Rubbing very hard on your penis — whether during sex or masturbation — can create enough heat to burn and scrape off skin. This is called a friction burn. It produces intense redness and discomfort.

Any irritation down below can be unpleasant, to say the least. Because pain and redness are also signs of common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you might wonder whether your symptoms are the result of your enthusiasm or something more serious.

Keep reading to learn how to tell these conditions apart, what you can do for a friction burn, and how to prevent future irritation.

A friction burn looks like a cross between a scrape and a heat burn. It makes the skin of your penis red, swollen, and tender to the touch.

If just the tip of your penis is inflamed and in pain, it’s more likely that you have balanitis. Balanitis can also be caused by intense rubbing.

Other symptoms of balanitis include:

  • tightened foreskin
  • discharge
  • itchiness

Pain and redness can also be symptoms of a few different STIs, including:

Here are some other signs that you have an STI and not a friction burn:

  • white, yellow, green, or watery discharge from your penis
  • pain or burning when you urinate or ejaculate
  • painful or swollen testicles
  • itching or irritation inside your penis
  • sores on your penis, rectum, or mouth

The best cures for a friction burn are time and rest. A minor burn should heal within a week.

During this time, you should:

  • Wear loose-fitting, breathable underwear and pants in soft fabrics. You don’t want to wear anything that could rub against your penis and irritate it more.
  • Apply a gentle moisturizer, petroleum jelly, or aloe vera to the skin of your penis as needed.
  • See your doctor if your skin’s draining pus. This is usually a sign of infection. Your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic cream or ointment to help it heal.

You should also abstain from sexual activity and masturbation until your skin has had time to heal. If you resume activity too soon, it could make your symptoms worse or lead to further complications.

Friction burns are usually caused by intense or repeated contact between the skin and a hard object — like the floor or the road.

Many of the friction burn injuries seen in hospitals happen during road accidents, when someone falls off a motorcycle or out of a car and slides across the pavement.

Redness and irritation on your penis can have other causes, too. Balanitis may occur due to infection or allergic reactions.

You’re more likely to get balanitis if you:

  • sweat a lot in your genital area, creating a moist climate for bacteria, fungi, and other germs
  • aren’t circumcised, which can allow germs to collect under your intact foreskin
  • don’t wash your penis very well or don’t dry it completely after washing
  • dry too vigorously by rubbing too hard with a towel
  • have diabetes, which increases your risk for penile yeast infections

To avoid friction burns, be gentler when you masturbate or have sex. If your penis hurts, stop rubbing, or at least ease up on the intensity.

Use a water-based lubricant or a prelubricated condom during partner sex and solo play to reduce friction. Avoid oil-based lubes. They can make condoms break.

Wearing a latex condom is one of the best ways to protect against STIs. If you have more than one partner, wear one every time you have sex. Make sure you put it on correctly. A condom that breaks or leaks won’t protect you or your partner against STIs or unwanted pregnancy.

Here are a few other tips to help prevent penis irritation:

  • Keep your penis clean. Wash it with warm water and soap every day in the shower. If your foreskin is intact, gently pull it back and wash underneath. Also wash the base of your penis and testicles.
  • Watch for a thick, white substance under your foreskin called smegma. If it builds up, bacteria can multiply and cause balanitis.
  • Dry your penis thoroughly. Gently pat— don’t rub — with a towel.
  • If you have diabetes, make sure it’s well controlled. Ask your doctor for advice on how to prevent yeast infections.

You can usually manage a friction burn at home but keep an eye out for more serious symptoms.

See your doctor right away if you have:

  • yellow or green discharge from your penis
  • pain or burning when you go to the bathroom
  • a painful or itchy rash, blisters, or warts on your penis that don’t go away
  • pain during sex