What is an Erection?
This ought to be SUCH a common question, yet the the truth is that VERY FEW of my clients ever come out and ask me this!!
But when I take the time to explain it, to people with vaginas and with penises, they are Floored and thrilled with the information. And, YES, people with vaginas get erections, too!!
So what is an erection, you ask? Let’s learn more, together!
What is an Erection?
An erection occurs when a person is stimulated physically or in thought (or in the case of teenagers, sometimes for no reason whatsoever!), and the arteries and blood vessels that bring new blood to the penis or clitoris engorge, while the veins constrict.
This ‘engorges’ the sex organ and causes the erection.
News Flash for those in the back:
Both penises AND vaginas get erections!!
Erections indicate health of the cardiovascular system (read this blog post about how Erectile Dysfunction in people with penises can be an early sign of cardiovascular disease), AND the pelvic floor musculoskeletal system.
The most common musculoskeletal cause of Erectile Dysfunction is hypertonicity of the pelvic floor muscles. This is also the most common cause of pelvic pain and urinary and fecal urgency and leakage!
But I digress–let’s start by understanding “the thing” which, today, is erections!
Let’s break erections down,
Starting with Penises
A penis is made up of two chambers called the corpora cavernous, which are full of spongelike blood vessels, and run the whole length of the penis.
The urethra (pee and sperm whole in this case) runs along the underside of this sponge-like tissue.
When aroused, and the arteries engorge, and the veins constrict, the corpora cavernous (spongy-part) is filled up with blood, causing the erection.
For those of you playing Jeopardy at home, a membrane called the tunica albuginea is also involved here.
After ejaculation (the mechanics of that are for another post, friends), the veins that had constricted, holding blood in the penis, now relax, and the erection ends.
And what about vaginas?
The clitoris actually has a very similar erection mechanics to a penis. It has a pair of corpus cavernous that engorge to become erect.
The clitoris actually has about 8,000 nerves in it, as compared to 4,000 in a penis and 3,000 in a finger…I made this fun IG post about it last year. The clitoris grows up to 300% during a typical erection, and this can sometimes take longer than a penis to become fully erect (foreplay, anyone)?
It should stay erect until climax, then, like the penis, the corpus cavernous returns to normal sponginess and clitoris returns to normal size.
At least that’s what supposed to happen…
In ED, that might not happen. And for the purposes of ‘easiness of understanding’, let’s focus on erectile issues for people with penises (because they’re easier to see and envision, really).
We might not be able to attain an erection. Of if we get one, it might be too soft to be useful….OR it might dissipate before we ejaculate 🙁
If the pelvic floor muscles are to blame, they are often too hypertonic (meaning squeezing themselves, and the penis parts all the damn time). Since they are ALWAYS constructing, the general penile tissue has low health, and therefore doesn’t have the strength or endurance to support an erection formation (or endurance), and also might not have the muscular power required for orgasm or ejaculation.
The good news is that Pelvic Floor PT is ludicrously effective at improving pelvic floor muscle health and strength in clients with ED!! Try these basic awareness exercises sitting on a towel, or these down training exercises to improve tissue health.
For you fellow geeks out there: here’s one study that shows that PT helps with ED, the Dorey RCT: Dorey G, Speakman M, Feneley R, Swinkels A, Dunn C, Ewings P. Randomised controlled trial of pelvic floor muscle exercises and manometric biofeedback for erectile dysfunction. Br J Gen Pract. 2004 Nov;54(508):819-25. PMID: 15527607; PMCID: PMC1324914.
Thanks for reading. Please share with someone who needs this.
If you’re interested in seeing a Pelvic PT, here’s a blog post on how to find one near you, and here’s a blog post on how it can help with standard ED, and finally one on how it can help reduce leaks and improve sexy-time after prostatectomy!!
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