Corpus Cavernosum

The corpus cavernosum is one of two cylinders in the penis that fill with blood to create an erection. If you have pain, urinary problems, or problems keeping an erection, see your healthcare provider.


What is a corpus cavernosum?

The corpus cavernosum is the erectile tissue of your penis, along with the corpus spongiosum. The corpus spongiosum has also been called the corpus cavernosum urethrae. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra.

There is a corpus cavernosum on either side of your ureter. The plural form for the two of them is corpus cavernosa. These spongy bodies, along with the corpus spongiosum, contain blood vessels that make your penis hard when they fill with blood. They also have nerves that help with these changes.


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What does the corpus cavernosum do?

The corpus cavernosa and the corpus spongiosum make reproduction possible. The blood that fills these spongy tissues makes your penis hard enough to penetrate the vagina during sexual intercourse. Muscle tissue also helps with the contractions that push semen, containing sperm, out of the tip of the penis.


Where is the corpus cavernosum located?

The corpus cavernosum is inside the penis. Specifically, the corpus cavernosa are part of the penis, the male organ for sexual intercourse.

The penis has three parts:

  • The root, or the part of the penis that attaches to your abdomen.
  • The body or shaft, which is shaped like a tube or cylinder. It's here that the corpus cavernosa and corpus spongiosum reside.
  • The glans also called the head, which is the cone-shaped end of the penis. The opening of the urethra — the tube that transports both semen and urine out of the body — is located at the tip of the glans penis.

Semen, which contains sperm, is expelled (ejaculated) through the end of the penis when a person reaches sexual climax (orgasm). When the penis is erect, the flow of urine is blocked from the urethra, allowing only semen to be ejaculated at orgasm.


What is the corpus cavernosum made of?

The corpus cavernosum is made mostly of smooth muscle. It also has structures called intracavernosal struts (or pillars), which are thought to be important in keeping the erectile tissue in place. The corpus cavernosa also have hollow spaces lined with a certain type of cell called epithelial cells. These cells may be involved in erectile dysfunction. When an erection occurs, this space fills with blood and becomes rigid.

Conditions and Disorders

What are some common conditions and disorders that affect the corpus cavernosum?

Some of the common conditions that affect the corpus cavernosum include:

  • Erectile dysfunction: This term describes the inability to get or keep an erection strong enough for sexual intercourse.
  • Penile cancer: This term describes cancer cells multiplying out of control in the penis.
  • Thrombosis: This happens when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood.
  • Penile fracture: This is an emergency and happens when an erect penis is bent forcefully. You’ll probably need surgery to repair the corpus cavernosa.
  • Peyronie’s disease: With this condition, scar tissue causes your penis to curve and possibly get shorter. You may feel a lump from the scarring.
  • Priapism: In this condition, you have an erection that lasts too long and becomes painful.
  • Ejaculation disorders: With these conditions, ejaculation may be delayed, premature or even go backward (retrograde ejaculation).
  • Cellulitis: This condition, a skin infection, can happen to the skin of the penis and then go deeper under the skin.


What are some common signs or symptoms of conditions that affect the corpus cavernosum?

Some signs or symptoms that you may have a condition that’s affecting your penis and related parts include:

  • Inability to get or maintain an erection.
  • Discharge from your penis.
  • Pain in your penis or in the perineal area (the space between your scrotum and your anus).
  • Pain or difficulty urinating (dysuria).
  • Swelling (inflammation).

What are common tests to check the health of the corpus cavernosum?

Your healthcare provider will take a medical history and do a physical examination. They might also order laboratory tests of urine, blood and material swabbed from the urethra.

Other tests might include imaging examinations, including:

They might also order a biopsy, or the removal of tissue, if necessary.

What are some common treatments of the corpus cavernous?

Treatments for diseases of the corpus cavernosum depend on the disease. For some diseases, like sexually transmitted infections, your provider may prescribe medications. For other diseases, like cancer, you may need surgery or chemotherapy.


What kinds of things can I do to keep the corpus cavernosum healthy?

Keeping your penis, and your corpus cavernosum, healthy is related to your overall health. This is especially true in terms of chronic conditions and is important to maintaining blood flow throughout your body, including your penis. Your penis health is related to the successful management of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Other tips include:

  • Keep your penis clean. Wash it gently every day with mild soap and water. If you still have your foreskin, be sure to clean underneath it as well.
  • Check your penis on a routine basis. (This check should include all of your sex organs such as your testicles and scrotum.) Let your healthcare provider know about changes that concern you.
  • Limit your sex partners. Use a condom when you have sex unless you're trying to have a baby. Avoid trauma or bending your penis during sex.
  • Protect your penis during sports and other rough activities. Wear a protective cup if needed.
  • Stop smoking and using tobacco products. Tobacco is bad for your overall health and your penis health as well.
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • See your healthcare provider right away if you experience any changes to your penis.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Keeping yourself healthy means keeping all parts of your body healthy. The health of your penis, including the corpus cavernosa, is important for many reasons. If you have pain or changes in your penis, or if your penis doesn’t work the way you want it to work, talk to your healthcare provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/18/2022.

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