The penis is the male sex organ, reaching its full size during puberty. In addition to its sexual function, the penis acts as a conduit for urine to leave the body.

The penis is made of several parts:

  • Glans (head) of the penis: In uncircumcised men, the glans is covered with pink, moist tissue called mucosa.
  • Covering the glans is the foreskin (prepuce). In circumcised men, the foreskin is surgically removed and the mucosa on the glans transforms into dry skin.
  • Corpus cavernosum: Two columns of tissue running along the sides of the penis. Blood fills this tissue to cause an erection.
  • Corpus spongiosum: A column of sponge-like tissue running along the front of the penis and ending at the glans penis; it fills with blood during an erection, keeping the urethra — which runs through it — open.
  • The urethra runs through the corpus spongiosum, conducting urine out of the body.

Penis Conditions

Erectile dysfunction:

A man’s penis does not achieve sufficient hardness for satisfying intercourse. Atherosclerosis (damage to the arteries) is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction.

Priapism:

An abnormal erection that does not go away after several hours even though stimulation has stopped. Serious problems can result from this painful condition.

Hypospadias:

A birth defect in which the opening for urine is on the front (or underside), rather than the tip of the penis. Surgery can correct this condition.

Phimosis (paraphimosis):

The foreskin cannot be retracted or if retracted cannot be returned to its normal position over the penis head. In adult men, this can occur after penis infections.

Balanitis:

Inflammation of the glans penis, usually due to infection. Pain, tenderness, and redness of the penis head are symptoms.

Balanoposthitis:

Balanitis that also involves the foreskin (in an uncircumcised man).

Chordee:

An abnormal curvature of the end of the penis, present from birth. Severe cases may require surgical correction.

Peyronie’s Disease:

An abnormal curvature of the shaft of the penis may be caused by injury of the adult penis or other medical conditions.

Urethritis:

Inflammation or infection of the urethra, often causing pain with urination and penis discharge. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are common causes.

Gonorrhea:

The bacteria N. gonorrhea infects the penis during sex, causing urethritis. Most cases of gonorrhea in men cause symptoms of painful urination or discharge.

Chlamydia:

A bacteria that can infect the penis through sex, causing urethritis. Up to 40% of chlamydia cases in men cause no symptoms.

Syphilis:

A bacteria transmitted during sex. The initial symptom of syphilis is usually a painless ulcer (chancre) on the penis.

Herpes:

The viruses HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause small blisters and ulcers on the penis that reoccur over time.

Micropenis: An abnormally small penis, present from birth. A hormone imbalance is involved in many cases of micropenis.

Penis warts:

The human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause warts on the penis. HPV warts are highly contagious and spread during sexual contact.

Cancer of the penis:

Penis cancer is very rare in the U.S. Circumcision decreases the risk of penis cancer.

Penis Tests

  • Urethral swab: A swab of the inside of the penis is sent for culture. A urethral swab may diagnose urethritis or other infections.
  • Urinalysis: A test of various chemicals present in urine. A urinalysis may detect infection, bleeding, or kidney problems.
  • Nocturnal penis tumescence testing (erection testing): An elastic device worn on the penis at night can detect erections during sleep. This test can help identify the cause of erectile dysfunction.
  • Urine culture: Culturing the urine in the lab can help diagnose a urinary tract infection that might affect the penis.
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR): A urine test that can detect gonorrhea, chlamydia, or other organisms that affect the penis.

Penis Treatments

Phosphodiesterase inhibitors:

These medicines (such as sildenafil or Viagra) enhance the flow of blood to the penis, making erections harder.

Antibiotics:

Gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and other bacterial infections of the penis can be cured with antibiotics.

Antiviral medicines:

Taken daily, medicines to suppress HSV can prevent herpes outbreaks on the penis.

Penis surgery:

Surgery can correct hypospadias, and may be necessary for penis cancer.

Testosterone:

Low testosterone by itself rarely causes erectile dysfunction. Testosterone supplements may improve erectile dysfunction in some men.

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