COVID-19 Symptoms and Effects on Male Genitals
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- Male genitals, including the prostate, testicles, and penis, can be affected by the COVID-19 virus
- The virus increases the likelihood of erectile dysfunction and can decrease male testosterone and sperm count, impacting fertility
- Researchers are still unsure about the short-term and long-term implications to male sexual health
Various organs of the male reproductive system, such as the testicles, penis, and prostate, can be impacted by the COVID virus. Although it’s a rare side-effect, it may affect overall sexual health and fertility. This condition is sometimes referred to as “COVID penis.”
While COVID-19 primarily affects the respiratory system, it can also impact the reproductive system, causing a range of sexual health problems for men, including erectile dysfunction (ED) and a decrease in testosterone and sperm count. In this article, we’ll delve into what causes COVID to impact the male genitalia, how you can treat it, and what you can do to prevent it from happening in the first place.
What impact can COVID have on male genitalia?
- Testicular pain
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Reduced sperm count
- Decreased fertility
- Smaller penis size
- Decreased sexual drive
- Prolonged erection
How does COVID impact male genitalia?
There are a few theories on how COVID-19 can cause problems with male genitalia.
Researchers from Northwestern University made a surprising discovery last year when they used a PET scan to locate sites of COVID-19 infection in monkeys. They found that the COVID virus had infiltrated the entire male genital tract, including the testicles, prostate, and penis. This led them to conclude that the testicular pain, erectile dysfunction, low testosterone, reduced sperm count, and fertility issues linked to COVID-19 are not secondary effects of fever or inflammation but rather a direct result of the virus infecting cells in the male reproductive system. 4
Other studies have also found links between COVID and normal sexual function in males. Medical researchers at the University of Florida Health found that men with COVID-19 were more than 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with erectile dysfunction than those who didn’t have COVID. The study noted that the risk might be even higher because the stigma of ED makes men less apt to report it to physicians. 5
It’s not unusual for a disease to cause erectile dysfunction in men. There’s already an established link between periodontal disease and ED. Other viral illnesses, such as influenza and HIV/AIDS, are responsible for drops in testosterone production. 6 These viruses affect the hypothalamus, a part of the brain known to regulate the body’s normal functions. That could explain why researchers found that almost 30% of men who recovered from COVID-19 had lowered testosterone levels. 7 Relatedly, other studies have connected COVID to drops in sperm count, which could negatively impact sexual fertility. 8
Adding to the body of research that connects COVID-19 to problems with male sexual health, evidence has been found of COVID-19 particles in the penile tissue of men who have had COVID, as well as proof of endothelial dysfunction. This condition, in which the small blood vessel linings do not function properly, leads to a lack of adequate blood supply to various body parts, causing ED and possible shrinkage of the penis. 9
How long can COVID impact male genitalia and sexual health?
While the medical community is aware that men’s sexual health is being affected by COVID, they still do not know how long these symptoms can last.
A study conducted in China on recovered COVID-19 patients revealed that issues with achieving an erection could persist longer than 6 months. 10 Another study, which followed a group of COVID-19 patients, discovered significant degradation in sperm count and semen volume up to 2 months after infection. 11 In Italy, researchers found that over 50% of men continued to experience low testosterone levels, which can impact erectile function, 7 months after being infected with COVID-19. 12
The impact of COVID-19 on short-term and long-term male sexual health is an area of ongoing research and study.
How do you treat male genitalia affected by COVID?
So how can you treat the problems caused by COVID-19 to male sexual health? First, it’s important to contact your doctor. They’ll likely ask about your medical history, do a physical exam, and order lab tests. They’ll also probably refer you to a urologist, a doctor specializing in treating problems with the male reproductive tract.
- Phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors. Medications like Viagra can be used to increase blood flow to the penis.
- Vacuum-assisted device. This device slides onto the penis and creates a vacuum by removing air from a cylinder, resulting in increased blood flow and an erection.
- Suppository. This product can be inserted into the penis to stimulate an erection.
- Self-injection. A medication can be injected into the penis using a small needle, triggering an erection.
- Penile implant surgery. This procedure involves the surgical placement of a prosthetic device inside the penis and an activation pump that creates an erection when used.
In summary, COVID-19 can severely affect men’s sexual health and wellness, including erectile dysfunction and lower testosterone and sperm count.
It’s crucial for men who have recovered from COVID-19 but are worried about possible long-term impacts to seek medical attention, as the full extent of the disease's effects in males is not yet known. The body of research backing up the existence of COVID and its impact on male genitalia, such as the penis, prostate, and testicles, should also give men another good reason to get vaccinated and receive their boosters on time.
Q: Does coronavirus infect the male genital tract?
A: Yes, COVID-19 can infect various tissues of the male genital tract, such as the testicles, penis, and prostate.
Q: How can I protect my male genitalia from the effects of COVID?
A: The best way to prevent complications to your male sexual health and fertility is to reduce your risk of getting COVID in the first place. That means following local COVID guidelines and getting vaccinated.
Q: Can COVID-19 lead to erectile dysfunction?
A: Some evidence suggests that COVID-19 can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED) in some patients. The virus can cause damage to blood vessels and affect the body's ability to produce nitric oxide, a molecule that plays a vital role in the erectile process. Additionally, the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by COVID-19 may contribute to ED.
Q: Can COVID-19 affect male fertility?
A: Some studies suggest that the virus may potentially affect sperm quality and reduce sperm count, while others indicate no significant impact on male fertility. However, more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 on male reproductive health.
Q: Can COVID cause pain in the male penis, prostate, and testicles?
A: Yes, COVID-19 can cause pain in the male penis, prostate, and testicles. SARS-CoV-2 can infect various tissues of the male genital tract, and inflammation caused by the infection may lead to pain in the affected areas.