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Penile Discharge

On This Page: Appearance | Causes | Symptoms | Testing & Treatment

What is Penile Discharge?

Penile discharge, also known as urethral discharge, is any liquid that comes out of the penis that isn’t urine or semen. Penile discharge usually comes out through the he urethra, a tube that runs through the penis and has an opening at the tip. While penile discharge can be caused by many factors, leaking or oozing from the penis is often the result of an infection, such as sexually transmitted diseases.1

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What Does the Discharge Look Like?

Discharge from the penis can be watery and clear, or opaque and cloudy. It may contain pus and/or blood and have an unpleasant odor. Penile discharge can vary in color, consistency, and amount: It can be thin or thick, and might be clear, white, yellow, or tinted red from the blood. The flow can be hardly noticeable to impossible to ignore.

What Causes Penile Discharge?

Penile discharge is often the result of infection, commonly sexually transmitted infections (like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis) or germs that cause urinary tract infections.2 But other things can also cause discharge too. Factors or conditions that can cause penile discharge include:

Nonsexual Causes of Penile Discharge:

  • Pre-ejaculate – The fluid that leaks out of the penis when aroused. Also known as ‘precum.’ Usually, there is so little pre-ejaculate that it goes unnoticed.3
  • Chemical irritation – Many kinds of soap, deodorant, spermicide, and other chemicals can cause irritation.
  • Mechanical manipulation – Damage from rough sex or masturbation or the insertion of objects (like a catheter) can cause the urethra to become inflamed and discharge fluid.
  • Smegma – Oily or waxy mixture of skin cells, oil, and moisture that collects under the foreskin. While smegma is a natural occurrence, it may indicate poor hygiene.
  • Balanitis – Inflammation of the head (glans) of the penis. Balanitis is typically caused by poor hygiene, irritation from urine, or physical manipulation, but thrush, bacterial infections, and STDs can also cause it.

Sexual Causes of Penile Discharge:

  • Urethritis – The inflammation of the urethra caused by a bacterial infection, and a common cause of discharge from the penis. Infectious urethritis is usually classified as either gonococcal or nongonococcal.
    • Gonococcal urethritis – Inflammation of the urethra caused by gonorrhea.4
    • Nongonococcal Urethritis– All infections of the urethra that aren’t caused by gonorrhea — usually by chlamydia.
  • Trichomonas vaginalis – An STI caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. Trichomoniasis can cause urethritis, which in turn causes discharge.
  • Genital herpes – Most often caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), but sometimes by HSV-1.
  • Mycoplasma genitalium – Sometimes known as MG, mycoplasma genitalium is a sexually transmitted bacteria that can cause infection, leading to painful urination.
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI) – A bacterial infection that occurs anywhere within the urinary tract. Urinary tract infections are rare in men under the age of 50.
  • Prostatitis – Inflammation of the prostate.5

What Are the Symptoms of Penile Discharge?

Urethritis, the inflammation of the urethra, is one of the most common signs associated with discharge from the penis. Penile discharge may be accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • Painful urination (dysuria)
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Itchiness or tenderness of the penis
  • Swelling of the penis
  • Pain during sex or masturbation
  • Blood in urine or semen.
  • Swollen testicles
  • Balanitis – Specific inflammation of the head of the penis.6

Is Penile Discharge Normal?

While discharge from the penis is not considered typical or normal for men, cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia are very common. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause serious health problems when left untreated, including infertility, so it is important to get tested for any instance of penile discharge.

When to Test and Get Treatment

For men, urine, precum, and cum are the only normal types of penile discharge. If you notice other types of discharge, an STD could be the cause and it may be wise to get tested. Those who are sexually active should consider getting tested yearly anyways.

The sooner an STD is identified, the sooner it can be treated and the less severe symptoms.

  1. “Urethral Discharge in Men.” Kaiser Permanente. https://mydoctor.kaiserpermanente.org/ncal/Images/8508-E_tcm75-14757.pdf
  2. “Dysuria: Evaluation and Differential Diagnosis in Adults.” American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/1101/p778.html
  3. “What is Pre-Ejaculate or Precum?” International Society for Sexual Medicine. https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-is-pre-ejaculate-or-precum/
  4. “Non-gonococcal Urethritis - Causes.” National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/non-gonococcal-urethritis/causes/
  5. “Prostatitis: Inflammation of the Prostate.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/prostate-problems/prostatitis-inflammation-prostate
  6. “Balanitis.” SA Health. https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/health+topics/health+conditions+prevention+and+treatment/infectious+diseases/balanitis

Medically Reviewed by on February 3, 2020


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