The penis is the male organ of copulation (sexual intercourse). It is flaccid for non-sexual actions,such as urination and turgid and rod-like with sexual arousal. When erect, the stiffness of the organ allows it to penetrate into the vagina and deposit semen into the female reproductive tract.
Cross-Sectional Anatomy of the Penis
Three columns of erectile tissue make up most of the volume of the penis.
The shaft of the penis surrounds the urethra (
Figure). The shaft is composed of three column-like chambers of erectile tissue that span the length of the shaft. Each of the two larger lateral chambers is called a corpus cavernosum (plural = corpora cavernosa). Together, these make up the bulk of the penis. The corpus spongiosum, which can be felt as a raised ridge on the erect penis, is a smaller chamber that surrounds the spongy, or penile, urethra. The end of the penis called the glans penis has a high concentration of nerve endings resulting in very sensitive skin that influences the likelihood of ejaculation (see Figure). The skin from the shaft extends down over the glans and forms a collar called the prepuce (or foreskin). The foreskin also contains a dense concentration of nerve endings and both lubricate and protect the sensitive skin of the glans penis. A surgical procedure called circumcision, often performed for religious or social reasons, removes the prepuce typically within days of birth.
Both sexual arousal and REM sleep (during which dreaming occurs) can induce an erection. Penile erections are the result of engorgement of the tissues because of more arterial blood flowing into the penis than is leaving in the veins. The rapid increase in blood volume fills the erectile chambers, and the increased pressure of the filled chambers compresses the thin-walled penile venules preventing venous drainage of the penis. The result of this increased blood flow to the penis and reduced blood return from the penis is erection. Depending on the flaccid dimensions of a penis, it can increase in size slightly or greatly during erection with the average length of an erect penis measuring approximately 15 cm.