Priapism is a permanent and painful erection, which requires medical help. It is a very rare event.
Normally, an erect penis becomes flaccid again because the blood which fills the ‘corpora cavernosa’ (hollow cavities) to make the penis hard, flows away again through veins at the base of the penis. In priapism, the blood does not flow away and consequently the penis remains erect, which becomes painful after some time. To treat priapism, an operation is sometimes required. Priapism can be caused by events such as haemorrhaging or infection of the corpora cavernosa of the penis, or by an overdose of medicines or aphrodisiacs taken to treat erectile dysfunction. Priapism is not caused by strong sexual desire, lengthy intercourse or any other sexual condition.
The word ‘priapism’ derives from Priapus, the ancient Greek God of fertility and male potency. Statuettes of Priapus, showing a huge erection, are still sold around Greek tourist sites. Priapus was the son of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of sexual love, and Dionysos (Bacchus), the god of wine and wild parties. The permanent erection of Priapus was by many mistakenly seen as a punishment for sexual excess.