Priapism: Persistent Penile Erection Following Penis Tattoo

Journal of Sexual Medicine

Non-ischemic priapism: The first case of its kind

A 21-year-old from Iran reported to the hospital with a complaint of persistent erection for the last 3 months (commonly known as priapism). On inquiry by the doctors, he confessed that the erection had started soon after he had gotten the tattoo.

Initially, in the 8 days after he got the tattoo, he had extreme pain in the penis. Soon after, he complained of erections during his sleep. Eventually, these progressed into a semi-erect erection for 24 hours a day.

Was the tattoo artist to blame?

The man told the doctors that he had gotten the tattoo via a handheld needle and no harmful machine was used in the process.

Priapism: Investigations

The doctors did some investigations to rule out the potential underlying cause of the priapism. Diseases, for example, leukaemia and urinary tract infections were ruled out. Moreover, the urine culture was negative. However, the patient denied the use of psychoactive drugs. The doctors concluded that the needle used during tattooing may have cut too deep into the tissue and caused priapism.

The corpus cavernosum and spongiosum are masses of erectile function that facilitate erections. During an erection, they fill with blood to hold the penis upright. After ejaculation, the blood drains out of these tissues. The doctors obtained a blood sample from this tissue mass. This blood was bright red with high levels of oxygen and low levels of carbon dioxide. This confirmed the diagnosis of non-ischemic priapism. In this type of priapism, the blood continues to enter the penis, however, in ischemic priapism the lack of blood inside the penis can prove to be dangerous and have serious consequences.


The ideal treatment recommended by the doctors was a shunt procedure. This shunt drains blood from both the tissue-filled masses to help alleviate the erection. However, this procedure was unsuccessful.

The 21-year-old refused to undergo surgery for treating the condition. He chose to live with his condition (that is a semi-erect penis). His erections are now painless and do not interfere with his sexual activities. Moreover, he did not suffer from depression or any other mental health disorder.


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