Despite the fact that erections are often referred to as “boners,” there are no actual bones in the human penis. Of course, some animals have penile bones, including walruses, which can be up to two feet long and were supposedly once used as war clubs by Native Alaskans—but that’s a story for another day. Today we’re talking about the human penis and whether it is possible to “fracture” an erection even though there are no actual bones to break. The answer is (disturbingly enough) yes.
“Penile fracture” occurs when the cavernous bodies (i.e., the columns of erectile tissue that run the length of the penis and fill with blood during an erection) rupture as a result of some blunt force trauma. Interestingly, the most common type of trauma reported differs cross-culturally.1 In the United States, the most frequent cause is forceful sexual intercourse in which a man misses his target and hits his partner’s pubic bone or perineum instead. In Japan, most cases are attributable to masturbatory technique or accidentally rolling onto an erect penis in bed. In the Mediterranean, most cases are a result of men “kneading” an erection in order to make it go away.
The first case of penile fracture was reported in the medical literature in 1924, and since then, at least 1,600 other cases have been documented.1 By far, the most fascinating causes of penile fracture reported in medical journals include a falling brick, pleasuring oneself with a cocktail shaker, and a donkey bite. And, no, I’m not making any of this up.
What happens during a penile fracture? Most patients report hearing either a popping or cracking sound not unlike “the snapping of a corn stalk.”1 The erection quickly disappears and is often followed by intense pain, swelling, discoloration, and potential deformity. In severe cases, the fracture may result in urethral injury, which can produce urinary difficulties.
Historically, the primary treatment for a penile fracture consisted of ice packs, anti-inflammatories, erection-inhibiting drugs, and penis splints, but such methods resulted in a high rate of long-term complications, ranging from painful and angled erections to impotence. Today, however, the standard of care is surgical repair, which reduces the likelihood of experiencing long-term problems. But even with surgery, somewhere between 6-25% of patients continue to have problems with penile function, with the most common complaint being a persistent curvature of the erection.1
Although rare, penile fractures can and do happen and they can have very serious consequences for body image and sexual functioning. If it happens to you or a partner, it is important to get it treated by a doctor as soon as possible because prompt surgical repair is the key to getting a normal sex life back. Fortunately, you can largely avoid this type of fracture by taking good care of your penis and using a little bit of caution and common sense when it comes to sex and masturbatory techniques. Oh, and be sure to watch out for donkeys and falling bricks.
1Jack, G. S., Garraway, I., Reznichek, R., & Rajfer, J. (2004). Current treatment options for penile fractures. Reviews in Urology, 6, 114-120.
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