Most Penis Injuries Are Very Preventable
These are some of the most common ways that men injure themselves through sex and masturbation—and how to avoid their fate.
In 2016, the late Bill Margold, a porn icon who started acting in hardcore films in 1972—on a rug in a garage in Venice, California that a giant gold cat had recently pissed on—told me the story of how, in the spirit of cleanliness and responsibility, he accidentally altered his penis. As a “good Jewish boy,” he said, he believed he should both urinate and wash his dick off immediately after sex. “The problem was—or, I guess it was a problem” he added, “that I washed my dick off with Aqua Velva,” the classic men’s aftershave. “I was,” he explained, “an Aqua Velva man.”
It stung, he recalled, as something with a high alcohol content would tend to do when in contact with sensitive tissue, like the glans. (Lore holds that sailors used to drink Aqua Velva when they couldn’t get booze.) But he muscled through the pain until he just couldn’t feel the sting anymore. By then, he added, he hadn’t only de-sensitized himself; the tip of his penis “started turning a little tan.”
Margold’s tale, like many from the early days of modern porn, may seem extreme. But it’s really not. Whether out of twisted beliefs about hygiene, masturbatory urges and a sense of expediency, sheer curiosity, or any other number of motives, men slather their penises in all manner of strange chemicals—often repeatedly. And that’s just the tip of manifold and varied forms of casual abuse to which we subject our members in search of sexual pleasure, prowess, or even just a cure to erotic or everyday boredom. We often get away with such self-torture because the penis is a resilient organ. It is so well supplied with blood, a vital force for healing, explains Weill Cornell urologist Darius Paduch, MD, Ph.D., that even if we suffer cuts and abrasions, “the tendency to heal a penis is very good.”
But the penis is, somewhat paradoxically, also extremely sensitive. The skin of the shaft, explains Jesse Mills, MD, a urologist the UCLA Men’s Clinic, “is about as thin as that of the eyelid—very thin and very sensitive.” And the glans, a special sort of tissue not unlike that of the urethra, according to Ryan Terlecki, MD, a urologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health, “is especially sensitive to inflammation and irritation.” So for all that the penis can endure, it is also shockingly easy, especially through over-eager or under-thought masturbation, for men to seriously damage their penises. That can lead to short-to-long-term, and in some cases even permanent, changes in their texture, appearance, and sensory functioning. “It’s a very common complaint in my clinic,” stresses Mills. “I see tons of guys in their 20s and 30s who say, ‘I can’t feel my penis anymore—and most of the time,” it’s because of some self-induced damage to their tissue.