Overview

From time to time, men are likely to experience random erections. A random erection is an erection that occurs without sexual stimulation. Random erections are normal.

Teenagers and young adults are more likely to get random erections, though they can occur in adult men too. Random erections that occur only in the morning are normal in many men, regardless of age. Occasionally having trouble getting or keeping an erection is not cause for concern either. However, if you notice a lot of changes in erection frequency or ability, it could be a sign of erectile dysfunction (ED) or another underlying medical issue.

Testosterone and erections

A 2016 review reiterated that testosterone plays a significant role in sexual function. Another review from 2006 specifically looked at the role of testosterone in erections and found that there is also a connection. It’s unclear what role testosterone plays in random erections, however, and experts aren’t sure what exactly triggers a random erection. While testosterone may play a role in causing random erections, erections are a result of many things happening in the body at once.

A typical erection occurs when men become sexually aroused. As a result of that arousal, hormones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels all work together to create an erection. It begins when nerve signals in the brain stimulate penis muscles to relax. That allows blood to flow into the penis, filling it until an erection is achieved. Then the vessels close off to maintain the erection. After arousal, the veins to the penis reopen and let blood leave.

For the most part, random erections are considered a normal function and can be a sign of good health.

Nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT)

Nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT), sometimes called morning wood, is a type of random erection. The main symptom of NPT is waking up with an erect penis. NPT is a common occurrence for many boys and men.

Waking with an erect penis is a sign of healthy blood and nerve supply to the penis. Boys and men with NPT are likely to be able to maintain an erection while awake.

NPT is more common in younger men, though adult men can experience this. As men reach the ages of 40–50, natural testosterone levels begin to fall. As this level decreases, episodes of NPT may decrease as well. On average, men experience up to five erections while they are sleeping, and each erection lasts about 30 minutes.

Learn more: 9 Signs of low testosterone »

What causes NPT?

Many factors are thought to cause NPT. One cause is physical stimulation, which your body can sense even while you sleep. This means your bed sheets brushing against your skin could trigger an erection. Hormonal shifts may be the culprit, as testosterone is highest in the morning after waking. Brain relaxation may also be a factor, as the body releases hormones to suppress erections during waking hours, but less of them during sleep.

When should you see a doctor?

If notice a sudden change in the frequency of your erections, talk to your doctor. You should also see your doctor if you experience any pain in the penis during, prior to, or after an erection. If an erection persists for more than 4 hours, you should go to an emergency room immediately.

There is no need to medically manage random erections as they are a normal occurrence.

Outlook

Random erections outside of sexual stimulation are normal and generally not cause for alarm. Men who have consistent problems reaching or maintaining erection should consult their doctors because that may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Managing random erections

It may not be possible to avoid random erections. If you’re concerned about your random erections, talk to your doctor. They can determine if your erections are normal or a sign of an underlying condition.

If a random erection happens, here are some things you can do to manage the condition:

  • Think about something else. Try to focus on something other than your erection. Distracting yourself may help your erection pass more quickly.
  • Avoid stimulating your erection. Further stimulation can turn the random erection into a normal erection, which may cause it to take longer to go away.
  • Try shifting your position. You may be able to disguise the erection if you sit down and casually bunch your pants up in the crotch area.
  • Put your hands in your pockets. Once your hands are in your pockets, you can try to gently reposition the erection so that it’s closer to your body. This can help hide your erection if you’re standing.
  • Cover your crotch with a book, jacket, bag, or anything else that’s available.
  • Remember that this is a normal condition. Random erections can be a sign of healthy sexual functioning, and many men experience them.