Causes of discharge in males

Male discharge is any fluid other than urine which comes from the urethra.

The urethra is a tiny tube that carries urine from the bladder and the ejaculatory ducts from the semen. These fluids travel along the urethra before they exit the body at the opening of the urethra in the tip of the penis.

Some types of discharge are natural and assist in protecting or lubricating the penis. Others may be due to an underlying health condition.

Symptoms such as pain, irritation or an unpleasant smell can accompany these.

The article describes the forms of penile discharge considered normal by physicians and those found abnormal. They describe the signs of each and give information on when to see a doctor.

What is normal discharge?

Preejaculate and ejaculate are part of normal discharge.
Preejaculate and ejaculate are part of normal discharge.

Common discharge requires both pre-ejaculation and ejaculation. Those are produced during sexual arousal and intercourse from the tip of the penis.

Though not necessarily discharge from the penis, smegma is another substance that can build up around the head of the penis.

The sections below will go into more depth on these types of normal male discharge.

Preejaculate

Preejaculatory fluid is a thick alkaline mucus formed in the bulbourethral glands, or precum. Two pea-sized glands under the prostate gland are the bulbourethral glands, or Cowper’s glands.

The bulbourethral glands secret up to 4 milliliters (ml) of preejaculate into the urethra during sexual stimulation.

Preejaculatory fluid may:

  • function as a lubricant for semen
  • lubricate the tip of the penis during intercourse
  • neutralize acidity left by urine residue in the urethra
  • neutralize vaginal acidity

Whereas bulbourethral glands release pre-ejaculatory fluid, it is the testes that release sperm. However, a 2011 study found that some preejaculate contains live sperm. Pre-ejaculatory samples from participants included up to 23 million sperm.

Researchers are not sure whether pre-ejaculate is contaminated immediately before ejaculation or contaminated with sperm left over from previous ejaculation.

Ejaculate

Ejaculate, or semen, is a milky, cloudy fluid that travels through the urethra and out of the penis after sexual stimulation. This process is called ejaculation, and it usually occurs during orgasm.

Healthy sperm concentrations in semen are approximately 15–150 million sperm per ml of semen.

The sperm is produced in the testes. They mature inside the ducts behind the testes. These ducts are called epididymis, and the vas defers.

During sexual stimulation, the sperm mixes with the semen to form the semen. Seminal fluid is a white liquid produced by prostate glands and glands called seminal vesicles.

Sperm make up a small part of semen. Semen is composed of the following:

  • 1–5% sperm
  • around 5% secretions from the bulbourethral glands
  • 15–30% secretions from the prostate
  • fluid from the seminal vesicle

Smegma

Smegma is a thick, white substance made up of skin cells, oils and moisture. The sebaceous glands in the skin around the genitals are secreted. In males, smegma tends to build between the head of the penis and the foreskin.

Smegma is a natural lubricant that helps keep your genitals moist and allows your foreskin to retract during sexual intercourse.

However, smegma buildup may produce a foul odor and may act as a breeding ground for bacteria. Washing the penis once a day with clean, warm water will help to reduce smegma buildup.

That said, males should avoid washing the penis too often with soap or shower gel, as these products can cause irritation and soreness.

What is abnormal discharge?

Presence of male discharge at times other than sexual stimulation may indicate a underlying health concern. Some of these are described in the sections below.

Balanitis

Balanitis is an inflammation of the skin around the head of the penis. When the inflammation also affects the foreskin, it is referred to as balanoposthitis.

Some of the symptoms of balanitis include:

  • thick, lumpy discharge that is either white or yellow
  • an unpleasant smell
  • a red, inflamed rash or swelling
  • irritation, soreness, itching, or burning
  • pain when urinating

Many factors can cause balanitis, including:

  • Poor hygiene: The area underneath the foreskin requires regular cleaning. Dead skin cells, urine residue, and sweat provide the ideal environment for irritation-causing bacteria to breed.
  • Allergies: Urine, soaps, condoms, and lubricants can irritate the skin on the penis.
  • Skin conditions: Eczema, psoriasis, or lichen sclerosus may cause redness and inflammation.
  • Infection: Bacterial or fungal infections can make the head of the penis sore, tender, and itchy.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): STIs such as herpes simplex virus (HSV) can cause blistering and inflammation in the area around the genitals.

Both circumcised and uncircumcised males may develop balanitis. However, one study in 2017 found that balanitis is 68 per cent less prevalent among circumcised males than among uncircumcised males.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a common infection that affects about 3.7 million people in the United States. Trichomonas vaginalis parasite causes trichomonosis.

Approximately 70% of people with trichomoniasis have no symptoms. If symptoms occur in males, they may include:

  • thin, white penile discharge
  • a frequent need to urinate
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • pain during ejaculation
  • swelling around the head of the penis or the foreskin

Urethritis

Urethritis is characterized by inflammation of the urethra and may be infectious or non-infectious.

Urethritis is often caused by an STI. It is called gonococcal urethritis if it develops due to gonorrhea. If the cause is unknown, it is called non-gonococcal urethritis.

Over 40% of people with non-gonococcal urethritis do not experience symptoms.

However, some males may have the following symptoms:

  • cloudy or white discharge from the tip of the penis
  • irritation and soreness at the urethral opening
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • a frequent need to urinate
  • testicular pain or swelling

The following pathogens can also cause urethritis:

  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Mycoplasma genitalium
  • Trichomonas vaginalis
  • HSV
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • adenovirus

C. Trachomatis is the most common cause of non-gonococcal urethritis. It accounts for about 15–40 percent of cases.

Urethritis may also result from vigorous sex, masturbation, and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

UTIs

UTI is a common type of bacterial infection. They are affecting part of the urinary system. The urinary system involves the bladder, kidneys, and urethra.

UTIs occur when bacteria from the skin or rectum enter the urethra and cause urinary tract infection.

UTIs tend to be more common in females with shorter urethra that is closer to the rectum. This makes it easier for bacteria to get into the urethra and reach the bladder and kidneys.

However, males can develop UTIs as well. Males with UTI may develop symptoms such as:

  • cloudy urine that contains pus
  • red, pink, or brown urine that contains blood
  • pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  • a need to urinate more than usual
  • strong-smelling urine
  • nausea or vomiting

Factors that increase the risk of developing a UTI include:

  • engaging in unprotected sexual activity, particularly with a new partner
  • having had a previous UTI
  • having kidney stones
  • having an enlarged prostate
  • having a weakened immune system from diabetes, HIV, or chemotherapy
  • using a urinary catheter

A person can not pass a UTI on to a sexual partner. However, during sex, a person may experience pain and discomfort.

STIs

STIs may spread from person to person as a result of unprotected sexual activity and genital contact.

STIs that may cause abnormal discharge of the penile include:

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most widely reported STI in the United States. Most people with chlamydia, however, do not know they have it because it often causes no symptoms.

The cause of chlamydia is C. trachomatis. Such bacteria can cause urethra, rectum, and throat infections.

Chlamydia can cause the following symptoms in males:

  • white, cloudy, or watery penile discharge
  • itching or burning at the tip of the penis
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • testicular pain

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea, in particular among adolescents and young adults, is a common infection in the US.

N. Gonorrhoeae are responsible for gonorrhea. These bacteria can infect both the rectum and urethra. Infection can also sometimes affect the eyes, throat, and joints.

Gonorrhea symptoms amongst males include:

Symptoms of gonorrhea in males include:

  • white, yellow, or green penile discharge
  • inflammation of the foreskin
  • pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  • swelling in one testicle

When to see a doctor

A male should see a doctor if they experience a penile discharge which is not one of the following:

  • urine
  • preejaculate
  • ejaculate
  • smegma

A doctor may: To determine what causes the penile discharge.

  • ask about the person’s symptoms
  • make a note of their medical and sexual history
  • examine the affected area of the penis
  • ask for a urine sample to identify signs of a UTI
  • swab the affected area and analyze the swab for bacteria and viruses

The doctor will then determine the best course of treatment after determining the cause of the discharge.

Summary

Penis discharge that occurs during sexual arousal as a result of sexual intercourse, and is normal after ejaculation.

Abnormal discharges tend to include:

  • have an unusual color
  • have a foul odor
  • occur without sexual activity
  • be accompanied by pain, burning, or other symptoms

The discharge in these cases could be a sign of a medical condition that requires evaluation and treatment. Taking a doctor’s appointment is important.

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