Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/31/2021
When we think about penile shrinkage, most of us consider the results of a very cold shower (or one particularly famous Seinfeld episode).
It’s environmental to the average person — a sudden and awkward retraction — and temporary until things “heat up.”
But there’s a much scarier type of penis shrinkage — a permanent biological reduction in size — to be worried about.
Penile shrinkage, also sometimes called penile atrophy, has a scary place in the aging question, because it does happen, and it does happen as a result of some age-related issues men experience.
We’re going to answer some more questions you have about penile shrinkage, like what you can do to prevent it, and what you can do about it if you’ve experienced it.
But first, let’s start with what actually causes shrinkage.
As much as guys may care about penile length studies, surprisingly little research has been done on the concept of penile shortening — at least, in comparison with other issues.
Still, there are some poignant anecdotes about why penis shrinkage or atrophy happens.
What it comes down to is a collection of science-based “use it or lose it” criteria. What that means is that anything that potentially causes your penis not to function normally can lead to shrinkage.
This includes surgeries that may leave you impotent, hormone deficiencies and the side effects thereof, weight gain and plain old erectile dysfunction. Let’s go through these things one at a time.
This can come as a result of surgical procedures like prostatectomy. Removing the prostate has been shown to shrink the penis.
One study found that all penile dimensions (length and girth) decreased after nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy.
The most substantial changes occurred between four and eight months after surgery.
The amount of change? About 20 percent.
There are some rare conditions and congenital issues that can cause penile atrophy, as well.
According to the International Journal of Impotence Research, penile shortening is associated with medical and surgical conditions like prostatectomy (mentioned above), Peyronie’s disease and congenital anomalist.
Erectile dysfunction isn’t a confirmed cause of penile shrinkage, but there are some links to be aware of, particularly when it’s due to nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy.
The International Journal of Impotence Research has suggested that it also might be an independent risk factor for penile atrophy and shrinkage on its own.
Speaking of hormones, the IJIR also mentioned that hormone deficiency as a result of suppression could cause penis shrinkage.
In that same article, they also mentioned a study of men who went through androgen suppression and radiation therapies.
It was discovered that there’s a “statistically significant decrease” in penile length in men who were treated with both hormone suppression therapy and radiation.
That means cancer treatment may play additional roles in penile atrophy.
It’s possible, however, that the effects of radiation likely play the key role here, though, rather than the hormone suppression — further study is needed to determine whether hormone suppression alone can cause shrinkage.
Weight gain is a sort of tricky category, because it could be considered a penile shrinkage cause solely as a symptom of hormone suppression.
That’s because it can be argued that the penis technically does not get smaller, so much as less of it is exposed.
Studies show that penile atrophy is caused by a deprivation of androgens, which can also lead to reductions in smooth muscle cells.
But deprivation of androgens can also cause weight gain, and one of the places fat cells can accumulate is around the pubic area — or near the base of the penis.
In other words, hormone deficiency can potentially cause a two factor shrinkage: the tissue itself losing mass, and the exposed tissue percentage being reduced.
Preventing and reversing penile atrophy are different tasks to master — and one can be much more difficult than the other.
Reversing penis shrinkage comes at an uncertain price. Aside from expensive and complicated lengthening procedures and implants, there aren’t many practical options.
Early data suggests penile extension devices “may increase length, prevent graft contraction and minimize postoperative penile shortening.”
Preventing penile shrinkage is about avoiding the potential causes of shrinkage.
Congenital defects and life-saving surgeries aren’t things you can avoid, so the first and top-line advice we should give you is to go in for check-ups and consult your healthcare provider regularly about any sudden health or life changes.
This goes doubly with sudden weight gain and signs of erectile dysfunction — both of those are potential health issues, and could signal or lead to much bigger issues down the road.
If you’re experiencing penile atrophy or penis shrinkage, talking to your healthcare provider about solutions is the best first step you can take for your health.
If you’re worried about the potential for penile atrophy, there are some preventative measures you can take, like making sure to make diet and exercise a focus of your health-related upkeep.
And speaking of upkeep, you should talk to your healthcare provider regularly, and tell them about problems that look like erectile dysfunction.