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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Some of the common conditions that affect the corpus cavernosum include:
Some signs or symptoms that you may have a condition that’s affecting your penis and related parts include:
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.
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.
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:
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/18/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.