Everything to know about random erections and nocturnal penile tumescence
Thinking back to your young adult life, you can probably remember the embarrassment of an unexpected boner popping up at an inappropriate time. Random erections were the epitome of a real-life nightmare.
Without even an ounce of sexual stimulation, random erections had the power to show up without warning and damage your ego in one clean swoop. And as much as you swore to your mates that you weren’t daydreaming about the hottie in chem class, random erections often left a trail of shame, embarrassment, and brutal laughter. It seems that random erections just weren’t properly understood.
Fast forward to today, and random erections may still be a constant topic of worry in your adult life. You may experience random erections during the day, during the night, or even upon waking up every morning. And, that’s okay. Because we can confirm that random erections are a normal occurrence for many men. That’s right, you aren’t the only man experiencing random erections.
So, let’s learn about the types of random erections and what causes your penis to become a tent peg in your pants when you least expect it.
Causes of random erections
The typical male erection occurs as a result of sexual arousal. When you become sexually aroused, the brain sends signals to the blood vessels of the penis. These nerve signals allow more blood to enter the penis, and blood vessels to close, trapping blood in the crotch area that causes the swelling of the penis that you know as an erection.
Erections that occur without sexual stimulation may have several causes, including testosterone levels, nocturnal penile tumescence, and certain medications.
The role testosterone plays in random erections
Testosterone is a hormone that’s produced by the testes in men. It’s responsible for masculine characteristics like facial hair and a deep voice. In adult men, testosterone also plays a role in sex drive, bone density, and muscle mass.
Testosterone levels fluctuate throughout the day and are influenced by factors like stress, diet, exercise, sleep, and ageing. Generally, younger men have higher levels of testosterone than older men. That’s why you may have heard that older men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than younger men.
It’s acknowledged that testosterone plays a significant role in sexual function, and this 2006 review of studies suggests that testosterone is essential in the formation of an erection. However, the connection between testosterone levels and random erections remains unclear, and further research is required.
Even though testosterone may play a role in causing random erections, there are likely several moving parts within the human body that contribute to an unexpected boner.
Nocturnal penile tumescense
Nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) is a medical term that refers to spontaneous erections that occur during sleep. Nocturnal penile tumescence is a normal phenomenon that the vast majority of men will experience at some point in their lives, regardless of whether they have erectile dysfunction (ED).
It is characterised by partial or full erections that occur without being sexually stimulated. NPT usually occurs during the first few hours of sleep, although it can also occur upon waking up from sleep (morning wood, anyone?) or napping. On average, men experience up to five erections when they are sleeping and they generally won’t last longer than 30 minutes.
Despite its name, NPT isn’t directly related to the penis. Rather, it’s a reflex that’s mediated by the autonomic nervous system, which controls functions like heart rate and blood pressure. When the autonomic nervous system is activated, blood flow to the penis increases, resulting in an erection.
There are two types of NPT: physiologic and psychogenic. Physiologic NPT is caused by factors like hormones, temperature changes, and REM sleep (the stage of sleep when dreams occur).
Psychogenic NPT is caused by psychological factors like stress, anxiety, or depression (wait; what’s the difference between anxiety and depression?).
What causes NPT?
The exact reason why NPT happens isn’t known, but experts believe that it’s due to a combination of hormonal, neurological, and vascular factors.
During REM sleep, the body becomes paralysed except for the eyes and diaphragm (the muscle that controls breathing). This paralysis is caused by a decrease in activity in the motor cortex — the part of the brain responsible for muscle movement. The motor cortex remains active during other stages of sleep (like light sleep), which explains why you might move around during those stages but not during REM sleep.
The decreased activity in the motor cortex may lead to increased activity in other parts of the brain, like the limbic system – the part responsible for sexual arousal. This increase in activity may cause a random erection even in the absence of sexual arousal or stimulation.
Studies have even shown that men with erectile dysfunction are more likely to have impaired REM sleep than men without erectile dysfunction.
Not sleeping well? Find out how you can get a better night’s sleep.
NPT and erectile dysfunction (ED)
NPT can be a major factor in determining whether a man has ED.
For most men, NPT is nothing to be concerned about and random erections are normal. In fact, NPT can actually be a good thing. For others, NPT is often used as a method to test erectile function, because the presence of NPT usually indicates that there is no underlying physical cause of ED.
However, if a man experiences persistently low levels of NPT, it may be an indication that he has an underlying health condition that is causing his ED. For example, low levels of testosterone can lead to ED by reducing blood flow to the penis or by directly affecting the corpus cavernosum.
If you are concerned about your NPT levels, we recommend talking to your doctor. They will be able to perform tests to determine if you have any underlying health conditions that may be the cause of erectile dysfunction.
Medications that can cause random erections
Certain medications can cause random erections as a side effect. These include antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and antihistamines. If you think your medication is causing unwanted erections, talk to your doctor about changing your dosage or switching to a different medication altogether.
Health conditions that can cause random erections
In rare cases, health conditions can lead to frequent or constant erections without any sexual arousal or physical stimulation whatsoever. One condition that can cause men to get random erections is known as priapism and it can be extremely painful.
Priapism is a medical condition in which the penis remains in an erect state for a prolonged period of time. As you can imagine, having a continuously erect penis can be extremely painful, and may even cause permanent damage if not treated quickly.
Priapism can be caused by certain blood disorders or injuries to the spinal cord or penis. If untreated, priapism can lead to permanent tissue damage and scarring in the penis which can result in erectile dysfunction later in life. Treatment for priapism typically involves draining the blood from the penis using a needle and syringe.
If you have an erection lasting longer than four hours without any sexual arousal or physical stimulation, seek medical advice immediately as this could be a sign of priapism.
Managing random erections
A random erection that occurs out of nowhere, without any sexual stimulation is super common in young adults and can indicate healthy sexual functioning. However, if you’re worried about random erections occurring at an inconvenient time, there are some ways you can try to return to a flaccid penis.
Think about something else
Remove the power of your embarrassing boner, by focusing on something other than what’s happening within your pants.
Avoid stimulating your erection
Extra stimulation can see your random erection turning into a normal erection in no time at all. We repeat: avoid stimulating your random erection.
Put your hands in your pockets
If you’re fortunate enough to be wearing pants with pockets, place your hand inside and subtly try to rearrange your package into a less obvious position.
Strategically cover your privates
If you’re within reach of a bag, jumper, jacket, or laptop, use that item to cover your crotch area for a quick and clever disappearing act of the penis.
Try shifting position
If you’re standing up, try sitting down to disguise the erection. Bonus points if you manage to find a table to sit beneath.
Remember, you are human
At the end of the day, a man who experiences random erections is still a normal man. Random erections occur all the time, and are a good sign of erectile health. As long as you can maintain an erection, you’re bound to have a healthy sex life – celebrate that!
When to see a doctor about random erections
Random erections happening so frequently that they’re constantly on your nerves? As much as the random erection is a sign of good health downstairs, we get that they can be frustrating to deal with.
If you notice a change in the frequency of your erections, or experience pain in the penis before, during, or after an erection, seek medical assistance from your doctor. If erection pain continues for more than 4-hours, make an urgent trip to the emergency room of your nearest hospital or health clinic.
Let’s get your health sorted!
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