Question:

My son just turned 8 and is having erections. He tells me it hurts and burns. I told him to put a cold wet cloth on it so it will go down. My husband tells me it is normal, but he seems so young and it seems to hurt. Is this normal and any suggestions on how to handle this?

Answer:

By erections, I must assume you are referring to the normal stiffening of the penis that all boys have periodically from before their birth. For a boy to be having a full erection where the penis increases in size would be very unusual at the age of eight. Normally boys do not enter puberty until they are between the ages of nine and sixteen. Erections don't begin until a year to eighteen months after the onset of puberty. For your son to have full erections at age eight means he would have started puberty at age six or seven, which is just too early for normal development.

But returning to the more likely situation that his penis is getting stiff, but it is hurting, this too is not normal. I can think of a few causes, but I would recommend that his doctor take a look at him.

Is your son uncircumcised? If so, then has his foreskin separated from his glans yet? To find out, ask your son to pull the skin of his penis back toward his body as far as it will go without discomfort. Have him do it because you don't want to force separation if it hasn't happened yet. In about 90% of uncircumcised males, the foreskin separates in the first few years of life. The rest don't achieve separation until after puberty. What I am wondering is if it is possible that your son is in the later group and it is beginning to separate, which is causing discomfort. If this is the case, then the best solution is to have your son pull on his foreskin away from his body to stretch it as far as it will go comfortably. Have him do it each time he goes to the restroom, bathes, or changes clothes. The pull will cause a gentle shearing action that helps the foreskin separate from the glans without tearing the skin. Once a week or so, check the progress by having him pull the foreskin back toward his body. You will probably see some whitish, waxy material under the foreskin and on the glans. This is smegma, a natural protective coating. It is the same stuff that covers a baby's skin when it first comes from the womb. Take a warm washcloth and have him gently wash most of it off. He might not get it all, but that is fine. Avoid using soap as any that might remain under the foreskin will irritate it. In several weeks, the foreskin will completely separate from the glans. Make sure your son knows to wash under his foreskin each time he bathes.

A second possibility is that if your son is uncircumcised and he got soap under his foreskin, it would hurt, especially when the skin is stretched from a stiffening of the penis. Have him pull the foreskin back and see if it looks red and irritated. If so, rinse it thoroughly and show him how to wash under his foreskin without using soap in that area.

A third possibility is that your son might have gotten a yeast infection under his foreskin. This usually comes from not keeping the area properly clean. If this is the case, you will need to ask your doctor to check it and advise as to what antifungal medication to use.

Another possibility is that he has scraped or irritated the skin of his penis. A stiffening of the penis will stretch the skin, making it uncomfortable. Is there any sign of a red or roughened area on his skin?

A fifth possibility is that your son has an infection in the urethra (the tube within the penis). Usually, when this happens, he will have pain or discomfort when peeing. Again, a doctor will need to examine it and prescribe something to kill the infection.

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