The term "priapism" is derived from Priapus, the Greek god of fertility, gardening, and lust who is depicted with a massive phallus . Priapus, the illegitimate son of Zeus and Aphrodite, was cursed by Zeus' wife Hera upon learning of Aphrodite's pregnancy. The boy Priapus was born with oversized genitalia and subsequently rejected by Aphrodite. He was raised by shepherds, who noticed that flowers would bloom and animals would copulate in his vicinity.
Priapism is defined as a persistent erection of the penis or clitoris that is not associated with sexual stimulation or desire. The focus of this topic will be penile priapism. Studies differ on the length of time of erection used to define priapism, but most studies identify priapism as an erection lasting at least four hours.
Priapism is relatively rare, but can occur in all age groups and is particularly common in those with sickle cell disease.
Priapism is generally classified as ischemic or nonischemic. Ischemic priapism is a urologic emergency, whereas nonischemic priapism is usually self-limited.
Issues related to epidemiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management of priapism will be reviewed here. Particular issues related to priapism in sickle cell disease are discussed separately. (See "Diagnosis and management of priapism in sickle cell disease".)