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What Is the Corpus Cavernosum?

In men, the corpus cavernosum is typically called the corpus cavernosum penis.
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  • Written By: Carol Bryant
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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Corpus cavernosum refers to one of the two columns of erectile tissue located in both the male and female sex organs. Together, these columns are referred to as the corpora cavernosa. In order to distinguish between the female and male corpora cavernosa, the term is often cited as corpus cavernosum penis for males and corpus cavernosum clitoridis for females. These two regions stretch across the entire length of the penis in men, and clitoris in women, and are composed of sponge-like material. Their function is to house the blood during erection.

During male erection, the corpora cavernosa fills with blood helping the penis become hard. The corpus spongiosum — another part of the penis — stays soft. A mnemonic device for remembering which "corpus" does what is soft spongy for corpus spongiosum and hard cave for corpus cavernosum. The corpus spongiosum stays soft because its job is to protect the urethra from getting pinched closed by the expanding corpus cavernosum. If the urethra were to become closed, semen would not have a way out during ejaculation.

Like the penis, the clitoris also contains corpora cavernosa. A spongy area of the clitoral region, they are responsible for clitoral erection as they become engorged with blood.

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Problems surrounding the corpora cavernosa can result in erectile dysfunction (ED). ED is a problem that affects both men and women by preventing erection. If nerves surrounding the corpora cavernosa are damaged, the sex organ may not be able to hold an erection, result in impotence.

Men affected by erectile dysfunction (ED) are sometimes directed by their physician and/or urologist to exercise these particular muscles. Through exercise, the goal is continued successful erection without the aid of more invasive techniques, such as surgery. If exercise isn't successful, medications or surgery may be attempted.

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