Penile discharge refers to any fluid that is secreted by the urethra other than urine. Normal penile discharge includes pre-ejaculate and ejaculate. However, a person may start to get worried when penile discharge occurs when they are not sexually aroused or engaging in sexual activities. Depending on what causes it, discharge can vary in color and consistency. Sometimes, discharge can be clear and watery, but other times, it can be thick and cloudy. Penile discharge can also be bloody. Besides pre-ejaculate and ejaculate, smegma is an occurrence common in uncircumcised men that may also be mistaken as discharge (because of its thick and cheesy consistency) while it actually is a collection of oil and dead skin cells under the foreskin.
Penile discharge which is indicative of something larger is usually accompanied with pain and burning sensation. It is important to know that abnormal penile discharge is not only caused by STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, because urinary tract infection (UTI) is often the culprit behind it. Any penile discharge that is not related to sexual arousal and activities warrants medical examinations by health professionals. In this article, we are going to dig deeper into the STD and non-STD causes of penile discharge.
Several things that cause abnormal discharge which do not have to do with STDs include urinary tract infection (UTI), prostatitis and balanitis.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
Although it is true that females are more prone to UTI due to their anatomy, it does not mean that males cannot get them. There are various types of UTI and the infection can take place in different parts of the urinary tract (bladder, kidney, ureter or urethra). In males, discharge can be triggered by urethritis. An inflammation and infection of the urethra, urethritis can be caused by gonorrhea (gonococcal urethritis) or other things (non-gonococcal urethritis).
Not limited to penile discharge, non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU) can cause pain, burning sensation when urinating, persistent urge to urinate, and itching. Some factors which can lead to NGU include:
- Adenovirus (a virus causing gastroenteritis, pinkeye, and sore throat)
- Irritations due to certain products (detergent and soap)
- Injuries or damages caused by the use of catheters, masturbation or intercourse
- Injuries sustained by the genitals
Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate, a gland surrounding the urethra which is in charge of producing prostatic fluid which is an element of semen. The causes of this condition range from infection, injury or immune system disorder. In some cases, there are no apparent causes. Along with abnormal penile discharge, defining symptoms of prostatitis may include pain, foul-smelling urine, bloody urine, struggles and difficulties when urinating, interrupted urine flow as well as difficulty ejaculating.
Acute prostatitis refers to prostatitis which can resolve on its own or with treatment after a few days or weeks. Chronic prostatitis, on the other hand, lingers for a minimum of 3 months and will not clear up without treatment.
Often discovered in uncircumcised men, balanitis is an inflammation of the foreskin. Balanitis can cause a certain amount of pain. However, it is not a fatal or serious condition. The main reason behind balanitis usually has to do with poor hygiene, fungal and bacterial infections, skin disorders such as phimosis (tight foreskin which does not pull back over the glans), health problems (diabetes and obesity) as well as harsh soaps and bath products. Having STIs can also lead to balanitis.
Balanitis is often mistaken as other types of STDs since the symptoms take the form of redness, pain and foreskin discharge. These symptoms can appear all at once or develop gradually. Other obvious symptoms include:
- Red patches
- White areas around the skin of the penis
- Itchiness under foreskin
Particular STDs can cause abnormal penile discharge. Among these STDs, chlamydia and gonorrhea are two frequent culprits.
One of the three most common STIs in Singapore, chlamydia is a bacterial STI caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. Some people infected by chlamydia may not develop any symptoms. In men, symptoms of chlamydia can include:
- Painful or burning sensation while trying to urinate
- Swelling in testicles
- Watery or mucus-like penile discharge (often yellowish or beige in color)
- Chlamydial urethritis (often accompanied by penile discharge), where the urethra gets inflamed and leads to difficulty urinating. Discomfort usually occurs at the tip of the penis where the urethra ends. Symptoms of chlamydial urethritis can resemble the symptoms of gonorrhea
Another penile discharge-causing STD besides chlamydia is gonorrhea. Neisseria gonorrhoeae is the bacteria responsible for this disease and it can spread through oral, anal and vaginal sex. This STD can clear up with the consumption of antibiotics. Penile discharge caused by this STI can be whitish, yellowish and even greenish (sometimes with odor). Along with penile discharge, gonococcal urethritis is one symptom that frequently occurs. In fact, gonorrhea is the leading cause of urethritis. At times, people can have chlamydia and gonorrhea at the same time. Swollen testicles and painful urination can be indicative of this STD.
When to see a doctor
Any discharge from the penis that is not urine, pre-ejaculate or ejaculate is enough reason to get a medical evaluation. Although the conditions behind penile discharge are normally not life-threatening, they still need to get treated before they develop into something more serious.
When getting examined, health professionals will inquire about your medical and sexual history, symptoms, perform an evaluation on your penis and take samples of the discharge to be sent to the lab. It is imperative that you disclose honest information to your doctor.
Treatment will vary depending on the reason behind the penile discharge:
- Antibiotics will be prescribed for bacterial infections
- Fungal infections can be treated with antifungals
- Steroids can effectively calm allergic irritations
Getting the full status of your sexual health can help determine whether or not your penile discharge is related to STDs. Shim Clinic is a men’s sexual health clinic based in Singapore. We specialize in STD testing, diagnosis and treatment. We also carry prevention methods such as HIV PEP (best taken within 72 hours after a possible exposure), HIV PrEP and HPV vaccine (Gardasil-9).now!