Male discharge is any substance (other than urine) that comes from the urethra (a narrow tube in the penis) and flows out the tip of the penis.

Is it normal?

  • Normal penile discharges are pre-ejaculate and ejaculate, which occur with sexual arousal and sexual activity. Smegma, which is often seen in uncircumcised men who have the foreskin of their penis intact, is also a normal occurrence. However, smegma — a collection of oil and dead skin cells — is more a skin condition than a discharge.

Pre-ejaculate

Pre-ejaculate (also called precum) is a clear, mucoid fluid that is made by the Cowper’s glands. These glands sit alongside the urethra. Pre-ejaculate is secreted from the tip of the penis during sexual arousal.

Most men secrete anywhere from a few drops to up to a teaspoon, notes the International Society for Sexual Medicine, although some men can expel much more.

Pre-ejaculate helps to:

  • lubricate the penis in preparation for sex
  • clear acids from urine out of the penis (lower acidity means more sperm survival)

Ejaculate

Ejaculate is a white, cloudy, gooey substance that comes out of the tip of the penis when a man reaches orgasm. It contains sperm and fluids produced by the prostate, the Cowper’s glands, and the seminal vesicles in the testicles.

About 1 percent of ejaculate is sperm (the typical man ejaculates about a teaspoon of semen containing 200-million to 500-million sperm). The other 99 percent is made up of things like water, sugar, protein, and enzymes.

A variety of conditions produce male discharges that aren’t considered normal. These include:

Urethritis

Urethritis is an inflammation and infection of the urethra. Its symptoms include:

  • a yellowish, green penile discharge
  • a burning sensation when urinating
  • an urgent need to urinate
  • no symptoms at all

Urethritis is commonly caused by bacteria transmitted during unprotected sex with an infected partner.

According to the Merck Manual, some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that produce urethritis include:

In some cases, urethritis is caused by normal bacteria that cause ordinary urinary tract infections.

Balanitis

Balanitis is a condition marked by inflammation of the head (glans) of the penis. It can occur in both circumcised and uncircumcised males.

According to research published in the Journal of Nurse Practitioners, balanitis is more common in uncircumcised men, affecting about 3 percent of them worldwide. Symptoms are:

  • red, blotchy rash
  • pain when urinating
  • itchiness
  • oozing discharge from under the foreskin

Balanitis can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Poor hygiene. If the foreskin of the penis is not pulled back and the exposed area regularly cleaned, sweat, urine and dead skin can breed bacteria and fungus, causing irritation.
  • Allergy. Allergic reactions to soaps, lotions, lubricants, condoms, etc. can affect the penis.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases. STDs can cause inflammation in the tip of the penis.

Balanitis often occurs with posthitis, which is an inflammation of the foreskin. It can happen for all the same reasons as balanitis and produce similar symptoms.

When both the foreskin and head of the penis are inflamed, the condition is called balanoposthitis.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

While UTIs are more common in women than men, bacteria — normally from the rectum — can make their way into the urinary tract from improper cleansing after a bowel movement. This can result in a UTI.

Signs of a UTI include:

  • clear or pus-tinged fluid from the penis
  • feeling an urgent need to urinate
  • burning sensation when urinating
  • urine that is cloudy and/or foul smelling
  • fever

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

A variety of STDs can cause penile discharges. Some include:

  • Chlamydia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that chlamydia, which is caused by bacteria, is the number-one STD reported in the United States. Only 10 percent of men (and even fewer women) with documented cases have symptoms, says the CDC. When symptoms in men are present, they can include:
    • urethritis
    • watery or mucus-like discharge from the tip of the penis
    • pain or swelling in the testicles
    • Gonorrhea. Another common and frequently transmitted STD that may have no symptoms is gonorrhea. Men with gonorrhea may experience:
      • whitish, yellowish, or even greenish fluid coming from the tip of the penis
      • pain when urinating
      • swollen testicles

When to see the doctor If you have discharge from your penis that is not urine, pre-ejaculate, or ejaculate, see your doctor. You may have a condition that needs treatment.

Any penile discharge that is not urine or related to sexual arousal (pre-ejaculate or ejaculate) is considered abnormal and needs medical evaluation. Your doctor will:

  • take your medical and sexual history
  • ask about your symptoms
  • examine your penis
  • use a cotton swab to acquire some discharge, and send the sample out to a lab for analysis

Treatment will depend on what’s causing the penile discharge.

  • Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics.
  • Fungal infections, such as those that result from yeast, are combated with antifungals.
  • Allergic irritation can be calmed with steroids.

Penile discharge that occurs with sexual arousal or intercourse is normal. This discharge is generally clear and not associated with pain or discomfort.

Get checked out by a doctor, however, if:

  • your penis is red or irritated
  • you have a discharge that is oozing, discolored, or foul smelling
  • you have any discharge that occurs without sexual activity

This discharge could be the sign of an STD, allergic reaction, or UTI, and will need medical treatment.