The dictionary definition of ‘erection’ isn’t likely to surprise you. Generally it’s something like, “an enlarged and rigid state of the penis, typically in sexual excitement”. No crazy curveballs there. But what you might not know is that there are actually three types of erection, all of which most people with a penis will experience at some point in their lives.
The prefix ‘psycho-’ comes from the Greek word meaning soul; mind, whereas genic relates to genes in the body. So, what is known as a psychogenic erection is a physical reaction typically stemming from what’s going on in the brain. This could be sexy thoughts, fantasies and emotions, possibly provoked from visual or auditory stimulation (such as our guided self pleasure sessions!)
These erections come as a result of information travelling through nerve pathways from the brain down the spinal cord to a place called the Sacral Erection Centre, and ultimately, the collection of nerve fibres in the penis and erectile tissue.
As you may gather from the name, nocturnal erections are those which usually happen involuntarily at night while asleep. Nocturnal erections happen in the deepest phase of sleeping - REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. This is also the stage of sleeping we are in when we have vivid dreams - so these erections can have a lot to do with wet dreams or ‘nocturnal emissions’.
A person’s natural levels of testosterone and androgens (sex hormones) can influence how often nocturnal erections occur - there’s nothing wrong with having a lot or not many of them. In fact, it is possible that a nocturnal erection is just your body working to increase tissue oxygenation in the penis while you sleep.
As the word ‘reflex’ may suggest, reflexogenic erections occur in response to direct touch on the penis or erogenous zone. Reflexogenic erections don’t necessarily have to involve arousing thoughts - they have a lot more to do with physiology.
Specifically, reflexogenic erections are triggered by sensory receptors in the skin of a penis. When the penis is touched, information is sent through the nerves, again to the Sacral Erection Centre’ in the spinal cord. Nerve signals give the green light to the penis to relax and expand - and voila. Erection.
Anyone with a penis can get an erection, including biological men and trans men of all ages - starting as early infancy. Now we broadly understand the different types of erection and the emotional and physical nuances to them, it’s important to recognise that not all erections are necessarily sexual in nature, and an erection does not automatically equate to consent.