Penile Fractures: More Than a Sex Myth on 'Grey's Anatomy'

Doctors say men can suffer penile fractures, but they can be repaired.

January 23, 2009, 12:45 PM

Jan. 23, 2009 — -- Can a penis break? It's the question everyone is asking.

The answer, unfortunately, is a definite yes.

Thursday night's episode of "Grey's Anatomy" in which a doctor suffered a fractured penis during intercourse with a colleague, pushed "penile fracture" to the top of the list of most-searched terms on Google, the likely result of men and their partners panicking at the thought of such apainful and embarrassing injury.

Dr. Darius Paduch, a urologist at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center, has treated multiple penile fractures and told that broken penises are often reported after a couple engages in adventurous sex.

"The circumstances that lead to a penile fracture are more exciting than usual," Paduch said. "Most reported cases happen when the woman is on top of the man or when the woman is sitting on a desk and the man is facing her and is suddenly pushing his penis into the desk [by mistake]."

For Dr. Mark Sloane on "Grey's Anatomy," the woman-on-top position is exactly what did him in.

Paduch, who treats around four fractured penises a year, said that penile fractures are usually accompanied by a "popping sound" and then an immediate loss of erection for the man.

"The penis will become deformed; it actually looks kind of grotesque," said Paduch, who described the shape of a fractured penis as a "boomerang."

Paduch compared a fractured penis to a boat's sail that has a rip in it and needs to be sewn back together to regain its function.

"What happens is the penis is made of two spongelike bodies, which fill up with blood when you have an erection and that's what gives penises rigidity," Paduch said. "When it's really overbent or when you apply too much pressure, the penis can break and what is breaking is the layer of fiber sheath, which can be likened to a sail."

Dr. Ira Sharlip, the spokesman for the American Urological Association, said that in addition to the popping sound that occurs at the time of injury, the penis will also be swollen and quite painful.

"There is no blood on the surface, only underneath the skin," Sharlip said. "A lump appears underneath the skin because the blood has been forced out of the erection chamber and through the laceration."

But sex isn't the only way a man can break his penis, warns Paduch, who says that any time the penis is hit while erect, damage can occur.

For example, Paduch said it is possible for a penis to break during a fall down the stairs but a man has to be erect at the time.

"The penis needs to be rigid," Paduch said. "If it's flaccid, you cannot have a penile fracture."

Paduch recently treated a football player who injured his penis during a game.

"He had an erection during the play and was hit in the genitals by another player's helmet and, believe it or not, fractured his penis," Paduch said.

How to Treat a Penile Fracture

Fractures of the penis that go untreated, said Paduch, might lead to serious complications down the line.

"Men need to know that this cannot be treated with ice or Tylenol," Paduch said. "If the injury goes untreated they are likely to suffer from longtime erectile dysfunction, chronic pain and develop deformation."

Paduch said that he has seen men with very mild fractures who didn't have very much pain and avoided the doctor. But the injury got worse for these patients when they continued having sex.

"The small bruise developed scarring in the penis and was then very difficult to treat," Paduch said.

In the more extreme cases, the urethra -- the tube that carries urine -- can be injured if a penile fracture is not treated.

Surgery is the only way to fix a broken penis and will almost always result in the man's regained sexual function. A recovery time of about six weeks is typical, said Paduch, before the patient can have sex again.

Sharlip, who also practices urology at the University of California San Francisco, said men who suffer from penile fractures are often in their 20s or 30s and are completely unaware of the injury.

"They come into the emergency room and they can't believe this has happened to them because they're young and healthy and very embarrassed," Sharlip said.

"It's important to remember this is a minor injury because it's repairable and that men can go completely back to normal after surgery."