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The Painful Mystery of Hard-Flaccid Syndrome

Men with HFS are often turned away by doctors and told their pain is ‘all in their heads.’ To cope, they’ve banded together to develop treatments for this mysterious condition on their own

There is a rare penile condition where a guy’s dick is basically stuck in purgatory. He’s constantly experiencing something akin to a half-chub — semi-erect, but semi-flaccid. His dick is stiff, but rather than increasing in size as boners usually do, it remains stuck, stopping short of its full potential. Worse yet, none of it feels good. At best, his dick is numb. At worst, it’s in constant state of pain. Without an easy professional diagnosis, many of the men with this condition have turned to Reddit and their own medical terminology, dubbing themselves as sufferers of “hard-flaccid syndrome,” or HFS.

The subreddit r/Hard_Flaccid features 1,700 such HFS sufferers. According to its self-made “wiki” on the ailment, HFS is “easily identifiable by a rigid, sometimes retracted penis. The penis is hard to the touch even when ‘flaccid.’” Symptoms are usually relieved when lying down or urinating — though this isn’t always the case — and it’s “widely believed that the penile retraction and hardening is mostly caused by the contraction of the penis’ smooth muscle.”

The wiki speculates that the condition is the result of stress, penile trauma, masturbation, intense exercise or injury to the tailbone or pelvic floor. In addition to impacting one’s ability to develop an erection — and therefore have sex or masturbate — it can also make peeing or having a bowel movement difficult. Some sufferers also report a “golf ball” sensation in their rectum. 

Doctors, however, tend not to take these symptoms seriously. As many men with HFS report, they’re told they’re imagining things or written off with a prescription for pills. To that end, a 2020 study published in Basic and Clinical Andrology states that HFS “is not recognized by the sexual medicine community, and poorly recognized in the daily clinical experience.”

99% cured from Hard_Flaccid

Because of this, much of the medical information available on the topic uses internet forums as the source of its data. “I got hard-flaccid at age 16 after a couple sessions of rough masturbation combined with some rather poor lifestyle choices,” btcalvit, a r/Hard_Flaccid moderator, tells me via Discord. “I basically had no idea what to do about it. I ended up going to a few urologists, but most shot me down or gave me Cialis. One even made me get circumcision surgery.” 

None of this, however, solved his problem, and so, he began doing his own research, which is when he came across r/Hard_Flaccid. There, he learned about possible pelvic conditions that could be contributing factors and rehabilitative movements that could help (a physical therapist who was familiar with the phenomenon also taught him some pelvic strengthening and stretching exercises). Six months later, he says his HFS has largely been remedied. As such, he’s now responsible for most of r/Hard_Flaccid’s in-depth resources, including a YouTube video he made explaining the topic. 

The logic behind pursuing specific pelvic-floor treatments is actually pretty sound. As Joshua Gonzalez, a urologist and sexual health advisor for Astroglide, has previously explained to me, many cases of penile pain or numbness are the result of weakened pelvic muscles and can be improved through physical therapy or targeted stretches. 

Not surprisingly then, Gonzalez is among the few urologists who do take HFS seriously. “Because it ends up being a condition that, for whatever reason, is present in younger men, they just get written off as being crazy or obsessed with their penis,” he tells me. 

Of course, Gonzalez adds, it’s partially in their head — what their bodies are reacting to is the anxiety of not knowing what’s wrong. That’s why he often recommends that his patients see a traditional therapist for their mental health as well as a physical therapist for their underlying pelvic-floor issues. 

Still, it’s not necessarily an easy fix. Case in point: Gavin, a pseudonymous 35-year-old in the U.K., has been dealing with HFS for more than a year. “I’m not entirely sure how I got to where I am,” he tells me. “I think it stemmed from over-masturbation at one point last year. I had minor hard-flaccid symptoms only after ejaculation, and I didn’t even know what the condition was.” 

He later had a sex injury that he thought he’d fully recovered from, but sometime soon thereafter, he started to go numb post-orgasm. Ever since, he’s been dealing with decreased sensation, tight testicles, pain at the base of his penis, an aching perineum, smaller and thinner looking erections, a softer glans, erectile dysfunction and anxiety. The aforementioned pelvic floor exercises help temporarily, but the symptoms remain persistent overall. All the while, his doctors continue to ignore him. “I have to carry on with life, man,” he says. “It’s a killer condition, and the medical community needs to hear about this for sure.”

If nothing else, that’s what he gets from the HFS communities on Reddit and Discord — people who will listen. Or as he puts it, “They’re a place of hope, ideas, laughter and no stress.”

Shout out to everyone fighting HF from Hard_Flaccid