Common Signs of Erectile Tissue Damage
Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
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 your quality of life.
Luckily, erectile tissue damage isn’t common. However, the long-term effects of damage to your penile erectile tissue can be significant, affecting everything from your ability to perceive sexual stimulation to the blood flow you need to maintain normal erectile function.
Like with most issues related to your sexual health, prompt diagnosis and treatment can help to ensure you have the best possible outcome if you’ve damaged your erectile tissue.
Below, we’ve explained what erectile tissue damage is, as well as the signs that you may notice if you have an injured penis.
We’ve also discussed the factors that can cause your penile tissue to become damaged, as well as your options for treating erectile tissue damage and maintaining optimal sexual function.
What is Erectile Tissue Damage?
Before we get into the specific details of penile tissue damage, let’s quickly go over the basics of how your penis functions.
Your penis contains three main areas, or chambers, of erectile tissue. Two of these, the corpora cavernosa, run along the sides of your penis. A third, the corpus spongiosum, covers 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 becomes erect, a type of fibrous tissue called the tunica albuginea traps blood inside your erect penis, allowing you to successfully maintain your erection while you engage in sexual activity.
Erectile tissue damage occurs when any part of your penis that’s involved in helping you get or maintain an erection, from your nervous system to your blood vessels and internal tissue, stops functioning normally.
This can occur as a result of a penile injury — for example, penile fractures that cause scar tissue, or damage from surgical treatments — or from diseases and conditions that damage your blood vessels and nerves, such as diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure).
What are the Signs of Erectile Tissue Damage?
Erectile tissue damage can cause a variety of issues, from preventing you from developing and maintaining an erection to causing pain and discomfort when you have sex.
Because harm to healthy tissue in and around your penis can vary in type and severity, there’s no one-size-fits-all list of symptoms you may notice if you have penis damage.
However, there are numerous common issues that many men notice after damaging their penis due to injury or a chronic health condition. These include:
Erectile dysfunction (ED). Because 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 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 may notice that your penis has a reduced level of sensitivity and feels less responsive to touch or other forms of physical stimulation.
Penile curvature. When the fibrous tissue around your penis becomes 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 your erections uncomfortable, or even painful. For example, pain during sex or during an erection is a common sign of Peyronie’s disease.
Although most of the signs of erectile tissue damage are physical, having a damaged penis can also affect 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.
How Can Penile Tissue Damage Happen?
Getting an erection might seem like a simple, unremarkable process, but the reality is that it, as well as other aspects of your sexual function and performance, all depends on a complex series of events occurring behind the scenes.
A variety of different issues, from injuries to diseases, can damage the tissue in your penis and prevent it from functioning properly.
One of the most common causes of penile damage is physical injury to your penis, which could occur during sex, exercise or other activities.
Penile and Urethral Injury
Physical injuries can damage the tunica albuginea, resulting in the formation of plaque that can bend your penis and cause discomfort.
The tunica albuginea is a multiple-layered structure that surrounds the innermost tissues of the penis.
It is made of collagen and can withstand considerable pressure. It’s a versatile structure, supple when your penis is soft and able to maintain a wall of rigidity when it becomes erect. In fact, it is one of the strongest structures in the male body.
However, one aspect of the tunica albuginea’s versatility makes it vulnerable. When your penis is erect, the tunica albuginea thins from 2mm to as little as 0.25mm, all while pressure from the increase in blood flow to your penis increases.
As you may well imagine, injury to the erectile tissue is most likely when your penis is hard, and most common during sexual activity. This can occur during sexual intercourse, when your penis slips out and impacts the body, but also during masturbation.
While all sexual positions can potentially result in penile injury, research suggests that damaging your penis is most common with “doggy-style” sex, which 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 with a “pop” sound, and an immediate loss of erection. Unsurprisingly, this is typically followed by plenty of 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 that urologists call a penile fracture.
In addition to injuries that occur during sex, injuries to your penis can also be caused by various sports injuries, bites, cuts, burns and damage from machinery.
Any type of penile injury that causes serious pain and discomfort is a medical emergency, and it should be followed up by immediate medical care.
Other Causes of Penile Tissue Damage
In addition to penis injuries that occur during sex, sports or everyday life, numerous other issues and health conditions can result in damage to your penis and surrounding tissue.
Other causes of penile tissue damage include:
Diabetes. Diabetes can cause vascular complications, which may affect blood flow to your penis and surrounding tissue. Due to its effects on penile blood flow and nerve function, diabetes is a common cause of erectile dysfunction. More on diabetes and sexual side effects here.
High blood pressure. High blood pressure can also damage your vasculature, which may affect blood flow to your penis and other areas of your body involved in promoting normal sexual health.
Injuries from surgery and/or radiation therapy. Treatments for prostate and bladder cancer, such as surgery or radiation therapy, may damage the tissue in or around your penis and contribute to sexual performance issues such as erectile dysfunction.
Some habits and behaviors can also increase your risk of developing tissue damage that affects your penis and reproductive system.
For example, smoking is associated with damage to the blood vessels in your penis, which can increase your risk of developing erectile dysfunction and other sexual performance issues.
Our guide to the causes of erectile dysfunction discusses habits and behaviors that can reduce your sexual performance, including several that may cause tissue damage.
What Are the Outcomes of Erectile Tissue Damage?
Short-term, the effects of penile tissue damage may be pain and bruising. Longer-term, you may deal with disfigurement and difficulty with certain sexual functions, such as getting an erection or reaching orgasm and ejaculating.
The pain may go away fairly quickly, or last for a long time. And you may experience significant bruising, or hematoma. If you see blood at the tip of your penis or in your urine, it may be a sign that you have a urethral injury.
In some cases, damage to your penile tissue can lead to aesthetic changes in your penis, such as penile curvature. This can develop gradually as you recover from an injury as plaques begin to form inside your tunica albuginea.
Can Erectile Tissue Heal on its Own?
While some forms of damage to your penile tissue may improve over time, penile injuries need urgent treatment, as they can often result in permanent damage to your blood vessels, urethra, tunica albuginea and other areas of your penis if left untreated.
In a paper published in the International Journal of Impotence Research, experts noted that five patients out of 60 with penile fractures also had urethral rupture — a serious injury that can result in urine draining into the penile tissue instead of out of the penis.
Others had tunica albuginea ruptures and other forms of penile damage, which generally require surgical intervention to allow for optimal sexual function in the future.
ED treatments, delivered
No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere.
Erectile Tissue Damage Treatments
Dealing with a penile injury can be a stressful and traumatic experience, particularly when it has the potential to lead to long-term injury to the tissue of your penis.
The good news is that there are treatment options 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.
Surgery for Penile Damage
In most cases, penile injuries and the damage they can cause, such as a curved penis, can be treated with surgical intervention.
Several types of surgery are used to treat Peyronie’s disease and other issues that can develop due to penile injuries. These include removing plaques from your penis and replacing the areas with healthy tissue from elsewhere on your body, such as a skin graft.
Other surgical techniques include plication, which involves removing tissue from the other side of your penis to even out curvature, and the use of a penile implant if you have tissue damage that prevents you from getting or maintaining an erection.
When a penile injury damages your blood vessels, surgery may be performed to rebuild arteries and improve internal blood flow.
Nonsurgical treatments include the use of injectable medications, oral medications, mechanical traction devices and vacuum devices, or penis pumps, to improve blood circulation.
If you have erectile dysfunction caused by damage to your penis, your healthcare provider may suggest using medication to increase blood flow and improve your ability to get and maintain an erection.
These medications, which belong to a class of drugs called PDE5 inhibitors, make getting and maintaining an erection easier by relaxing the blood vessels that supply your penis, which can increase total blood flow.
We offer several ED treatments online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
The Bottom Line on Erectile Tissue Damage
A variety of issues can cause erectile tissue damage, from injuries to your penis that happen in bed or during your everyday life to chronic medical conditions and diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Common signs of erectile tissue damage include pain, swelling, erectile dysfunction and curved erections.
If you injure your penis, it’s important to seek medical help to find out what’s going on inside the tissue and, if appropriate, get prompt treatment to prevent complications.
Interested in learning more about improving your erectile function? Our complete guide to how erections work shares more information about how your penis functions, while our guide to the best ways to maintain an erection shares natural tips for improving your sexual health.