This May, British tabloids glommed onto a cringe-inducing story in a medical journal about a 32-year-old man in New Delhi who broke his penis. Put a little more scientifically, he suffered a “penile fracture,” an injury where an erect penis bends so forcefully that it tears the sheath around one or both of the corpora cavernosa, the two spongy tubes that hold the blood creating your erection. As in most cases, as his tumescent tissue ripped, the poor man heard a loud snap, suddenly went flaccid as blood flowed out of his erection and into the rest of his dangly appendage, and felt excruciating pain as his penis blackened and swelled into an “eggplant deformity.”
Tales of penile fractures are horrifying — some are worse than this, involving urethral damage and spurting blood — as are the surgeries most doctors use to fix them, which involves “degloving” your skin, finding the tear, and stitching it up. Readers of these sordid tales often take heart in the fact that they’re supposedly rare injuries: since 1924 less than 2,000 cases have been recorded in global medical reports. But that number is probably low. Urologists at numerous local hospitals report encountering at least one or two such injuries every month. And this same shame means that far too many people who suffer a penile fracture try to tough it out or treat themselves before they go to the hospital, where they often lie to doctors about the circumstances of their injuries — both serious mistakes that can cause lasting harm.
Men suffering from extreme swelling and pain will likely often quickly seek medical attention. But a fair number of penile fractures don’t present as instant aubergine horrors. According to Hunter Wessells, a University of Washington urologist and surgeon specializing in penile trauma, a number of folks just ice their penis or take painkillers. Some even try to keep having sex. And a select few even decide to “put a tight wrap or tourniquet on the penis.”
“The latter could be disastrous,” says Wessells, “causing lack of blood flow to the skin, or worse, to the whole penis. It’s analogous to men who put on a cock ring or other object… and cannot get it off. Big problem.”
In truth, penile fracture surgery is a simple one-hour procedure that usually avoids complications and, after a few weeks of recovery, returns a patient to full functionality. But the longer a patient tries to self-treat, the higher the chances that they’ll suffer from long-term damage, says Islamic University of Gaza urologist Dr. Omar M. Aboumarzouk. This includes but is not limited to: the formation of fibrous plaques within the penis causing long-term pain or erectile dysfunction, curvature of up to 45 degrees, and nerve damage dulling future sexual sensation. Although Wessells says most delays aren’t catastrophic and some guidelines claim that you’ll be fine going under the knife within three days of an injury, at least one study based on 140 injuries suggests that the chance of long-term damage starts to increase as early as eight or so hours after the break.
The bottom line: if your shaft goes snap during sex, go to a doctor.
Reduce Your Risk
No matter how you look at it, the chances of a man breaking a penis are low. But some men are at greater risk than others. One study suggests that people engaged in acrobatic, extramarital, or otherwise stressful sex are more prone to penile fractures. Another suggests that woman-on-top is the most dangerous position. And doctors have observed that longer, harder erections are easier to fracture. So if you fall into any of those groups, perhaps practice a little extra vigilance, forethought, and humble honesty when having sex and after suffering a potential sexual injury.
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