Lumps, bumps, swelling, curves—you need to know what his penis is trying to tell him.

Jenna Birch
March 16, 2018

You know how a change in the way your vagina looks or feels can clue you in to a wider health issue? It's the same with your partner's penis. Lumps, pain, swelling, and other weirdness can be signs of a sexual health problem—or a tip-off to a bigger body issue.

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But even though they pay a lot of attention to their private parts (hello, manscaping!), guys are not all that great at looking out for health-related symptoms and doing something about them. That's where you come in. Let Ryan Berglund, MD, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic, go through the top penis problems he sees in his practice. If you notice any of these on your partner, urge him get checked by his doctor.

His erect penis has a curve

The top issue Dr. Berglund sees is a curvature of the penis that comes on suddenly. “It’s from a relatively common condition called Peyronie’s disease, which is caused by a buildup of scar tissue,” he explains. Doctors aren't sure why some men develop a Peyronie's curve (it can go up, down, or to the side), but it could stem from a penile injury, say while playing sports.

A little curving can be normal. “If you think of zero degrees being perfectly straight and 90 degrees the most extreme curve, we will usually address a curve greater than 30 degrees or if it’s interfering with intercourse,” Dr. Berglund says. Treatment varies, so it's best to urge your partner see a urologist and find out his options. Another reason to go to the doc? Men with Peyronie's are at an increased risk of several cancers, according to a 2017 study in Fertility & Sterility.

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There's a lump under the skin

Another major concern patients bring to Dr. Berglund: a penile lump. “Usually, guys feel a hardness, and sometimes it’s [caused by] a blood vessel," he says. A blocked lymph gland can also be to blame. "Or men will say there’s a hardness in the center, which is often that scar tissue from Peyronie’s," he adds.

A urologist visit is in order, but scary as it sounds, “it’s typically not cancer,” says Dr. Berglund. Odds are the lump is benign, and your guy may not need to address it at all. But if it's caused by scar tissue, and there's a significant amount affecting intercourse, a physician may be able to dissolve or remove it.

His penis has one or more tiny bumps 

Lots of things cause penis bumps. “It could be anything from a benign lesion—you can get pimples anywhere, from the face and back to the penis—to something called ‘pearly penile papules,’ which are just tiny bumps,” says Dr. Berglund. Cysts are also common, and like penile papules, generally not a big deal.

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However, some bumps are a bigger deal. Genital warts, an STI caused by certain types of HPV, is one possibility. On the penis, these warts "often look like little heads of cauliflower," Dr. Berglund says. In the case of warts, your man will want to see his doc; the warts can be “burned off, lasered off, or [removed] with medications.” And you should talk to your ob-gyn about your HPV and genital wart risk, and ask her if she recommends testing.

He has a penis sore

“Sores on the skin of the penis can be painful or not painful,” says Dr. Berglund. Depending on which your guy is experiencing, you’re looking at different issues. “With syphilis, you’ll find a sore, but it is usually not painful and can be treated with a simple shot of penicillin,” he explains. “Herpes also causes a sore, and we have drugs to reduce flares and outbreaks.”

This is another penis problem that can affect your health, since both herpes and syphilis are STIs. Give your doctor a call and tell her that you may have been exposed, and if she suggests tests.

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He's having pee issues

Blood in his urine is one pee problem that warrants concern, even if it's just a slight amount says Dr. Berglund, adding that cancer is a possible cause. “We’ll want to do a scan, and look at organs like the kidneys.” Don't panic: Seeing pink or red when you expect to see yellow can also signal kidney stones, a bladder infection, or an injury.

Other urination issues—like bladder retention, when your guy’s not fully eliminating—are usually the result of a benign enlarged prostate. Dr. Berglund advises being screened for prostate cancer just to be on the safe side, though that recommendation depends on your partner's age, background, and family history. “If possible, it is important to catch prostate cancer before it becomes symptomatic,” he says. This can be accomplished with an exam and a blood test.

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There's a lump in his testicle

It's not strictly a penis issue, But since his testicles hang right below, they have the potential to affect your partner's entire package. It's not uncommon for a guy to detect a lump, and luckily, it's usually something benign. If your guy feels a lump and pain, it could be an infection, and he'll need antibiotics to clear it up.

A more worrisome type of lump is caused by something called testicular torsion, when the cord that supplies blood to the testes has become twisted and cut off. Often caused by an injury, symptoms come on quick and may be accompanied by fever, nausea, scrotal swelling, and abdominal pain. Testicular torsion is a medical emergency. If this sounds like something your partner may have, get him to the ER at once.

Another potentially serious lump could be caused by testicular cancer. "Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 45, and it’s highly treatable with early detection," says Dr. Berglund. If you suspect this, make sure your guy doesn't put off an MD visit.