There are some people who prefer a little pain with their pleasure. As long as it's consensual, a light bit of choking or a little spank here and there can be super hot. But when it comes to the thoroughly unsexy pain of friction burn, people with penises everywhere are cringing hard. And who can blame them?
According to Dr. Alex Shteynshlyuger, MD, director of urology at New York Urology Specialists, friction burns or lacerations on the penis are pretty common. “Usually, there are little, tiny cuts to the foreskin. Sometimes, they're bigger, but usually, they're tiny,” Dr. Shteynshlyuger tells Elite Daily. “Sometimes, there's burning or pain. Occasionally, there's bleeding, as well, but not always."
In an ideal world, we’d never have to follow the word “lacerations” with any form of genitalia, because, owie. But here we are. The genitals are sensitive areas to begin with, so even the smallest wounds can be really painful. That being said, this is one of those issues that sounds way more serious than it typically is. For starters, the name “friction burn” is slightly misleading. A tender, red, inflamed penis after vigorous masturbation or sex is typically not an indication of a severe burn — just a situation that requires some rest.
If you or your partner has ever experienced penis friction burn, read on for more about how to treat it and how to prevent it from ever happening again.
What Causes Friction Burn?
Basically, if you notice little cuts or even just some burning or pain on your penis, you might be dealing with friction burn. Vigorous sexual activity is one cause. Dr. Adeeti Gupta, NYC-based OBGYN and founder of Walk IN GYN Care, says that it could also be due to lack of lubrication during sex. For penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex, insufficient vaginal secretions due to age or lack of arousal, as well as vaginal infections (like thrush) or foreign bodies in the vagina (like a menstrual disc) could have an impact.
Other causes could include allergic reactions, swimming, and poor hygiene. Dr. Shteynshlyuger adds that certain patients might have skin and medical conditions (like a compromised immune system due to diabetes) that predispose them to friction burn.
“Sometimes, they get a balanitis (inflammation or infection of foreskin), which causes a breakdown in skin,” he tells Elite Daily. “Lacerations are fairly common in men with diabetes. Fungal and bacterial infections can also make men predisposed to friction burn.”
Uncircumcised penises also run a higher risk of getting friction burn because of “increased surface area” and “skin that is more susceptible to laceration.”
According to Dr. Shteynshlyuger, however, it’s easy enough to get a circumcision procedure at the urologist's office if the friction burn is a consistent problem. He says the procedure, which is done under local anesthesia and lasts less than an hour, is usually curative.
Is There A Chance It’s Actually An STI?
Dr. Shteynshlyuger warns that friction burn symptoms can often be similar to those of syphilis. "It's recommended to get tested every year for all men — certainly if they've had multiple partners," he says. “Syphilis can give you little cuts [that resemble those of a friction burn] and opening ulcerations, for example. Herpes can give you similar [ones] — not exactly similar, but they can be mistaken [for friction burn].”
If you’re concerned that there’s a chance your sore penis is a sign of an STI, book a test ASAP and treat yourself to a comprehensive check-up with your doc.
How Do You Treat It?
The best thing you can do to treat your penis when dealing with friction burn is to let it breathe. According to Dr. Shteynshlyuger, cuts from friction burn are usually minor and “heal spontaneously without the need for any care other than a few days 'off' to let the area cool off."
If you suspect that it might be an infection, however, Dr. Shteynshlyuger recommends taking swift action.
“Usually, the less you put on the better. Certainly, if there's an infection, a topical antibiotic, like a triple antibiotic, [could help],” he says. If it’s not infected, “just a simple petroleum jelly to keep it lubricated or moist is helpful — something without too many chemicals. Oftentimes, the simpler, the better. And certainly keep the area clean, and give it a rest for a week or two.”
How Long Does It Take To Heal?
If you're healthy and the cut is small, it should only take about a week to heal on its own. But depending on your medical history, like if you have diabetes, it could take longer.
"If it doesn't heal in a week or so, it's probably a good idea to go see a urologist or primary care doctor to see if it's really just a cut, or if it's maybe a sexually transmitted disease, or if there's an underlying reason why it's not healing," Dr. Shteynshlyuger says.
Should You Have Sex While It’s Healing?
Dr. Shteynshlyuger encourages you to keep it in your pants while it's healing. "You have a laceration — a cut — and if you continue disturbing it, it will take longer to heal," he says. He adds that, should you continue to have sex with an existing case of friction burn, it’s likely that it will get so painful that you’ll have to give it a rest. “When you have pain, it's difficult to get an erection. Usually, the problem is self-limited to the extent that, once it gets too painful to get erections, no one would enjoy sex too much.”
When Should You Consider Seeing A Doctor?
If it doesn’t heal after a week, or if it’s a persistent issue, Dr. Shteynshlyuger urges you to talk to your doctor.
“If it happens once every three years it's one thing, but if it happens two or three times within a few months, then you should probably see a urologist and get evaluated to see what the problem is and how to solve it,” Dr. Shteynshlyuger says. “Unfortunately, some men suffer from these kinds of problems for years before they realize there's a treatment and a cure for this. Usually, this is treatable, and it can be treated very successfully.” If friction burn is making you miserable, call up your doctor and get it squared away.
How Do You Prevent Friction Burn From Happening Again?
While every case of friction burn is unique, Dr. Shteynshlyuger does cite condoms as a pretty effective way to avoid the dreaded reaction. Condoms can be especially effective for people with frenulum breve, a skin tag underneath the penis that attaches the foreskin to the glans. “If they use condoms and don't pull the foreskin back, it may not be a problem, but sometimes, when you stop using condoms, and your foreskin gets pulled back, [you] can have bleeding.” Lube (lots and lots of lube) can also be a major help in neutralizing all that painful friction for all involved.
Overall, if you’re feeling uneasy about those tiny lacerations on your penis, the doctor recommends getting them checked out for good measure.
“It's very hard to give generic advice. Everyone's situation is different,” Dr. Shteynshlyuger says. “We don't want to limit someone's sexual activity when they're not even susceptible to this problem. When this happens, it's a good time to see a urologist and figure out why it's happening and address it.”
So while it may be uncomfortable, friction burn itself is really NBD — just do your due diligence and make sure it’s not something more serious disguised as a harmless rash.
Dr. Alex Shteynshlyuger, MD, director of urology at New York Urology Specialists
Dr. Adeeti Gupta, NYC-based OBGYN and founder of Walk IN GYN Care, the nation's first walk-in center for complete women's health
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