Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Erections But Were Too Embarrassed To Ask

You probably only think of your partner’s erection when you’re in the mood for sex and hope he’ll rise to the occasion. But there are loads more to know about erections — and they’re not just a sign the guy’s aroused. Here are some facts to get under your belt.

What happens during an erection?

Arousal begins in the brain and causes chemicals called nitric oxide to be released. This stimulates muscle enzymes to produce cyclic guanine monophosphate, which increases blood vessel size so that more blood can reach the penis. It also decreases the size of blood vessels that carry blood out of the penis. Sounds quite technical, sure, but that’s how it works. Voilà — he’s got an erection!

It goes without saying that when a guy does get hard, his penis becomes more sensitive to touch and other feelings (such as your mouth). That will only make him more turned on, which in turn can make his erection harder, etc. It’s a pretty cool (if naughty) feedback loop.

There are three types of erections.

You might be like, “Uh, no there aren’t!” but there totally are. Get ready to have your mind blown.

  1. Psychogenic erections These are erections that occur as a result of sexual arousal or stimulation, whether physical or mental. They’re triggered by the release of hormones such as testosterone, which stimulate blood flow to the penis, causing it to become erect. In other words, this is basically your garden variety erection that you’re used to encountering.
  2. Reflexogenic erections These are erections that occur in response to physical stimulation of the penis or surrounding area, such as touch or vibration. They’re triggered by the activation of nerve pathways that send signals to the penis, which make it hard. In other words, these kind are unconscious and not a direct result of being DTF.
  3. Nocturnal erections You’ve heard of them before and, if you’ve lived with a guy, you’ve probably even seen one for yourself. These happen during the REM phase of sleep and can actually be good for his health since they’re apparently helpful for maintaining erectile tissue. And no, they don’t mean he’s going to wake up and want to have sex. He’s likely not even aware it’s happening.

Erections get bigger during oral sex.

Research from Indiana University and published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men who were aroused by oral sex had bigger erections (yes, they were measured!) than those of men who had erections from fantasizing about getting it on. No surprises there — actual experiences are always going to outshine daydreaming about them.

“We don’t know if that means that when men have oral sex that it’s more arousing and they get a bigger erection, or means that men who have bigger penises could be getting more oral sex in the first place,” Debby Herbenick, lead researcher at Indiana University, told LiveScience. Very interesting!

Erections need good sleep, but they do better when the guy’s awake.

Not getting enough quality sleep means that erections could be affected. This is because a lack of sleep interrupts the nocturnal cycle of erections, which causes men to experience up to five erections during sleep — and each one lasts half an hour! Wow.

However, he has way more erections while he’s awake. The average guy will have 11 erections per day. And they’re not all because he’s aroused. There’s such a thing as the reflex erection, which is an involuntary erection that occurs when a man is nervous, stressed, scared, or angry. Other possible reasons for it are needing to urinate, recreational drug use, and an enlarged prostate.

The average erection size is way less than you’d think.

Everyone’s always got eight inches on the brain, but honestly, that’s not even close to being right. In reality, the average erection size is actually between 5.1 and 5.5 inches. That means contrary to popular belief (and what many guys would attest to), most guys aren’t gifted with incredibly large packages. Science proves it!

And while we’re talking about erections, you might be curious as to the average flaccid penis size. A guy’s individual size depends on several factors including age, ethnicity, and geographic location (yes, really). However, according to in-depth research published in the British Journal of Urology International in 2015, the average length of a flaccid penis is only 3.61 inches. Yes, really!

Some of his erection is hiding.

You might assume you’re seeing a guy’s entire erection, but you’re only seeing two-thirds of it. The other one-third is hidden, connected to the pubic arch. In other words, even if a guy seems to have a smaller than average penis, there’s more than meets the eye. Try to give him a little extra credit.

Scents can give him an erection.

There could be some truth to how powerful scents are in the bedroom. A study by the Smell and Taste Treatment Research Foundation in Illinois found that the smell of donuts and black licorice can increase blood flow to the penis by 32%, while pumpkin pie and lavender produce a 40% increase in blood flow to the penis! So if you want him to have an erection, maybe pass by the bakery before heading to his house?

Erections might prevent erectile dysfunction.

It sounds like a contradiction to say that erections can prevent erectile dysfunction (ED), but research backs it up. A study published in the American Journal Of Medicine found that when men had sex once a week it decreased their chance of ED by half. Interesting. Of course, that implies that sex is the key here rather than just having the erection. If he doesn’t do anything with it or simply waits for it to go away (fat chance, I know), this benefit doesn’t apply.

There are growers and showers.

shirtless guy in bediStock/PeopleImages

Don’t think that his flaccid penis is always a sign of how much (or little) his penis will grow when he’s got an erection. Some penises that are particularly large when flaccid don’t really change much in size when erect. They’re known as showers. Meanwhile, smaller penises could become much bigger when they’re aroused. Hello, growers!

Whether or not a guy’s erection makes him bigger or he’s already large and in charge in general makes little difference to what he can do with it, by the way.

Erect penises can fracture.

When his penis is erect and you’re having sex, it could get a fracture even though there are no bones in the penis. It happens to approximately 200 American men every year. What’s worse is that when a guy gets a penile fracture, it takes months to properly heal. Gulp!

A penile fracture typically occurs when the penis is forcibly bent or twisted during sexual activity. This can happen when the penis is struck against a hard object, when it’s bent in an awkward position during sex, or when you accidentally land on it when you’re having sex when you’re on top.

If there’s a popping sound following by immediate pain, swelling, bruising, or a bent appearance, these are all signs of a penis fracture. Get him to call his doctor if it happens!

A guy can orgasm without having an erection. Yes, really!

It sounds impossible for a guy to reach climax without first having an erection, but it can happen. He might not be properly aroused or only have half an erection but still manage to orgasm. How? All that a man needs to climax is normal skin sensations, according to the University Of California, Los Angeles (UCLA Health). Enough sexual stimulation, and he’ll be able to ejaculate. Damn, who knew?

He might not be thinking straight when he has an erection.

Know the joke that a man finds it hard to think when all the blood’s gushing to his junk? There might be truth to it. A study from MIT and Carnegie Mellon University found that when men were turned on, they suddenly viewed everything the scientists asked them as appealing. This included women’s shoes, the smell of cigarette smoke, and threesomes with another guy. Scarily, the aroused guys also said they worked harder to get sex from women, which sometimes included declaring undying (and fake) love or trying to get women drunk. We aren’t going to blame erections for that—the guys are total pricks!

Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.