You wake up one morning and notice your penis looks a little shorter. Soon, you’re convinced your losing length by the day. After awhile, if you don’t take action, your member is practically gone.
It sounds like a nightmare, but it’s actually a real medical condition. It’s called a buried penis—also known as a hidden penis—and doctors are seeing more and more cases of it.
Simply stated, “a buried penis is one where the penis itself does not extend outside the body,” says Drogo Montague, M.D., a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “There is an opening where the penis would normally hang, and the head is usually plush with skin, but there’s no shaft outside of the body.”
In an extreme case, your member might look more like a clitoris than a penis, says Ming-Hsien Wang, M.D., an associate professor of pediatric urology Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Of course, change occurs on a continuum, notes Dr. Montague. You might notice at first, for instance, that your penis just seems to get shorter and shorter. (Here are 10 things you never knew about your penis and your balls.) And it’s worth being concerned about.
What Causes a Buried Penis?
There tend to be two different types of buried penis. The first is a pediatric problem. Often, it’s the result of a bad circumcision where too much of a boy’s foreskin has been removed, says Dr. Wang.
The skin that’s left can form scar tissue and become so tight that the skin pulls forward, covering the penis, she says. This can also happen in men who get circumcised as adults.
If the issue is a circumcision gone wrong, it may also hurt when you get an erection, thanks to pulling on the scar tissue, says Dr. Wang.
A buried penis caused by circumcision can be fixed through surgery, she says. A doctor would remove the scar tissue and reconstruct the area.
The adult variety, on the other hand, is mostly due to one thing: obesity. “Obesity is an epidemic,” says Dr. Montague. While the rates of buried penises haven’t been thoroughly studied, he sees more men in his office today suffering from the issue than he has in the past. Which makes sense, as obesity experts are also seeing more clients than they have in the past.
6 Things Every Man Should Know About His Penis:
How Does Obesity Cause a Buried Penis?
First, a little refresher about your penis’s anatomy: The penis itself has two erection chambers, says Dr. Montague.
“About one-third of these are inside the body and two-thirds are outside in the penile shaft,” he says.
But if you’re overweight or morbidly obese—and noticing a change in length—what’s changing is basically how much of your penis is inside your body and how much is outside.
“With extreme obesity, it’s like the obese body engulfs the penis. A full buried penis is when the entire penis shaft is buried below the surface of the skin,” says Dr. Montague. The fat around the penis is engulfing it.
There are other reasons someone could wind up losing length down there beyond obesity, though. In radical prostatectomies—where the prostate is removed, like because of prostate cancer—men may lose about an inch of penile length, says Dr. Montague: That’s the result of pulling the urethra up to attach to the bladder.” (Still, it seems like most penile shortening rebounds as time passes after your surgery, as we reported, so don’t let that stop you from getting your prostate looked at and attended to, if needed.)
Peyronie’s disease—when scar tissue forms in the penis, often due to repeated injury—can also cause an erection to become shorter and curved, he says. Not only can that prevent you from having sex or make it difficult to have an erection, it can cause a huge amount of stress and anxiety. Certain drugs can help by reducing the amount of scar tissue. Other drugs can be injected into the penis to reduce curvature and pain. And if the problem is severe, surgery may be an option, and there are a few types of surgery that can be done, depending on your individual physiology and issue.
Related: 10 Simple Ways to Protect Your Erection Right Now
What Are the Effects Of a Buried Penis?
Beyond the psychological impact, buried penises can be seriously problematic.
For one, penetrative sex is also an obvious issue. “These men can’t have sex or sex is very difficult,” says Dr. Montague. (Here are secrets to pleasing a woman from a man with a micropenis.)
Plus, it’s hard for the area to stay clean, says Dr. Wang. You have to pee sitting down—and when you urinate, you can urinate all over yourself, she says.
Because it’s easier for this area to stay wet, Dr. Montague says hygiene becomes a big issue. Men can suffer from issues like diaper rash.
If you’ve had a buried penis for years, you may be at risk of some serious—though rare—health complications. In an extreme case, if the entire penis disappears, 20 years or so of chronic inflammation that occurs as a result could make penile cancer a worry, says Dr. Montague.
In fact, that inflammation, along with more frequent, low-grade infection as a result of the difficulty keeping clean, could make the development of cancer there more likely, according to Case Reports in Urology.
How Do You Treat a Buried Penis?
The best fix for a buried penis that occurs as a result of obesity is straightforward, if not always exactly simple or easy: weight loss.
If patients are able to drop back down to a more normal body weight, that can fix the problem entirely, says Dr. Montague. “The more weight they lose, the more helpful it is.” (Here’s where to start if you have more than 50 pounds to lose.)
But sometimes, surgery for a buried penis is necessary—particularly in those who don’t lose weight.
Surgery often entails removing tissue around the area, says Dr. Montague. Often, this can be through sucking fat out through liposuction and removing excess skin around where the pubic bone is.
“That allows the penis to come outside of body,” he says. “In most buried penis surgeries, skin and fat are cut out.”
Doctors might also remove a large, triangle-shaped area of skin and fat, and fix the penis at its proper location to the fascia, or connective issue, to keep it in its new and proper place, he says.
Even after natural weight loss, sometimes excess skin that’s hanging down into your pubic area must be removed, says Dr. Wang. “That’s the best way to prevent a buried penis from coming back.”