This article was scientifically reviewed by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz in June 2023. She is a professor, researcher, private practitioner and Fellow of the American Psychological Association.
How can you fracture something that has no bone? It may sound like a riddle, but we are here to explain just that. The penis is entirely made of soft tissue, yet it can get fractured. I won’t deny that a broken dick might invite a lot of joking, but it is no joking matter. A penis fracture is an uncommon but serious medical issue. It is in everyone’s best interest to prevent it.
You probably know humans have no bone in their penis, but what might come as a surprise is that it is an anomaly and a real mystery that we still don’t quite understand. The absence of the penis bone, called the baculum, is not completely unique in mammals, but among close primate relatives, only human males do not have one. To understand why, we would need to know the purpose of the baculum to begin with, and that’s where the problems start.
It might have something to do with sexual competition, because species that are more competitive tend to have bigger ones. Yet every guy who’s ever been in a nightclub with a low female count can attest that humans do not lack sexually competitive environments. It is possible that instead of the baculum, we developed other adaptations to competition, because our boneless members tend to be relatively large in comparison to our close relatives.
What’s an Erection?
Before we explain how a penis fracture occurs, let’s start with some basic anatomy. Getting a boner (without an actual bone) comes from our penises filling with blood. Specifically, blood fills two symmetrical chambers on each side of the penis called corpora cavernosa. Those then act as rods that give the phallus its desired shape, not unlike the bouncy inflatable castles you encounter at kids’ parties. On the inside, the chambers are divided from the rest of penile tissue.
How Can You Fracture an Erect Penis?
If an engorged penis is bent suddenly or forcefully, the trauma can rupture the outer lining of one of the two cylinders. This can result in a penis fracture. To explain even more, trauma to an erect penis results in increased pressure in the cavernosa. This increased pressure, in turn, results in the rupture of the tunica albuginea, which is the outer lining of the caveronosa.
What Type of Trauma Causes This?
The trauma is most often caused by sexual intercourse, such as when the penis slips out of the vagina and is accidentally thrust into a partner’s pelvic bone or perineum. In fact, almost 60% of penile fractures occur this way. Some studies have found that this is most likely to occur in the women on top or rear entry position, but other studies show no sexual position is riskier than others. Other causes of penis fractures include rough, intense masturbation in which the penis is bent and falling and landing on an erect penis. Additionally, a cultural practice called taqaandan, in which the top of an erect penis is forcefully bent to relax an erection, can cause this.
It’s a Medical Emergency!
A penis that has been fractured will bulge and appear purple. Other signs and symptoms of a penis fracture include:
Immediate penile pain
A popping or cracking sound
Rapid loss of erection
Swelling in the penile shaft
Discoloration of the penile shaft due to bleeding underneath the skin
Sometimes the tube that drains urine from the body (urethra) is damaged as well, and blood might be visible at the urinary opening of the penis.
A penis fracture requires urgent medical attention. Prompt surgical repair is typically recommended.
Left untreated, a penis fracture might result in a curved penis or the permanent inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sex (erectile dysfunction).
So, while no one likes to think of their penis breaking, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms so if this rare occurrence happens to you, you know what to do–that is, get to the ER immediately!