How Does Male Erection Work?

The male erection begins in the brain but the regulation of blood flow into, and out of, the penis is what makes an erection possible.

This may seem simple but there is a complex process behind getting an erection, meaning erection problems are unfortunately quite common among men.

What Is Male Erection?

Getting an erection is "a complex interaction of psychological, neural, vascular and endocrine factors, and is usually, though not exclusively, associated with sexual arousal or sexual attraction" (Wikipedia Opens in new window symbol).

Erect human penis
Courtesy of: via Wikimedia Commons

Physical or mental stimulation cause nerves in the brain to send chemical messages to nerves in the penis telling the penis blood vessels to relax so blood can flow freely into the penis. Muscle fibers in the arteries that supply the penis also relax, resulting in eightfold increase in blood flow to the penis.

As the tunica stretches, it blocks the veins that take blood away from the corpora cavernosa, meaning the blood comes trapped within the penis. This increased blood flow causes the penis to enlarge and stiffen, i.e. the penis is erect.

The pressure in the penis during erection is a least twice the pressure of the blood in the main circulation of the body.

The erection goes down when the pressure within the corpora cavernosa drops, relaxing the tunica and allowing blood to flow out of the penis, i.e. the penis becomes flaccid again.

Not all male erections are equal. Some erections are firmer than others are. How firm your erection is can depend on various things, e.g. the stimulation or your overall health.

Who Can Get Erection?

Male erection occurs throughout life. In principle, there is no start or ending point.

The first erection actually happens before birth. All boys have frequent erections (if not there is a problem). Young boy erection is involuntary but necessary reflex.

Theoretically, men are also able to have erection well into their old age. Most men though experience some erection problems in late life, usually because of other health problems, like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.

When Can You Get Erection?

Male erections can happen anytime, day or night. Erections during sleep or when waking up are known as nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT).

Nocturnal erections are actually the easiest way to determine if impotence has physical or emotional cause as all physically healthy males experience them when dreaming (regardless of what they are dreaming about).

Waking up with an erection means you have woken up during or just after having a dream.

How Long Does Male Erection Last?

In principle, erection only needs to last long enough for the man to have sexual intercourse and ejaculate. This would not have to take so long, few minutes would be sufficient.

However, to participate in foreplay and engage in mutually satisfying sexual intercourse men need / want the erection to last longer than the bare minimum.

Most healthy men can sustain an erection for prolonged period, estimated on average around 30 – 45 minutes.

The erection may go down during prolonged foreplay. This is perfectly normal and does not mean he is losing his interest.

Erection In Public

Men have only limited control over their erections, meaning embarrassing erections can happen... and do happen.

Young men are more prone to getting unwanted erection in public. In time, most men learn to suppress public erections, i.e. when the stimulation in mild. However, man receiving strong sexual stimulation in public might not be able to avoid embarrassing public erection.

Erection Problems

One thing is to learn to suppress embarrassing erection in public, another thing is to get an erection on demand.

Sexual stimulation is the best way to get an erection but there is not guarantee. You cannot "will" an erection.

Erection problems can have both physical and psychological causes.

Erectile Dysfunction is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfying sexual activity.

Erectile dysfunction is thought to have physical causes in 80-90% of all cases, especially in older men. Erection problems can also have psychological causes, e.g. depression, stress, relationship problems, etc.

Male erection problems usually do not affect man's sex drive, i.e. loss of libido is a separate penis health problem.
Getting an erection is one thing, ejaculating is another…