Erectile dysfunction

Updated 19 June 2014

Your penis

There is no other part of the male body that has caused as much controversy, doubt, and confusion as this dangle (or hard-on).


OK, every man should know what the penis is, and what it is used for. If you haven't figured this out, then you need serious help. There is no other part of the male body that has caused as much controversy, doubt, and confusion as this dangle (or hard-on).

How it works
The penis is a really remarkable piece of work. It is actually shaped like a wishbone, with a Y-shaped end anchored deeply and firmly within your abdomen. The ends are attached to the pubic bone. So while it seems benign when flaccid, it can be steered from the hip when erect.

The penis has three primary functions. Namely, to hose urine in any direction you choose, to fill with blood and become engorged enough to enter an erotic area, and to deliver its payload of semen (containing sperm) into the vagina, where it can help make a baby.

Inside the penis are three chambers running the length of the shaft. Two sit side by side on the top and are spongy so they can accommodate the blood that is pumped into them. The third chamber runs along the underside and accommodates the urethra, which leads from the bladder to the outside world. It also transports semen.

The two big chambers are called corpora cavernosa, worth knowing, since it is this part of your sex submarine that floods when it's time for some steamy action. During arousal, blood gushes into the corpora cavernosa, filling them and pinching closed the blood vessels that drain them. Your brain will send a signal to release them. This depends entirely on what you're feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting or even dreaming at the time. Take a look at our erection animation.

Your happy helmet
Situated at the head of the penis is the glans. This contains many nerve endings and is the part where the penis is most stimulated during intercourse or masturbation. If you are one of those uncut folk, the glans is covered by the foreskin.

When you climax, an exhilarating squirt of adrenaline races into your bloodstream and muscles force semen out through your urethra into the big wide world. The adrenaline relaxes the blood vessels that drain the penis and shuts down the big arteries feeding the erection, and the penis goes back to normal.

Every man knows that he should take care where he puts his willy in order to protect himself from sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Wear a condom. Also handle your member with care. Having a fractured sosatie is definitely not desirable. If it has been forced the wrong way suddenly, particularly while it's excited, you could land up with a penile fracture. This is when the tissue in the erectile chamber tears. It is generally not painful, but you will land up with a crooked erection, and a penis that looks more like a rotten banana than anything else. Get it checked out if this happens.

Many men also suffer disabilities to their manhood. Erectile dysfunction (previously called impotence) is the inability to get or maintain an erection that is sufficient to ensure satisfactory sex for both partners. There are many possible causes to this condition. The good news is that erectile dysfunction can usually be effectively treated by your doctor.

Then you may get men who suffer from priapism. In layman's terms, it is basically an erection that will not subside. This can be caused by anti-impotence drugs, and could be dangerous, possibly causing permanent damage to your penis. If an erection lasts for more than four hours, you need to get to a doctor immediately.

And lastly, have respect for your shaft. It is after all only flesh and blood. Those desperate folk who attempt to pleasure themselves by putting their penis in the pipe of their vacuum cleaner, or using two belt sanders and a bottle of hand cream, could end up in hospital, severely embarrassed.

Interesting facts

  • The average man experiences five erections during a night's sleep. It seems to be your body's way of ensuring that oxygenated blood continues to flow through the penis, and this helps keep the penile arteries clean
  • The skin of your member is susceptible to heat and moisture, which can cause heat rash or fungal infections. Treat it with respect, soap and water, clean underwear, and over-the-counter remedies when needed. Talcum powder before a sweaty workout can help prevent the dreaded jock itch
  • Having sex, or masturbating regularly is regarded as a primary way of keeping your Tweedle Dum in shape. Cleaning your pipes regularly promotes good blood flow and is also a marvelous reliever of stress
  • Measuring the size of a flaccid penis should never be done. Penises come in many different shapes, curves and sizes. And when it is cold outside, your member could look like a prune. The true measurements should be done when you have an erection. The average penis length for white males is around 16 cm, so if you don't quite measure up, don't worry: penis size has relatively little to do with one's capacity to provide pleasure. If only everyone could understand that size doesn’t really matter.



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Ask the Expert

Erectile Dysfunction Expert

Dr Kenny du Toit is a urologist practicing in Rondebosch, Cape Town. He is also consultant at Tygerberg hospital, where he is a senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University. He is a member of the South African Urological Association, Colleges of Medicine South Africa and Société Internationale d’Urologie. Board registered with both the HPCSA (Health professions council of South Africa) and GMC (General medical council UK). He has a keen interest in oncology, kidney stones and erectile dysfunction.

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