A penis is a special organ—a man’s joy, if not pride—and certainly one of his most prized, appreciated and cherished possessions, to which he has a significant attachment. As multifunctional as a Swiss Army knife, it allows him to stand to urinate (an undervalued capability), rises and firms to the occasion to allow for sexual penetration, and ejaculates genetic material–the means to perpetuate the species. A marvel of hydraulic engineering, within nanoseconds of sexual stimulation it is uniquely capable of increasing its blood flow 50 times over baseline, transforming its shape and size. Penis magic!
Each and every penis is unique. As variable as snowflakes, they come in every size, shape, and color. Beyond “size matters”—often a source of male preoccupation—men are often obsessed, if not preoccupied, with the appearance of their genitals. In my interactions with patients, concerns are often voiced about symmetry, color, pigmentation, angulation, spots, blemishes, vein patterns, shrinkage, and other oddities. Unless you are in the habit of closely inspecting other men’s genitals (as urologists are), you are unlikely to realize how common and completely normal most of these genital variations are.
10 Common Penile “Flaws” You May Have That Are Actually Quite Normal
- Penis leans to one side. No human is perfectly symmetrical and the flaccid penis rarely hangs perfectly centered. Wherever your penis naturally lies when you are clothed—whether left or right—is not indicative of your political leaning or left vs. right-sided brain predominance and is of absolutely no significance or consequence whatsoever!Interesting trivia: “Throckmorton’s sign” is a term used jokingly by medical students, residents and attending physicians. A positive Throckmorton sign is when the penis points to the side of the body where the pathology is, e.g., if a man is getting surgery for a right groin hernia and the penis points to the right side. The Throckmorton sign indicates the proper side of the pathology at least 50% of the time! Operating room humor!
- Slight penile curvature when erect. Again, although perfect symmetry may be desirable, the norm for the erect penis is not to be perfectly straight. There is often a subtle bend to the left, right, up or down. Some men have a penis that has a banana-like curvature. Slight bends—considered totally normal—are to be distinguished from Peyronie’s disease, a condition in which there is significant angulation due to scarring of the sheaths of the erectile chambers. It is a potentially serious condition that can cause painful erections and erectile dysfunction.
- One testicle hangs lower. If you ever wondered why one of your testes is slightly bigger or heavier and hangs lower than the testes on the other side, you are in good company. Paralleling women with breast asymmetry, the vast majority of men have testes asymmetry, so your mismatched gonads are perfectly normal.
- Dark genital skin. Hyperpigmentation (darkening) of the median raphe (the line running from anus to perineum to scrotum to undersurface of the penis) and other areas of the penis is extremely common. In fact, it is normal for the penile skin color to be darker than other areas of the body, because of the effect of sex hormones on the cells that produce pigment (melanocytes). The circumcision line, as well, is often deeply pigmented
- Freckles, moles and skin tags. The penis is covered by skin–just like the rest of the body–and is therefore subject to common benign skin growths, including moles, freckles and skin tags. These are generally harmless and usually, do not require any treatment unless desired for cosmetic reasons. However, if you have a growth that changes in size, color or texture, you should have it checked out because penile cancers do occur on occasion. Skin tags are small fleshy protuberances and can be confused with genital warts, so if you have any doubt, get checked.
- Other penis and scrotal bumps and lumps. Pearly penile papules are raised “pearly” bumps that appear around the corona (the base of the head of the penis). They consist of one or more rows of small, fleshy, yellow-pink or transparent, smooth bumps surrounding the penile head. They are benign and do not cause harm, but sometimes are treated for cosmetic reasons, usually with freezing or lasering. Sebaceous glands produce oil that nourishes the hair follicles of the genitals. These glands appear as numerous small yellowish bumps on the scrotum and penile base. In some men, they are prominent and referred to as sebaceous gland hyperplasia. At times, they can exist without a hair follicle even being present. Regardless, they are a normal occurrence.
- Scattered scrotal spots. Angiokeratomas are benign purplish skin growths with a scaly surface that are not uncommonly present on the scrotum. They consist of dilated thin-walled blood vessels with overlying skin thickening. These skin lesions can occasionally bleed and also cause fear and anxiety since they can resemble more serious problems such as melanoma. If in any doubt, get it checked out.
- Veiny vanity. Every man has a unique penile venous pattern, the anatomy as unpredictable as the distinctive venous anatomy of the hand and wrist. In some men, the veins are twisted and prominent and in other men, they are barely noticeable. No matter what the pattern, venous anatomy is highly variable and individualized and is normal.
- Loose skin. Unlike most other skin on the body that is more tightly attached, penile skin is loosely attached to underlying tissues, allowing for expansion with erections. Since the physical state of the penis can vary from totally flaccid to totally rigid, when the penis is fully deflated, the skin may appear to be somewhat floppy and redundant, which is absolutely normal. Scrotal skin often becomes increasing lax with the aging process, such that the testicles typically hang quite low in the elderly male, paralleling the common situation of pendulous breasts of the elderly female.
- Shrinkage. Penile size in an individual is quite variable, based upon penile blood flow. The more blood flow, the more tumescence (swelling); the less blood flow, the less tumescence. “Shrinkage” can be provoked by exposure to cold (weather or water), the state of being anxious or nervous, and participation in sports. The mechanism in all cases involves temporarily reduced blood circulation. Don’t worry, that sorry and spent looking penis can magically be revived with some TLC!
Bottom line: If you have an imperfect penis…welcome to the club! No penis or scrotum is perfect. Far from being an object of beauty, genital imperfections are the norm, so there is no need for feeling self-conscious. Just be happy that your little “fella” can function properly and enjoy his own happiness from time to time! Function over form!
Written by Dr. Andrew Siegel