Sex Question Friday: Can You Really Break Your Penis?

A reader submitted the following question:

"I know there aren't any bones in the penis, but can you still break it, like if you bend it too much when you're erect?"

Thanks for this interesting question. To put it simply, the answer is yes. The technical term for this is “penile fracture” and it occurs when the cavernous bodies (i.e., the columns of erectile tissue that run the entire length of the penis and fill with blood during an erection) rupture as a result of blunt force trauma. For instance, one of the most frequent causes of a fractured erection is forceful sexual intercourse in which a man misses his target and hits his partner’s pubic bone or perineum instead. 

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]. So, it's not common, but penile fractures happen from time to time. Aside from forceful sex, other 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 akin to “the snapping of a corn stalk” [1]. The erection quickly disappears, followed by intense pain, swelling, discoloration, and potential deformity. In severe cases, the fracture may result in injury to the urethra, which can make urination difficult.

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 erectile dysfunction. Today, however, the standard of care is surgical repair, which reduces the likelihood of experiencing long-term problems. Even with surgery, however, somewhere between 6-25% of patients continue to have problems, with the most common complaint being a persistent curving of the erection [1].

Thus, while rare, penile fractures can and do happen and they can have serious consequences. If this happens to you or to a partner, it is important to get it treated by a doctor quickly because prompt surgical repair is the key to restoring previous sexual function.

Fortunately, you can largely avoid this type of fracture by taking good care of your penis and using caution and common sense when it comes to sex and masturbation. Oh, and stay far away from donkeys and falling bricks, too.

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[1] Jack, 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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