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What Is an Erection? A First-Timer’s Guide to Getting Hard

Got questions about erections? Like why do they happen, and usually at the most random times?

Or what the heck is dribbling out of it? And what’s up with raging semis?

Keep reading, because we’re answering all of your burning questions here. (Not that your boner should burn, BTW.)

So, what exactly is it?

An erection — or boner, wood, or chubby, if you prefer — is a hardening of the penis.

Most of the time, the penis is flaccid and just hangs around minding its own business.

During an erection, it becomes temporarily engorged with blood and enlarged. This makes it feel stiff and causes it to stand up and away from the body.

Why does it happen?

Sexual arousal is often the reason, which is caused by seeing, feeling, or even thinking of something that turns you on.

Erections can also happen for no particular reason. There’s actually a name for these random boners: spontaneous erections.

So if you get a stiffy while watching a documentary on slugs, it’s just a penis doing what a penis does and it’s NBD.

It’s also normal to wake up with morning wood, whether you’ve had a sex dream or not.HEALTHLINE NEWSLETTERGet our twice-weekly Women’s Wellness email

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How does it work?

To know how an erection works, we need to start with a little lesson on penis anatomy.

There are two chambers that run the length of your penis called the corpora cavernosa. Each contains a maze of blood vessels that create sponge-like spaces.

When those blood vessels relax and open, blood rushes through and fills them, causing the penis to engorge, creating an erection.

A membrane around the corpora cavernosa helps trap the blood so your D stays hard.

Erections aren’t just about the penis, though. Your brain plays a role, too.

When you get aroused, your brain sends signals to your penis that cause the muscles in it to relax and let the blood in.

Does everyone get them?

Everyone with a penis does.

That said, certain lifestyle factors can make it difficult for you to get an erection, like being tired, stressed, or intoxicated.

Certain medications and medical conditions can also cause erectile dysfunction.

Does it hurt?

It shouldn’t. Mostly boners just make you super aware of your D when you don’t generally really feel it or think about it otherwise.

However, there are some instances when an erection might be uncomfortable.

Pee boners are an example of this. They happen because your penis is designed to not let you wet yourself. It’s quite marvelous, really. Try to pee when you’re still hard and you’ll feel the burn.

Excessive or especially vigorous masturbation can also cause some discomfort down there. So, if your pain starts after you’ve been especially heavy-handed lately, giving your penis a rest should help.

Otherwise, an underlying medical condition or injury can cause painful erections. If you have penis pain, a trip to a healthcare provider is in order.

What if stuff starts coming out? Is that normal?

Totally normal — assuming that what’s coming out isn’t bloody, green, or yellow, or has a dank stank to it. (Those are all signs of an STI or other infection.)

Barring those things, what you’re seeing is either ejaculate or pre-ejaculate — or precum, as most people call it.

Ejaculation typically happens during orgasm. This is when your arousal builds and leads to an intense, feels-so-good release that’s accompanied by ejaculate shooting from your penis.

That said, it’s possible to orgasm without ejaculating. It’s also possible to ejaculate without having an O.

That thin, slippery fluid that dribbles out of your D when you’re hard before ejaculation is called precum. It happens to anyone with a penis and is no biggie.

An FYI about precum: It can contain a small amount of sperm and therefore can cause pregnancy.

What’s the point of all this?

The point of an erection is so you can partake in penetrative sex.

Granted, you don’t need to have penetrative sex if you don’t want to, but in order to be able to get it in there — whether there is a vagina or anus — you need to at least be a bit hard.

Penetration without an erection is kind of like pushing rope.

How do you make it go away?

The penis is designed to lose an erection once you’ve ejaculated, so that’s one way.

Other than ejaculating, you may be able to able to make it go away by eliminating the source of stimulation, like:

  • shifting positions (or your boner) so your jeans or thighs aren’t rubbing it
  • thinking about something else, preferably something nonsexual
  • distracting yourself by reading anything in sight or counting backward

You can also just wait it out and hide it in the meantime by holding something over it, like your bag or jacket. If your shirt is long enough, you can try untucking it (the shirt, not the boner).

For a menacing rager that pops up at a particularly inopportune time, hightailing it to the nearest exit or washroom might be your best bet.

How often are you supposed to get one?

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to how many erections a person should get.

People with penises have an average of 11 erections per day and three to five more each night, but everyone is different.

There are numerous factors that can affect how often you get hard, like your age, hormone levels, and lifestyle.

If you’re concerned about your ability to get or maintain an erection, talk to a healthcare provider. Same if you feel like you’re hard more often than not or have an erection that persists for more than 2 hours straight.

Is there anything you can do to prevent it from happening?

Not really.

Erections are a normal part of having a penis. They’re bound to happen whether you want them to or not.

Using some of the methods we gave to stop an erection might also help you prevent one, but it’s not a sure thing, especially if you have an especially sensitive penis.

What if you want to make it happen?

Now we’re talkin’!

The key to getting an erection is being relaxed and allowing yourself to get aroused.

Here are some things that can help things along:

  • Fantasize about something you find sexually stimulating.
  • Look at images you find arousing.
  • Watch porn.
  • Read erotica.
  • Touch yourself anywhere it feels good, not just your penis.
  • Try a sex toy.

How do you know if you’re doing it right?

As long as it’s not causing you — or anyone — pain or distress, then it’s all good.

Sexual arousal should feel good. Erections shouldn’t be a source of discomfort or guilt.

If you’re concerned about your erections or are struggling with negative feelings about your sexuality, you may find it helpful to talk to a professional.

You can speak to your primary care provider or find a sexual health professional in your area through the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) directory.

What’s the bottom line?

Erections are natural and just part of owning a penis. As inconvenient as they may be when they come up spontaneously, the ability to have them is a sign of health.

Their main purpose may be to facilitate penetrative sex, but no pressure. Your erection, your choice.

Written by Sex Expert

I am an experienced Sex researcher and content writer. We focus on the early life of both young and old adults regarding their sex life, which I provide actionable ways to improve their sex life.

Both Male and females can get guides to improve their sex life.

I solely encourage you to subscribe, so you do not miss any new articles.

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