible, given the rigidity of their upbringing. “Mormon scriptures say that any type of sexual sin, whether that be masturbation or sex in general, is next to murder,” Jordan says.
Strategies for getting around the rules are common, the couple say. McKay tells Rolling Stone he heard about “soaking” from a friend growing up. “The idea of soaking is that it’s not sex because you just insert your penis into an orifice, and then you just park it there, and whatever happens happens,” he says. “[My friend] explained it to me and I was like, ‘Oh my God this is wild.’” He didn’t really believe anyone did it, though, until after he left the church. “Up until last year, I was like, that’s just a fable. Nobody does that. And then a fellow TikToker that we met admitted that they had gone into a sexual situation with that intention, but it didn’t end up that way.” Jordan and McKay devoted a video on their YouTube channel to talking about soaking.
Although McKay and Jordan don’t know anyone who’s had armpit sex, the “outercourse” practices to skirt the rules are definitely real, they say, bourne out of Mormonism’s strict culture of purity and the times when it clashes with normal sexual development. “I think it’s just a way that people can be like, I am absolutely out of my mind horny right now, and I just need some way to allow myself to not feel bad about what I’m about to do,” McKay says. “It’s all based on the stupid shit that the Mormon church forces upon kids. There wouldn’t have to be these stupid workarounds, if they taught a healthy discourse and made space for healthy conversations around sex.”
Dr. Milstein says it’s important for health care professionals to think about why people might resort to acts like soaking or armpit sex, to potentially help them deal with what they’re going through, including guilt surrounding sex and sexuality. “Given what I know about Mormonism and the idea of preserving virginity, it doesn’t surprise me that folks are looking for ways to have a sexual release that still fits within the letter of the law, if not the spirit of the law,” she says. “They’re human beings. They still want to feel relief, they still want to feel pleasure, they still want to feel intimacy. I mean, those are basic human drives.”