Anyone who’s grown up with a penis will have countless tales of unexpected erections. Some of these might be ill-timed, like when a steamy scene comes on during a movie with your parents, while others might be confusing (and also ill-timed), like when your hog comes out of its barn in class. But even when you begin to learn the idiosyncrasies of your stiffies, you’ll still get a surprise erection once in a while — often, as it turns out, when you’re feeling all warm, fuzzy and overwhelmingly in love. This is known, er, affectionately, as an affection erection.
The phenomenon — also known as a “heart-on” — is defined by Urban Dictionary as “when you get an erection from a hug, holding hands, when someone says, ‘I love you’ or anything of that nature.” “There’s no perceived sexual stimuli,” Holly Richmond, a somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist, told Cosmopolitan in 2019, “but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a subconscious one. Whether it’s good or not-so-good excitement, the body has a response.”
Unexpected boners — including those sparked by love — are totally normal (and kinda sweet, too!). Although experts don’t really know why they happen, they’re often a sign of good health. They’re most common in teenagers and young adults, but they do occur in adult men, too.
Sometimes an affection erection might be perfectly timed, for example when you and your partner confess your love for each other the first time, or when they do something sweet on a random Sunday afternoon. Take, for example, this redditor’s affection erection experience. “Last night my partner and I were joking around in bed when he made up a new really silly nickname for me,” wrote OvercarefulCoffee. “I burst out laughing and couldn’t contain my giggles for a really long time. When I finally was able to calm down, he told me that my giggles make him instantly hard. It made me so happy and excited to know that something so little gets him rock hard.”
Other affection erections aren’t as well-timed — in fact, many of them come during strange moments, like when your partner is crying about something. As journalist Julia Pugachevsky wrote for Cosmopolitan, “Seeing you cry could make him want to protect you, which can spark a sense of virility. It doesn’t always mean he wants to have sex right then and there — it’s just a (rather obvious) result of his strong feelings.”
One redditor took to r/sex to express her confusion at this particular type of boner. “I notice that anytime I’m emotionally stressed and cry, whenever my boyfriend comforts me he has a raging boner,” she wrote. “I confronted him about it, and he said that he is not getting horny because I am crying, but rather that I am confiding in him and he feels close to me? Anyone had a similar experience? It seems strange to me.”
Even stranger is that many people like to memorialize momentous occasions like these with budget jewelry. On Etsy, you can buy a faux diamond necklace that comes in a box containing the phrase, “You give me a boner. Not a penis boner. A heart boner. A heart-on. An affection erection.” If that’s not cringey enough, you can also get the same phrase on a greeting card, T-shirt or mug, for some godforsaken reason.
Of course, people without penises feel this way, too. One redditor shared her experience of this, writing that she used to get aroused when her partner kissed her cheek and told her how beautiful she was, or stared at her and kissed her on the forehead. “It’s a great feeling when you connect with someone on a deep level,” she said, though it’s unclear whether it’s so great she needs a customized mug about it.
The important thing here is that if you find yourself hopelessly aroused by your partner’s forehead kisses or sorrowful cries, you tell them so. That way, they won’t see you as some sadistic maniac who loves seeing them upset. Furthermore, sharing the reason behind your affection erection might make them get one, too. As OvercarefulCoffee concluded: “I never would have thought something so simple and non-sexual would have turned him on like that, and knowing it really makes me feel happy and confident. I strongly suggest sharing those little things with your partner, it will really make their day!”
Just don’t go and print it on a mug, okay?