A Man’s Penis Really Does Have A Mind Of It’s Own

From Men’s WebMD:

You’ve probably noticed that your penis often does its own thing. You may remember times when it was completely inappropriate to have an erection; and yet you couldn’t wish it away.

It’s true that you have less command over your penis than body parts like your arms and legs. That’s because the penis answers to a part of the nervous system that’s not always under your conscious control. This is called the autonomic nervous system, which also regulates heart rate and blood pressure.

Sexual arousal usually isn’t voluntary. The conscious mind is complicit in it, but a lot of sexual arousal goes on in the sympathetic nervous system. In addition, impulses from the brain during the REM phase of sleep cause erections, whether you’re dreaming about sex or about a test you forgot to study for. Heavy lifting or straining to have a bowel movement can also produce an erection.

Just as the penis grows without your consent, sometimes it shrinks. “The flaccid penis varies in size considerably within a given man,” says Drogo Montague, MD, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Exposure to cold water or air makes your penis shrink. That’s a function of the sympathetic nervous system.

Psychological stress also involves the sympathetic nervous system, and stress has the same effect as a cold shower, Montague says. When you’re relaxed and feeling well, your flaccid penis looks bigger than when you’re stressed out. Psychological stress can result in loss of libido and problems with erections. Both stress and anxiety are leading causes of temporary erectile dysfunction or ED. Being able to manage stress and control anxiety will help you get your erectile function back.

Of course, not all ED is caused by psychological problems such as stress. Physical problems such as atherosclerosis or high blood pressure can inhibit the flow of blood to your penis. Type 2 diabetes can damage both blood vessels and the nerves involved in getting an erection. Excessive alcohol consumption can also interfere with getting an erection.

The penis is “kind of a barometer of the sympathetic nervous system,” Montague says. So the greeting, “How’s it hanging?” is more apt than you might have realized.

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