Time for "How Scared Should I Be?" the column that quantifies the scariness of everything under the sun, and teaches you how to allocate that most precious of natural resources: your fear.
Last month, in a memorable episode of VICELAND's Party Legends, quirky basketball legend Dennis Rodman claimed that he broke his penis three different times, spraying multiple sexual partners with blood, and causing countless other inconveniences. One of these instances was caused, it should be noted, after Rodman attempted to insert his penis into a woman via a flying leap. Rodman sounded strangely detached and casual about the whole thing, as though breaking a penis is only slightly more stressful than breaking a sweat.
I'd heard of penis fractures before seeing Rodman's segment, but his account still left me feeling uneasy. Dick breakage always seemed like one of those insanely rare injuries that materialize like a winning ticket in an extremely shitty lottery—internal decapitation for instance, or that thing where your spinal fluid leaks out of your nose. But if the god of penile fractures visited a sports star multiple times, it somehow seems much more likely that he could come for any of us.
According to Dr. Richard Santucci, chief of urology at Detroit Receiving Hospital, and VICE's go-to source for medically accurate penis-related wisdom, penile breaks can be much worse than Rodman's. For a real horror story, Santucci told me about a victim of a penile fracture who managed to tear through most of the tissue in his penis. "He just about took that penis off," Santucci said, just before showing me a photo he took of the injury that I won't be posting here (You're welcome).
Here's what else I found out:
How penises can "break"
If you haven't heard it before, the basic primer on penile fractures goes like this: No, there's nothing even close to a bone in the human penis, but your penis can still rupture, which is what a penile fracture is.
To really get your head around what can go wrong, it helps to get into the weeds a little, and if you can stomach it, maybe even have a look at this helpful-but-disturbing photo of an actual cadaver penis in cross-section. The two main masses of spongy stuff inside of a penis—the corpus cavernosa—are surrounded by an outer envelope called the tunica, which keeps all that blood contained, and is crucial to the shape of an erection. If all a penis did when its owner got aroused was fill up with blood, it would be a big blood-filled noodle. But that envelope gets thin and rigid, and the penis becomes erect, and unfortunately, highly breakable.
How to tell if your penis is fractured (you'll know)
The tunica can snap, which opens up the corpus cavernosa, and lets all that blood out. And if that happens, it's a catastrophe and you need to go to the hospital immediately.
As far as symptoms, Santucci said, "The most common presentation is an eggplant deformity—a purple penis, swollen like an eggplant—a loud popping noise, and immediate detumescence [aka going soft]." Santucci called these signs "hard to ignore." Once again, if this is unclear, a quick and highly unsettling image search for "eggplant deformity" will really help.
The eggplant deformity appears to be much more common than the gaping, bloody wounds that Dennis Rodman claims to have experienced repeatedly. But Santucci did point me to plenty of bloody dick photos.
How it all goes wrong
"There's a rule of physics that as the penis begins to bend, the long arc of the penis—opposite to the direction of the bend—thins," Santucci told me. This is similar to how the skin on the inside of your wrist gets taught when you bend your hand backwards. It would take some kind of Josef Mengele-level mad scientist to figure out how many degrees of bend it takes to break a dick, but for what it's worth Santucci told me he doubts an erect penis can survive a huge amount of bending at the middle.
"(The) woman-on-top position is the most common culprit," Santucci said. During sex, if a careless upstroke allows the penis to fully exit the crevice of choice, the next fraction of a second has a high disaster quotient. On the next downstroke, the suddenly free penis is very likely to encounter wall instead of window, a-la Buster Keaton in the clip above. With the tunica bearing the weight of a human being, a bend becomes downright inevitable, and a break is sickeningly possible. "I either avoid this position or am very careful," Santucci said.
But of course people on bottom aren't the only ones at risk. "In America, 99 percent of it is sex, [and] the other one percent is either stupid masturbation tricks or—if you can believe it—rolling over on an erect penis." There are also people like Rodman, and others, who try to run and jump and land with their dick inside other people.
Really, anything that puts you at risk for a bend, puts you at risk for a break.
Breakage is all too common
"It can happen to anybody," Santucci told me.
According to Scientific American, no data exist on penile fractures, so the actual odds are unknown. A paper Santucci co-authored noted that 1,331 penile case studies had been recorded in medical literature—a seemingly large number, given that only a small fraction of medical incidents become case studies. So despite sounding unusual, these horrible tragedies may be happening all around us.
Santucci suspects that the reason examples don't crop up more often is shame. "I've had several patients with obviously fractured penises leave the hospital against medical advice because they panicked when they couldn't figure out how to explain to their wives why they just needed emergency dick surgery," he told me.
He also suspects there may be a connection between secretive sex and injuries. "We suppose people are throwing [their] dick with extra force, and perhaps in exotic positions."
According to the paper co-authored by Santucci, doctors used to be very conservative, providing cold compresses and penis splints as treatments—a method that has "fallen into disfavor." Doctors now prefer to make some incisions, and close the hole in the tunica with sutures.
A broken penis is generally far from life-threatening. "In general people do great." Santucci said. But he noted rare cases in which scar tissue leads to an odd bendy penis, "which people don't like too much." If untreated, a broken dick leads to long-term pain and swelling, and you'll "almost always get a significant bend," he said.
Still, the specter of a penile fracture is a buzzkill. It's enough to take an entire sex position off the menu if you don't want to have visions of genital catastrophes running through your head while you engage in what is otherwise the single most fun activity in the world.
Final Verdict: How Scared Should I Be of a Broken Penis?
4/5: Pissing Myself
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