Male Reproductive Organ Showing Erect Penis

Image Caption : Male Reproductive Organ Showing Erect Penis : Three-dimensional visualization reconstructed from scanned human data. Anteriolateral view of the flaccid penis; also shown are the testicles vasa deferentia and the bladder which sits snuggly behind the pelvis.. There are three columns of erectile tissue in the penis: at the top (or dorsal side) of the penis are the two corpora cavernosa and at the bottom (or ventral side) is the corpus spongiosum. Upon arousal the arteries that supply the penis dilate and allow blood to fill the three spongy erectile tissue columns causing it to lengthen and stiffen. The engorged erectile tissue presses against penile veins preventing blood from flowing back out of the penis. 2 of 2.

Penile Erection

The state of the PENIS when the erectile tissue becomes filled or swollen (tumid) with BLOOD and causes the penis to become rigid and elevated. It is a complex process involving CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM; PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEMS; HORMONES; SMOOTH MUSCLES; and vascular functions.

National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine


The penis, the male copulatory organ, is a cylindrical pendant organ located anterior to the scrotum and functions to transfer sperm to the vagina. The penis consists of three columns of erectile tissue that are wrapped in connective tissue and covered with skin. The two dorsal columns are the corpora cavernosa. The single, midline ventral column surrounds the urethra and is called the corpus spongiosum.

Illustration of the penis

The penis has a root, body (shaft), and glans penis. The root of the penis attaches it to the pubic arch, and the body is the visible, pendant portion. The corpus spongiosum expands at the distal end to form the glans penis. The urethra, which extends throughout the length of the corpus spongiosum, opens through the external urethral orifice at the tip of the glans penis. A loose fold of skin, called the prepuce, or foreskin, covers the glans penis.

National Cancer Institute / NIH

The Penis

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

 This multipart diagram shows the cross section of the penis. The top left panel shows the lateral view of the flaccid penis and the top right panel shows the transverse view. The bottom left panel shows the lateral view of the erect penis and the bottom right panel shows the transverse view.

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 vasocongestion, or engorgement of the tissues because of more arterial blood flowing into the penis than is leaving in the veins. During sexual arousal, nitric oxide (NO) is released from nerve endings near blood vessels within the corpora cavernosa and spongiosum. Release of NO activates a signaling pathway that results in relaxation of the smooth muscles that surround the penile arteries, causing them to dilate. This dilation increases the amount of blood that can enter the penis and induces the endothelial cells in the penile arterial walls to also secrete NO and perpetuate the vasodilation. 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.

Male Reproductive System

This figure shows the different organs in the male reproductive system. The top panel shows the side view of a man and an uncircumcised and a circumcised penis. The bottom panel shows the lateral view of the male reproductive system and the major parts are labeled.

The structures of the male reproductive system include the testes, the epididymides, the penis, and the ducts and glands that produce and carry semen. Sperm exit the scrotum through the ductus deferens, which is bundled in the spermatic cord. The seminal vesicles and prostate gland add fluids to the sperm to create semen.

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