An erection is the engorgement and stiffening of the penis into an upright position. Erections can be sensitive and pleasurable, especially during sexual activity or as a result of certain medications, but they can also feel uncomfortable or embarrassing. Most people describe their erections as being firm and tight, but they can also be soft and spongy.
The most common type of erection is psychogenic, which means it’s caused by arousal or excitement. However, some erections are reflexogenic, which means they’re the result of sensory signals from nerves in and around the penis. These signals send messages to the sacral erection center in the spinal cord and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps the blood flow to the penis and leads to an erection.
Lastly, nocturnal erections are when men of any age experience an erection while sleeping. Research6 shows that nocturnal erections can be the result of hormones and/or testosterone, which lead to engorgement of the corpora cavernosa. These erections usually occur in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep stage of the night and can interfere with sleep.
If you’re experiencing erections that are uncomfortable, spongy, or last longer than usual, it may be time to see your doctor. You might have erectile dysfunction (ED), which is usually treatable with medication or other healthy lifestyle changes.