Penile Discharge

It's normal for penile discharge to occur during arousal but before ejaculation, also known as precum, However, if penile discharge occurs that's not precum, ejaculation, or urine, or if the discharge is abnormally colored or textured, an infection could be the cause.

Abnormal penile discharge is often a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but the symptom can also be present with other conditions. Some common causes of abnormal penile discharge include STIs like gonorrhea or chlamydia, urinary tract or foreskin infections, and allergens or irritants. It's advised to see a healthcare professional when abnormal penile discharge occurs.

This article covers the symptoms and types of penile discharge, the causes of penile discharge, and how to treat penile discharge.

Man talking to doctor

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Symptoms of Penile Discharge

Common symptoms of penile discharge include:

  • Clear liquid that appears during sexual arousal but not during ejaculation: This is precum, and it is normal penile discharge.
  • Discharge when not sexually excited: If discharge occurs when someone is not sexually aroused, an infection in the genitalia or prostate could be the cause.
  • Discharge that is cloudy, abnormally light or dark, or strangely colored: Abnormal penile discharge is usually not clear, however, if it occurs outside of sexual arousal, a diagnosis might be necessary.
  • Blood from the urethra: Blood from the urethra (the tube that transports urine out of the bladder) can be invisible or visible. If it is visible, it could be harmless and pass after some time, or it could indicate infection.

When penile discharge indicates infection, other symptoms might include:

  • Strange smells from the genitals, including a "fishy" smell
  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Genital itching or soreness
  • Urinating often
  • Swelling or tenderness in or around the penis and genitals
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Flu-like symptoms like body aches, chills, fever, or feeling too hot

Causes of Penile Discharge

The most common causes of penile discharge and types of discharge they cause include:

Other possible causes of penile discharge include:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI): Bacteria in the urinary tract that can cause clear or pus-like discharge
  • Smegma: A natural substance that grows under the foreskin that can build up if the penis is not washed daily, appearing like cheesy discharge
  • Balanitis: Inflammation of the head of the penis resulting from infections, allergies, physical trauma, or poor hygiene that results in smegma buildup
  • Prostatitis: Inflammation of the prostate gland that can cause bloody discharge
  • Allergic reactions to fabrics, detergents, medications, or other irritants, which can cause inflammation like nonspecific urethritis or balanitis

What Medications Can Cause Penile Discharge?

Drug allergies can cause inflammation on the penis, which could lead to penile discharge. These include allergies to antibiotics like tetracycline or sulfonamide.

How to Treat Penile Discharge

Treating penile discharge can depend on the source of infection. Some common treatments include:

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics can treat bacterial STIs like gonorrhea, infections like a UTI or prostatitis, trichomonas, and cases of nonspecific urethritis or balanitis caused by bacteria.
  • Avoiding sex: Avoid sex to stop the spread of infection until a treatment regimen is complete.
  • For chronic conditions that don't respond to a round of antibiotics, treatment might include drinking more fluids, avoiding irritants like caffeine or alcohol, taking warm baths, or procedures like a tube to empty the bladder in the case of a swollen prostate.

Other methods of treating penile infections include:

  • Painkillers: Painkillers can help with pain from infection.
  • Using condoms: It's advised to use condoms when managing an infection.
  • Improving hygiene: If hygiene issues cause infection, a healthcare provider might advise improving hygiene as part of treatment and/or prevention.
  • Treatment for partners: Sexual partners of people with penile discharge are also advised to undergo treatment.

Complications and Risk Factors Associated With Penile Discharge

Risk factors that could increase the chances of penile discharge include:

  • Having sexual intercourse without a condom
  • Having multiple or anonymous sexual partners
  • Taking risks sexually while under the influence
  • Lack of hygiene, especially if uncircumcised
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Physical injury in penile area

If left untreated, penile discharge from an infection could cause:

  • Infertility
  • Life-threatening infections after bacteria spreads to the rest of the body
  • In the case of an untreated UTI, damage to kidneys or bladder
  • A higher likelihood of penile cancer
  • Spreading the infection to sexual partners

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Penile Discharge?

There are several methods a healthcare provider might use to pinpoint the cause of penile discharge. The most common are:

  • Testing for infection or an STI test: Testing for an infection or an STI on the penis can be done via several methods, including lab testing samples of discharge or urine, a blood test, a cheek swab, or, in extreme cases, a spinal tap test.
  • Examination of the penis and genitals: This could include an examination of warts and discharge by a healthcare provider.
  • Using an at-home STI test: This can be mailed to a laboratory for testing.

Other methods for diagnosing penile discharge include:

  • A rectal exam for prostatitis
  • Testing the skin or blood for allergies

When to See a Healthcare Provider

It's advised to see a healthcare provider for any discharge that is not clear and a result of sexual arousal, especially if discharge also includes symptoms of infection, such as:

  • Burning or pain when urinating
  • Urinating more often
  • Dark or strangely colored urine
  • Pain in genitals
  • A rash, swelling, or warts on the penis
  • Flu-like symptoms like fevers, chills, or feeling too hot
  • Body aches, including in stomach or back


Penile discharge that is not clear and caused by sexual arousal can be a sign of infection. Abnormal penile discharge can be green or yellow, cloudy, pus-like, or cheesy and foul smelling. Treating penile discharge might include antibiotics, refraining from sex during treatment, using condoms when having sex, encouraging sexual partners to get treatment, or improving penile hygiene.

Untreated penile discharge could lead to life-threatening bacteria throughout the body, infertility, organ damage, or a higher likelihood of penile cancer. It's advised to see a healthcare provider in case of abnormal penile discharge to rule out infection.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes penile discharge?

    Bacterial infections, including UTIs and STIs, can cause penile discharge. Inflammation caused by hygiene issues can also lead to buildup of smegma (a natural substance under the foreskin) that can appear like abnormal discharge. Inflammation of the prostate, allergies to medication or irritants (like fabric or chemicals), and physical injury can also cause penile discharge.

  • Can penile discharge cause infertility?

    Studies indicate that the STIs like gonorrhea and chlamydia, both of which cause penile discharge, could increase the chances of infertility if not treated. Some studies have linked urethritis (swelling or irritation of the urethra due to a bacterium or virus) to infertility. Disorders of the prostate have also been linked to infertility.

  • What kind of penile discharge is abnormal?

    Penile discharge that is clear and a result of arousal before or after sex is normal. Penile discharge that occurs outside of arousal is usually cause for concern. This discharge can be yellow or green (in the case of STIs chlamydia or gonorrhea), cloudy (such as with UTIs or urethritis), bloody (as with prostatitis), or cheesy (as with excess smegma, a natural substance under the foreskin).

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Neha Kashyap
Neha is a New York-based health journalist who has written for WebMD, ADDitude, HuffPost Life, and dailyRx News. Neha enjoys writing about mental health, elder care, innovative health care technologies, paying for health care, and simple measures that we all can take to work toward better health.