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Common Signs of Erectile Tissue Damage

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Written by Rachel Sacks

Published 05/06/2021

Updated 03/28/2024

If one of your worst nightmares as a guy is penis damage, you might think it’s nothing more than a bad dream. Unfortunately, not only is experiencing erectile tissue damage very possible, but the damage can have a severe impact.

Injuring your penis is painful enough. But knowing you’ve potentially done permanent damage to the tissue inside your penis doesn’t only hurt physically — it can significantly affect sexual activity and your quality of life.

While erectile tissue damage isn’t common, the long-term effects of damage to your penile erectile tissue can be substantial, affecting everything from your ability to perceive sexual stimulation to the blood flow needed to maintain normal erectile function.

Below, we’ll explain the signs of erectile tissue damage to look out for. We’ll also discuss factors that can cause penile tissue to become damaged and go over options for treating erectile tissue damage to maintain optimal erectile health.

Erectile tissue damage can cause numerous issues, from preventing you from developing and maintaining an erection to causing pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse (possibly the worst time to experience discomfort).

Harm to healthy tissue in and around the penis can vary in type and severity. So there’s no one-size-fits-all list of symptoms you may notice if you have penile trauma or damage.

However, many men notice a handful of common issues after damaging their penis due to injury or a chronic health condition. These include:

  • Erectile dysfunction. Since erectile tissue damage can weaken the tissue and blood vessels in your penis, it can affect your ability to develop and maintain an erection when you feel sexually aroused. If you have erectile dysfunction (ED), you may find it difficult to get and keep an erection or simply notice that your erections aren’t as firm as they need to be for satisfying sex.

  • Reduced penile sensitivity. When the nerves near your penis become damaged, you might notice that your penis has a reduced level of sensitivity. It could feel less responsive or even numb to touch and other forms of physical stimulation.

  • Penile curvature. When the fibrous tissue around your penis is damaged, it can cause your penis to bend as plaques develop in specific areas. This condition is referred to as Peyronie’s disease.

  • Painful erections. Sometimes, penile damage can make erections uncomfortable or even painful. Pain during sex or with an erection is a common sign of Peyronie’s disease.

Although most signs of erectile tissue damage are physical, having a damaged penis can also impact your mental well-being.

For example, erectile dysfunction — a common issue that can develop as a result of penis tissue damage — is associated with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

When damage to your erectile tissue prevents you from being able to have sex normally, it may also cause or contribute to emotional distress, a loss of intimacy between you and your partner, sexual frustration and other sexual and relationship issues.

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To understand how tissue damage can occur on your penis, it’s helpful to know how your penis functions — at least beyond the basics of what happens when you’re sexually aroused.

Your penis contains three main areas (or chambers) of erectile tissue:

  • Corpora cavernosa. These two tube-like chambers run along each side of your penis (each tube is called a corpus cavernosum).

  • Corpus spongiosum. This chamber runs the entire length of your penis and houses your urethra (the tube that passes urine and semen).

When you become sexually aroused — whether from sexual touch or visual stimulation — nerves in your penis react, causing the erectile tissue inside your penis to relax and allowing for improved blood flow.

As blood flows into your erectile tissue, your penis becomes larger and firmer, resulting in a firm erection that allows you to have penetrative sex.

When your penis is erect, a type of fibrous tissue called the tunica albuginea traps blood inside. This allows you to successfully maintain an erection while engaging in sexual activity.

After you reach orgasm and ejaculate, blood flows out from your erect penis, causing it to shrink back to its normal, flaccid size as you enter your refractory period.

Erectile tissue damage occurs when any part of the penis involved in getting or maintaining an erection — from the nervous system to blood vessels and internal tissue — stops functioning normally.

This can occur as a result of a penile injury. For instance, penile fractures may cause scar tissue, or you could experience damage from surgical treatments. Penile injury can also result from diseases and conditions that damage blood vessels and nerves, such as diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure).

Penile Injuries

Physical injuries can damage the tunica albuginea, resulting in the formation of plaque that bends the penis and causes discomfort.

The tunica albuginea can withstand considerable pressure — it’s one of the strongest structures in the male body. But it’s also vulnerable.

When your penis is erect, the tunica albuginea thins from two millimeters to as little as a quarter millimeter, all while pressure rises from the increase in blood flow to your penis.

As you may well imagine, injury to erectile tissue most likely occurs when the penis is hard, usually during sex. However, it can also happen during masturbation, especially if you’re prone to “death grip syndrome” — otherwise known as gripping your penis too hard.

While all sexual positions can potentially result in penile injury, research suggests that damaging your penis is most common with “doggy-style” sex. This sex position accounted for upwards of 40 percent of penile fractures in an analysis published in 2020. 

When a penile injury like this occurs, you might notice a sharp bend in your penis, accompanied by a “pop” sound and an immediate loss of erection. Unsurprisingly, this is typically followed by immense pain and discomfort.

The “pop” and the pain are both very reliable signals that a tear in the tunica albuginea tissue has occurred — an injury urology professionals call a penile fracture.

Besides injuries that happen during sex, injuries to your penis can be caused by various sports injuries, bites, cuts, friction burns and damage from machinery.

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Health Conditions

Your physical health and any health conditions you’re dealing with can sometimes affect your sexual health, potentially resulting in erectile tissue damage symptoms.

Medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can often be the cause of erectile dysfunction or penile damage, thanks to their effect on blood vessels.

Conditions affecting blood flow can also cause a condition called priapism, a longer-than-normal and painful erection.

Other Causes of Penile Damage

In addition to penis injuries caused by sex or health issues, erectile tissue damage can happen because of medical treatments or unhealthy habits.

Treatments for prostate and bladder cancer — such as surgery or radiation therapy — may damage the tissue in or around your genitals and contribute to sexual performance issues such as erectile dysfunction.

Smoking is also associated with damage to blood vessels in the penis. As a result, it could increase your risk of developing erectile dysfunction and other sexual performance issues.

But what do you do if you have penile damage? Can the tunica albuginea, erectile tissue, nerves or blood vessels heal themselves? Keep reading for insight.

Can erectile tissue heal on its own? If not, what does erectile tissue damage treatment entail?

Although some forms of damage to your penile tissue may improve over time, penile injuries need urgent treatment. If left untreated, they can result in permanent damage to blood vessels, the urethra, the tunica albuginea and other areas of the penis.

Short-term outcomes of erectile tissue damage can be pain and bruising that hamper your sex life for a while. Penile injuries can even result in a condition known as hard flaccid syndrome, in which the penis is constantly hard without being erect (not a good thing, despite how it sounds).

The long-term effects of penile damage may cause disfiguration or difficulty with sexual function, such as getting an erection or ejaculating.

Any penile injury that causes serious pain and discomfort is a medical emergency. And it should be followed up by immediate medical advice from a healthcare professional or urologist.

The good news is that treatment options are available for most forms of penile injury — from surgical repair to restore blood flow and urethral function to medications for sexual health issues such as erectile dysfunction.

Penile Surgery

In most cases, penile injuries and the damage they can cause, like a curved penis, can be treated with surgical intervention.

Several types of surgery are used to treat Peyronie’s disease and other issues that may develop due to penile injuries. These include removing plaques from the penis and replacing them with healthy tissue sourced from elsewhere on your body, such as a graft, or using a synthetic material.

Other surgical techniques include plication, which involves manipulating tissue from the other side of your penis to even out curvature. Another option is a penile implant if tissue damage is preventing you from getting or maintaining an erection.

When a penile injury damages blood vessels, surgery may be performed to rebuild arteries and improve internal blood flow.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Nonsurgical treatments include the use of injectable medications, oral medications, mechanical traction devices or vacuum devices (aka penis pumps) to improve blood circulation.

ED Medications

If you have erectile dysfunction caused by damage to your penis, your healthcare provider may suggest using medication to increase blood flow and boost your ability to get and maintain an erection.

Right now, there are four FDA-approved medications for ED. These include sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) and avanafil (Stendra®).

These medications belong to a class of drugs called PDE5 inhibitors. They make getting and maintaining an erection easier by relaxing the blood vessels that supply blood to your penis, which can increase total blood flow.

These medications usually have minimal side effects and are available as oral tablets and chewable hard mints for a more convenient option.

However, erectile dysfunction isn’t always the result of a physical issue. Sometimes, you might have trouble getting hard thanks to psychological problems, like anxiety or depression, also referred to as. In that case, therapy might be a critical part of your treatment plan.

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While injuring your penis may be a joke amongst your friends and an absolute worst-case “this could never actually happen” scenario, erectile tissue damage is a very real men’s health issue.

How do you know what penile damage looks like? Here’s what to remember:

  • Depending on what caused the damage, potential signs of erectile tissue damage can include a popping sound, loss of erection, pain, curvature of the penis, swelling or bruising, erectile dysfunction or loss of sensitivity.

  • The most common causes of penile damage are injuries during sex or masturbation. But it can also happen due to health conditions, medical treatments or unhealthy habits that affect cardiovascular health or impact blood flow to the penis.

  • Fortunately, erectile tissue damage can be treated, either via penile surgery involving implants or grafts or ED medications prescribed by a medical professional.

If you’re experiencing any signs of erectile tissue damage, seek medical advice from a healthcare professional immediately. They can determine the cause and the best course of treatment, whether that’s surgery or medication.

We offer several erectile dysfunction medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who’ll determine if a prescription is appropriate.

10 Sources

  1. Symptoms & Causes of Erectile Dysfunction - NIDDK. (n.d.). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/symptoms-causes
  2. Penile Curvature (Peyronie's Disease) - NIDDK. (n.d.). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/penile-curvature-peyronies-disease
  3. Penile Trauma: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment. (n.d.). Urology Care Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/p/penile-trauma
  4. Jack, G. S., Garraway, I., Reznichek, R., & Rajfer, J. (2004). Current treatment options for penile fractures. Reviews in urology, 6(3), 114–120. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472832/
  5. Wani I. (2008). Management of penile fracture. Oman medical journal, 23(3), 162–165. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3282318/
  6. Barros, R., Hampl, D., Cavalcanti, A. G., Favorito, L. A., & Koifman, L. (2020). Lessons learned after 20 years' experience with penile fracture. International braz j urol : official journal of the Brazilian Society of Urology, 46(3), 409–416. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7088490/
  7. Rask-Madsen, C., & King, G. L. (2013). Vascular complications of diabetes: mechanisms of injury and protective factors. Cell metabolism, 17(1), 20–33. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3546345/
  8. High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes | cdc.gov. (n.d.). CDC. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm
  9. Tostes, R. C., Carneiro, F. S., Lee, A. J., Giachini, F. R., Leite, R., Osawa, Y., & Webb, R. C. (2008). Cigarette smoking and erectile dysfunction: focus on NO bioavailability and ROS generation. The journal of sexual medicine, 5(6), 1284–1295. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3003263/
  10. Mensah, J. E., Morton, B., & Kyei, M. (2010). Early surgical repair of penile fractures. Ghana medical journal, 44(3), 119–122. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996843/
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown was previously Medical Director of a male fertility startup where she lead strategy and design of their digital health platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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