Genital Friction Burns: What You Should Know

Andrew Siegel MD   10/1/2022

Recently, a newlywed twenty-something-year-old male consulted me regarding numerous lesions on his penis. He related that he had not been sexually active prior to marriage but after his wedding he made up for lost time with frequent sexual intercourse. Physical exam showed numerous superficial penile abrasions that were red, raw, and irritated. These were classic friction burns and he was instructed to refrain from sexual activity until healed and apply petroleum jelly as an emollient.

“Road rash” is the term used for an unpleasant abrasive skin injury caused by accidental contact with road surfaces, well known to cyclists, bikers, in-line skaters, and skateboarders.  Similarly, genital friction rash is an abrasive genital skin injury that results from vigorous or prolonged sexual activity, often with insufficient lubrication.

As a piston of an engine moves repetitively within a cylinder, requiring proper fitting of the component parts and sufficient lubrication to avoid excessive friction, so a mechanical view of sexual activity — whether solitary or partnered — is that it involves moving parts that need to be lubricated and fit together optimally.

When two surfaces rub against each other for a prolonged time or at repeated intervals and/or there is insufficient lubrication, friction burns may result.  Masturbation or partnered sex is usually responsible for these burns, particularly when it is vigorous, rough, or prolonged.  Men who suffer with delayed ejaculation (and their partners) are particularly susceptible to friction burns.  Penile skin is necessarily thin and mobile to allow it to move freely and accommodate erections and when this skin is rubbed to the extent that it becomes raw, abraded, and sore, friction rashes result. In addition to redness, irritation, chafing and discomfort, it can sometimes result in blistering. Similarly, vaginal friction burns may occur to females exposed to vigorous, rough, or prolonged sex.

Genital friction burns can easily be confused with lesions due to sexually transmitted infections (STIs); however, genital friction burns are noticed immediately following or during sexual activity, as opposed to lesions from STIs that take a variable amount of time to manifest.  

The key to preventing genital friction burns is to use adequate lubrication, avoid overly rough sexual activity, and to cease if experiencing pain. Although the typical patient with a genital friction burn is a young person who is extremely sexually active, the situation can occur at any age and to older adults, including post-menopausal females and/or their partners if sufficient lubrication is not used to help the vaginal dryness, vaginal wall thinning, and diminished lubrication that often accompanies menopause.

Nature and time allow genital abrasions to heal spontaneously.  It is important to avoid sexual activity until the friction burns are fully healed.  Wearing loose-fitting, breathable underwear and applying petroleum jelly to the burns twice daily can facilitate the healing process. If the abrasions are infected, a topical antibiotic can be helpful. If the genital friction burns do not heal satisfactorily with conservative measures and avoidance of sexual activity, a consultation with a dermatologist is in order.

Bottom Line: Genital friction burns can occur when sex is rough, prolonged, repeated, or unlubricated.  This situation can be avoided by using sufficient lubrication, refraining being overly rough, and ceasing when and if pain is experienced.

Wishing you the best of health,

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro AreaInside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community. He is a urologist at New Jersey Urology, one of the largest urology practices in the United States.  He is the co-founder of PelvicRx and Private Gym.  His latest book is Prostate Cancer 20/20: A Practical Guide to Understanding Management Options for Patients and Their Families. 

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Preview of Prostate Cancer 20/20

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PROSTATE CANCER 20/20 is now available at Audible, iTunes and Amazon as an audiobook read by the author (just over 6 hours). 

Dr. Siegel’s other books:

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual, and Urinary Health


MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health

PROMISCUOUS EATING— Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

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