In a lot of cases, paying attention to basic penis care can help to prevent issues emerging which can result in penis pain (always a desirable goal). Still, even attentive men still can make mistakes, especially when in the throes of passion (or simply when thinking with one’s penis instead of one’s brain), and situations may arise which involve considerable pain. One of these is infection of the penis by something called mycoplasma.
What is mycoplasma?
Since mycoplasma is associated with an infection, it’s not surprising to learn that it is a kind of bacteria. They have at least two distinctions: they are very small (among the smallest bacteria that are currently known) and they don’t have a cell wall (a barrier which surrounds and defines the outer rim of the cell).
There are dozens of kinds of mycoplasma, some of which can cause problems in humans. One of these is mycoplasma genitalium (also called MG), which is the one this article is focusing on. It was first discovered in the 1980s, although it clearly went undetected for many years before then. It is passed on through unprotected sexual contact.
Most people have never heard of mycoplasma, but it has become one of the most common sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States, especially among young people. One study found that it was the third most common STI among adolescents in the United States.
In men, MG typically presents as a case of urethritis – that is, an infection in the urethra, the tube in the penis through which urine and semen flow. In some cases, it is asymptomatic, meaning that a man may exhibit no symptoms. (It also is slow growing bacteria, so in many cases it may not create symptoms until many weeks after infection first occurs.) But when it is accompanied by symptoms, they usually include a watery discharge and a burning or stinging sensation when urinating. This penis pain can sometimes be severe.
In women, MG can have more serious long term effects. If untreated, it may lead to scarring in the Fallopian tubes or, in extreme cases, to infertility.
MG can be difficult to diagnose, as its symptoms are common to other forms of urethral infection. It also is often the case that there may be a second cause of infection other than the MG. Often, it involves testing first for gonorrhea and chlamydia and, if those come back negative, assuming MG is the cause.
Because mycoplasma does not have a cell wall, many of the typical antibiotics – such as penicillin – that are used to treat similar infections aren’t effective. There are several antibiotics, however, that are not designed to target the cell wall, and doctors can prescribe these; however, there is concern that over time mycoplasma may become more resistant to these antibiotics, necessitating the development of new treatment options.
Men with MG need to refrain from partner-based sex until the infection is cleared up. They also need to notify any partners of the infection so that they can be treated as well.
As is the case with most STIs, using a condom can help to prevent a man from catching the bacteria in the first place.