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Sexual pleasure may seem simple to some, but it comes from the complex interplay between the brain, your relationship and chemistry with your sexual partner, proper blood flow, and pleasurable sensation in the genitals. If you don’t have enough feeling in your penis to enjoy sex, none of those other pieces will be enough. The good news is there are ways to increase penis sensitivity. Let’s take a look.
How to get sensation back in your penis
If you’re dealing with penis numbness, your options to improve the situation will depend on the cause of your penile numbness (see the next section to learn about what could be causing your penis to feel numb).
Simple lifestyle changes like improving your diet, increasing your daily physical activity, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol use can improve your overall health and increase blood flow to the penis, which can help with sensitivity. Whenever possible, avoid sitting in one position for long periods—take little walking breaks to give the area a rest.
If you are a cyclist, your decreased penile sensitivity could be due to cycling, and changing your bike seat may help. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety recommends that men (and women) should use a “no nose” saddle (bike seat) to prevent genital issues. This type of seat decreases nerve damage and pressure on pelvic blood vessels (CDC, 2009).
Your healthcare provider may also diagnose you with low testosterone based on blood tests. By increasing your testosterone levels, you may be able to improve symptoms like decreased sensation and low sex drive. Testosterone therapy (TT) can be administered five different ways, and no one option is significantly better than the others (AUA, n.d.):
- Transdermal (through the skin): Skin patch, gels, creams, lotions, and liquids. This form generally lasts about four days.
- Injections: Medicine is injected under the skin or into the muscle. Testosterone injections can be given weekly, every two weeks, or monthly.
- Oral/buccal: This is a patch that you place in your mouth, but you don’t chew or swallow it.
- Surgically implanted pellets: These small pellets are inserted into the fatty tissue under the skin and last for 3–6 months.
- Intranasal: You pump the medicine into each nostril three times a day.
If your penile numbness is due to a medication side effect, consult your healthcare provider about whether alternative medications or dosing may be an option. Medical conditions, like diabetes or multiple sclerosis, should be treated by your provider—not only because of your decreased penile sensitivity, but also because these medical conditions can affect your entire body and overall health. Sex therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy may help with any psychological issues that could be affecting your sexual well-being.
What is penis numbness?
Just like it sounds, penile numbness is when you experience a loss (or significant decrease) of sensation to the penis. Sometimes this condition is referred to as penis insensitivity.
The signs and symptoms of penile numbness or decreased penile sensitivity include:
- Loss of sensation in the penis or surrounding areas, like the testicles/scrotum or perineum (area between the testicles and anus)
- Tingling or “pins and needles” in or around your penis
- Feeling coldness or burning in or around your penis
- Bluish or purplish skin on or around your penis
If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, consult your healthcare provider.
What causes penis numbness?
While decreased penis sensitivity seems to occur to some degree in older men, this does not mean that you should expect a numb penis over a certain age (Rowland, 1998). Penile numbness may be a sign of another medical problem, including trauma to the penis, low testosterone levels, medication side effects, psychological issues, or certain medical conditions.
Trauma to the penis
The penis has many nerves and blood vessels that need to work together to allow for proper functioning. If you damage them, this can result in penile numbness. One of the most common ways men damage their penile nerves is by frequent or long bike rides. Anywhere from 50–80% of cyclists report some amount of genital numbness (most often a loss of sensation in the penis) depending on how much time they spend cycling (Baradaran, 2018).
This phenomenon occurs because bicycle seats can compress the nerve endings and blood vessels that supply the penis and genital area. Some studies suggest that by changing the design of the bicycle seat (also called saddles) and adjusting rider position, you could improve penile numbness (Baran, 2014).
Sometimes, the nerves and blood vessels to the penis are damaged during pelvic or spinal surgery; examples include procedures for prostate cancer (Sharp, 2011). Lastly, pelvic trauma, like a car or bike accident, could also lead to a loss of sensation in the penis.
Testosterone is necessary for healthy sexual functioning, but it is unclear what role it plays in penile erections and sensation. Low testosterone levels may decrease your sex drive (libido), and it may seem like your penis is less responsive to stimulation (Rajfer, 2000).
Medication side effect
Some medications can cause a loss of sensation in the penis.
Antidepressants act on select chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. However, neurotransmitters also play a role in sexual arousal. By changing the balance of neurotransmitters, you may affect sex drive and sexual arousal.
Selegiline hydrochloride (brand name Eldepryl) is used to treat Parkinson’s disease. It affects dopamine levels, and there have been reports of penile numbness as a side effect (FDA, 2008).
Phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, medications commonly used for erectile dysfunction (ED), can also decrease penis sensitivity. Sildenafil (brand name Viagra; see Important Safety Information), tadalafil (brand name Cialis; see Important Safety Information), vardenafil (brand name Levitra), and avanafil (brand name Stendra), are all examples of this drug class. PDE5 inhibitors improve erections by increasing the blood flow to the penis. However, they can also decrease penile sensation, which may help men with premature ejaculation (Wang, 2006).
If you suspect that your medicines are contributing to your decreased penile sensitivity, talk to your healthcare provider about alternative medication options.
Any medical condition that can affect the blood vessels and nerves of the penis can affect penile sensation and lead to numbness. Among the common culprits are diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), and prostate problems (Bleustein, 2002). Peyronie’s disease (penile curvature) is a less common cause of decreased penile sensation and occurs when scar tissue forms within the penis. This scar tissue has less sensitivity than healthy penis tissue and can cause areas of numbness.
Psychological issues such as depression, stress, and anxiety can interfere with healthy sexual functioning. These issues can hit your sexual health with a “double whammy.” Depression, stress, and anxiety can decrease your sexual desire, sensations, ability to orgasm, etc., but treating these issues with antidepressants (as mentioned above) can also negatively affect your sex life. Also, having sexual performance issues may trigger depression and anxiety.
What if your penis is too sensitive?
Men who have a penis that is too sensitive (hypersensitive) may find themselves unable to last as long as they would like during sexual activity. In some cases, it may lead to premature ejaculation (PE) (Guo, 2017). The International Society of Sexual Medicine (ISSM) defines PE as the following (McMahon, 2008):
- Ejaculation that always or nearly always occurs within about 1 minute of vaginal penetration
- The inability to delay ejaculation during all or nearly all vaginal penetrations
- Negative psychosocial consequences like getting upset, frustrated, and/or avoiding sexual intimacy
Note that these definitions are described in terms of vaginal penetration. However, premature ejaculation can occur in people with penises participating in any type of sexual acitivity that stimulates the penis.
One option to decrease your penis sensitivity includes over-the-counter sprays, creams, and wipes that use topical anesthetics (numbing medicines) like lidocaine or benzocaine. There are also “climax control” condoms that differ from regular condoms because they decrease penis sensation with either a coating of a topical anesthetic or they may use a thicker-than-usual latex.
While it is not always the most comfortable conversation to have with your healthcare provider, you should seek medical advice regarding any loss of penile sensitivity or other questions/concerns that you may have about your sexual health.
- American Urology Association (AUA) Urology Care Foundation. (n.d.). Low Testosterone: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment. Retrieved July 23, 2020 from https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/l/low-testosterone
- Baran, C., Mitchell, G., & Hellstrom, W. (2014). Cycling-Related Sexual Dysfunction in Men and Women: A Review. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 2(3-4), 93-101. doi: 10.1002/smrj.32. Retrieved from https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S2050052115300895
- Baradaran, N., Awad, M., Gaither, T., Fergus, K., Ndoye, M., & Cedars, B., et al. (2018). The association of bicycle-related genital numbness and Sexual Health Inventory for Men (SHIM) score: results from a large, multinational, cross-sectional study. BJU International, 124(2), 336-341. doi: 10.1111/bju.14396. Retrieved from https://bjui-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bju.14396
- Bleustein, C., Arezzo, J., Eckholdt, H. et al. (2002). The neuropathy of erectile dysfunction. International Journal of Impotence Research 14, 433–439. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijir.3900907. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/3900907
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2009). NIOSH Publications and Products – No-nose Saddles for Preventing Genital Numbness and Sexual Dysfunction from Occupational Bicycling. Retrieved on July 23, 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2009-131/default.html
- Guo, L., Liu, Y., Wang, X. et al. (2017). Significance of penile hypersensitivity in premature ejaculation. Scientific Reports 7, 10441. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-09155-8. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-09155-8
- Rowland, D. (1998). Penile sensitivity in men: a composite of recent findings. Urology, 52(6), 1101-1105. doi: 10.1016/s0090-4295(98)00413-0. Retrieved from https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0090429598004130
- Sharp, H. J., Swanson, D. A., Patel, H., Gorbatiy, V., Frenzel, J. C., & Frank, S. J. (2011). Subacute penile numbness after brachytherapy for prostate cancer. Brachytherapy, 10(1), 64–67. doi: 10.1016/j.brachy.2010.02.197. Retrieved from https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1538472110002461
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2008). Eldepryl (selegiline hydrochloride) capsules. Retrieved on July 23, 2020 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2008/020647s006s007lbl.pdf
- Wang, W., Minhas, S., & Ralph, D. (2006). Phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors in the treatment of premature ejaculation. International Journal Of Andrology, 29(5), 503-509. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2605.2006.00689.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16573707/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.