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What Exactly Is a ‘Love Erection’?

It may be random, but it still feels offensive

In 2017, Cosmopolitan published what they presumably believed was a definitive guide to every different type of boner that a guy experiences. But they were wrong! Or at least misinformed, because missing from their list — which includes some frankly baffling entries (the gym boner is a thing? Really?) — is the love erection, better categorized as the, “Oh shit, I sort of get why you’re stiffening but you’re making me look like a callous asshole” boner.

To be clear, this isn’t the same thing as a sadness boner, which Urban Dictionary defines as, “When you get so sad you get a boner.” Helpful!

If you’re still confused, let me use the love erection in a situation: You’re in a post-argument embrace with your significant other, who only two minutes prior was sobbing because of something you said. But just as things wind down from water works to whimpers, your dick selfishly decides it’s time to party.

While the love erection isn’t necessarily the most ill-timed boner — that trophy is reserved for the 10 a.m. geometry class erection that forms just before your name is called to the whiteboard — it’s the most dehumanizing. It’s also been referred to as an “intimacy boner,” per one redditor who describes this Ted Bundy of physiological phenomenons as “so inappropriate it’s funny.” Not to mention awkward: I always felt super damn awkward when I got a stiffy when my SO was breaking her heart etc about something,” writes a different redditor.

According to Healthline, random erections outside of sexual stimulation are normal and generally not cause for alarm. And Medical News Today suggests that random erections can be caused by fluctuations in testosterone levels. Here at MEL, we’ve written about the science behind the most common of these random erections: Nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) , more commonly referred to as Morning Wood. Which, according to the article, can be caused simply by increased blood flow to the blood vessels caused by a decrease in norepinephrine as you enter REM sleep.

But perhaps the most conclusive explanation for the one-eyed trouser snake that preys on sympathy comes by way of John Aquino, a primary physician at Ontario Men’s Health, who told Ask Men that an unexpected boner can occur when a man is overwhelmed with emotion. If the emotional center becomes very active for whatever reason or a man is in a very deep state of relaxation, the whole erectile process can get started from this area all by itself even without sexual stimulus.”

Yet while the love erection may be completely normal by biological standards, it’s still not ideal in the context of consoling your partner whose Australian Shepherd puppy was just torn to shreds by a coyote. Sexologist and certified sex coach Sunny Rodgers tells me that this pesky boner could be our bodies telling us something we don’t know. “Often an erection can result from your body chemistry reacting to another person’s body chemistry,” says Rodgers. “Just like having your palms sweat or your breathing quicken, your body does react to people around you — especially someone you’re attracted to. So whether you mean to or not, your penis can engorge at inopportune times.”

If you’ve ever experienced this rare brute, the same Healthline article offers some hilariously self serious — but ultimately useless — advice for dealing with an unwanted erection:

  • Try shifting your position. You may be able to disguise the erection if you sit down and casually bunch your pants up in the crotch area.
  • Put your hands in your pockets. Once your hands are in your pockets, you can try to gently reposition the erection so that it’s closer to your body. This can help hide your erection if you’re standing.
  • Cover your crotch with a book, jacket, bag or anything else that’s available.

But in case there isn’t a book, jacket or bag in your vicinity, Rodgers says that honesty is the best policy. “Explain to whomever you feel like you may be offending that your body is having a physical, uncontrollable reaction to your current situation,” says Rodgers. “Since this can be a natural response I don’t think it’s necessary to apologize. I feel that a quick explanation is better suited to a situation like this. It’s best to keep the focus on the situation and not your physical response.”

In other words, just because your dick is a self-indulgent sociopath, it doesn’t mean you have to be one too.