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Last updated November 21, 2019. 2 minute read

Yes, "blue balls" is a real thing (and it's usually easy to treat)

Blue balls are real.The condition is caused by excess blood remaining in the penis and testicles during erection for a prolonged time without sexual release. Blue balls aren’t dangerous, and there’s a pretty simple remedy.

Self Written by Michael Martin
Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

“Blue balls” is used as a figure of speech to indicate frustration so often that it has an abstract, almost mythical status. But blue balls are a very real medical condition — trust us, experience it once, and you’ll be a believer. (But we don’t wish it on anyone.)

Vitals

  • Blue balls are real.
  • The condition is caused by excess blood remaining in the penis and testicles during erection for a prolonged time without sexual release.
  • Blue balls aren’t dangerous, and there’s a pretty simple remedy.
  • Women can experience the condition too.

What are blue balls?

“Blue balls,” also known as epididymal hypertension (EH), is an uncomfortable condition that results from having an erection for a prolonged period of time without ejaculation. It is, in fact, a real thing. Here’s why blue balls happens, and how to deal with it.

Why do people get blue balls?

The penis and testicles contain thousands of blood vessels that expand and fill with blood during an erection. We all know that the penis stiffens, but the testicles also increase a bit in size. After orgasm (or a decline in arousal), the blood flows back into the body.

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But when that excess blood stays in the genitals for a long time without being released, that increased blood pressure (the “hypertension” in the medical term) can get painful, leading to an ache in the testicles not-so-fondly known as blue balls. This can happen during sexual activity with a partner or an extended masturbation session (a.k.a. edging) without ejaculating.

Signs and symptoms of blue balls

The symptoms of blue balls can include:

  • Heaviness in the scrotum
  • An aching sensation
  • Testicular pain or mild discomfort
  • Possibly, a faint blue tint

Curiously, the first peer-reviewed paper on blue balls wasn’t published until October 2000. The researchers theorized that it’s caused by blood flowing into the genitals and not flowing out, leading to swelling, particularly in the epididymis (the tubes behind the testicles, which store and transports sperm.) “Perhaps if this persists and testicular venous drainage is slowed, pressure builds and causes pain,” the researchers wrote. “Is epididymal distension the cause of the pain? As with any disease entity, there is probably a spectrum of pain with ‘blue balls’ varying from brief, mild discomfort to severe, sustained pain.” (Chalett & Nerenberg, 2000)

Myths about blue balls

Myth #1: Blue balls are dangerous.

This is not true. Although blue balls can feel distressing, it’s a fairly common, innocuous condition that’s easily resolved by having an orgasm.

Myth #2: Blue balls always look blue.

Any blueish hue that results from blue balls is usually subtle and may not happen at all.

Myth #3: It just happens to men.

Nope. Though this phenomenon hasn’t been described by researchers, it appears that women can get “blue vulva” from sexual frustration as well — during sexual arousal, increased blood flow makes the vulva and clitoris swell slightly. When the blood is “trapped” too long by extended arousal without sexual release, discomfort or pain could result.

Treatment options for blue balls

This is a fairly easy one: Ejaculate. Having an orgasm will release excess blood from the genitals and resolve blue balls.

If your testicles ache or feel heavy that won’t go away or isn’t related to blue balls, consult your healthcare provider or a urologist.