Male discharge is any fluid that comes from the urethra other than urine.
The urethra is a narrow tube that carries urine from the bladder and semen from the ejaculatory ducts. These fluids travel along the urethra before exiting the body at the urethral opening in the tip of the penis.
Some types of discharge are natural and help protect or lubricate the penis. Others may occur as a result of an underlying health condition.
These may be accompanied by symptoms such as pain, irritation, or an unpleasant smell.
This article describes the types of penile discharge that doctors consider normal and those they consider to be abnormal. We outline the symptoms associated with each and provide information on when to see a doctor.
What is normal discharge?
Preejaculate and ejaculate are part of normal discharge.
Normal discharge includes preejaculate and ejaculate. These are released from the tip of the penis during sexual arousal and intercourse.
Although not strictly penile discharge, smegma is another substance that may build up around the head of the penis.
The sections below will cover these types of normal male discharge in more detail.
Preejaculatory fluid, or precum, is a thick alkaline mucus produced in the bulbourethral glands. The bulbourethral glands, or Cowper’s glands, are two pea-sized glands located below the prostate gland.
During sexual stimulation, the bulbourethral glands secrete up to 4 milliliters (ml) of preejaculate into the urethra.
Preejaculatory fluid may:
function as a lubricant for semen
lubricate the tip of the penis during intercourse
neutralize acidity left by urine residue in the urethra
neutralize vaginal acidity
Whereas the bulbourethral glands release preejaculatory fluid, it is the testes that release sperm. Nonetheless, a 2011 study found that some preejaculate contains live sperm. Preejaculatory samples from the participants contained up to 23 million sperm.
Researchers are not sure whether preejaculate is contaminated immediately before ejaculation or contaminated with sperm leftover from a previous ejaculation.
Ejaculate, or semen, is a milky, cloudy fluid that travels through the urethra and out of the penis following sexual stimulation. This process is called ejaculation, and it usually happens during orgasm.
Healthy sperm concentrations in semen are around 15–150 million sperm per ml of semen.
Sperm are produced in the testes. They then mature inside ducts located behind the testes. These ducts are called the epididymis and the vas deferens.
During sexual stimulation, the sperm mix with seminal fluid to form semen. Seminal fluid is a whitish liquid produced by the prostate glands and glands called the seminal vesicles.
Sperm make up a small part of semen. Semen is composed of the following:
around 5% secretions from the bulbourethral glands
15–30% secretions from the prostate
fluid from the seminal vesicle