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Here’s a fun fact: The penis contains 4,000 nerve endings in the glans (or head) alone (UCSB, 2017). It’s highly sensitive; you’re not imagining it. Here’s a less fun fact: For various reasons, you can experience a loss of sensation in the penis (and because of all those nerve endings, you’ll probably be tipped off soon after it happens). Read on to find out why this happens and what you can do about it.
- A loss of sensation in the penis can be caused by injury, disease, or medication.
- There are a number of things you can do to correct it.
- One study found that a majority of long-distance cyclists reported penile numbness.
- If you’re experiencing penile numbness, consult a healthcare provider.
What is penile numbness?
Penile numbness is a loss of sensation in the penis. You might feel less sensation than you’re used to or no sensation at all.
The importance of penis sensitivity
You can lose sensation in your penis for a lot of reasons—even during oral sex or penetration. Erections are complicated. You need all of the following things to go right in order to get an erection and keep sensation in the penis:
- Mental and physical sexual stimulation
- Adequate testosterone levels (and other hormones)
- Precise transmission of messages through the nervous system
- And clean, well-functioning blood vessels in the penis and throughout the body
- You even have to have healthy lungs and heart to engage in sex to the point of orgasm
Anything wrong in any of those systems can interfere with getting and maintaining an erection. Most importantly, many of those health problems can also alter how the penis responds or “feels.” If you’re noticing a loss of sensation in the penis, talk to a doctor about what might be causing your erectile dysfunction.
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Signs and symptoms of penile numbness
If you’re experiencing penile numbness, you might have any of the following symptoms:
- Loss of sensation in penis, testicles or the perineum (the area between the testicles and anus)
- Tingling feeling in the penis
- Coldness in the penis or testicles
- Bluish or purple skin on or around the penis
These symptoms may also be the result of other, potentially dangerous conditions. If any of these are occurring to you, seek medical attention.
5 reasons you’re losing sensitivity in your penis (if you lose an erection during sex)
Injury to the penis
Damaged blood vessels can reduce penis sensitivity. This damage can occur if the penis is somehow injured or after surgery for conditions like prostate cancer (Sharp, 2011).
Some men who cycle frequently or for long distances can experience penile numbness. That’s because bicycle seats can compress nerves and blood vessels in the perineum. In one study of this phenomenon, 70% of long-distance cyclists had reduced penile blood flow, 61% reported numbness in the area, and 19% reported having erectile dysfunction (ED) (Sommer, 2001).
Low testosterone can cause a loss of sexual desire and stimulation to the genitals might not initiate the typical response that leads to an erection.
Side effect of medication
Some medications, like antidepressants, can cause penile numbness (Higgins, 2010).
Medical conditions that affect or interfere with the nerves—such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Peyronie’s disease, and prostate cancer—may cause numbness in the penis.
Psychological issues such as depression, stress, and anxiety can interfere with sexual desire and sensations (Seidman, 2002).
How to regain sensation in the penis
Treat low T
Just because nerve endings register “touch” doesn’t mean that it always triggers “arousal.” And arousal—not just sensation—is crucial to getting and keeping an erection. Low testosterone can cause a loss of sexual desire, and stimulation to the genitals might not initiate the typical response that leads to an erection. The penis might sense “touch” in the same way, but that unique sexual sensation that leads to an erection and orgasm is missing.
A doctor can check your testosterone levels with a simple blood test. Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is an FDA-approved way to increase testosterone and treat the symptoms of low testosterone, including reduced sex drive and sensation. Testosterone therapy can be administered in these ways:
- Skin patch
- Surgically implanted pellets
Address your physical and mental health
Similarly, depression and other emotional issues like stress and anxiety can interfere with sensations being felt as sexual, so erections don’t occur. Even damaged blood vessels can reduce penis sensitivity. When your blood vessels don’t function it can prevent erections from reaching their full capacity. And partially erect penises just aren’t as sensitive as full erections.
If you’re a frequent cyclist and suspect it might be causing penile numbness, you can wear padded bike shorts, stand up frequently when cycling, and change your bike seat to one that puts less pressure on the perineum. A “no-nose” bike seat can protect against sexual dysfunction, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC, 2009).
Manage any diseases and medication
If you have diabetes, complying with medication, and recommended lifestyle changes can help prevent nerve damage, including to the penis.
If you have Peyronie’s disease, your doctor might prescribe collagenese clostridium histolyticum (brand name Xiaflex), which breaks down the excess collagen that’s forming scar tissue in the penis and reducing sensation.
If medication, such as an antidepressant, is causing decreased sensation in your genitals, you can consult with your healthcare provider about switching to another drug.
- CDC – NIOSH Publications and Products – No-nose Saddles for Preventing Genital Numbness and Sexual Dysfunction from Occupational Bicycling (2009-131). (2014, June 6). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2009-131/default.html
- Higgins, A. (2010). Antidepressant-associated sexual dysfunction: impact, effects, and treatment. Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety, 141. doi: 10.2147/dhps.s7634, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21701626
- Sharp, H. J., Swanson, D. A., Patel, H., Gorbatiy, V., Frenzel, J. C., & Frank, S. J. (2011). Subacute penile numbness after brachytherapy for prostate cancer. Brachytherapy, 10(1), 64–67. doi: 10.1016/j.brachy.2010.02.197, https://mdanderson.elsevierpure.com/en/publications/subacute-penile-numbness-after-brachytherapy-for-prostate-cancer
- Seidman, S. N. (2002). Exploring the relationship between depression and erectile dysfunction in aging men. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11964139
- Sommer, F., König, D., Graf, C., Schwarzer, U., Bertram, C., Klotz, T., & Engelmann, U. (2001). Impotence and Genital Numbness in Cyclists. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 22(6), 410–413. doi: 10.1055/s-2001-16248, https://europepmc.org/article/med/11531032
- University of California-Santa Barbara Department of Sociology. Anatomy of the Penis: SexInfo Online. (2017). Retrieved from https://sexinfo.soc.ucsb.edu/article/penis-0