Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Blue Balls

Experiencing “blue balls” can be unpleasant indeed. Here’s how to deal.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Blue Balls

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Blue Balls

Published on
February 11, 2020
Updated on
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Medically Reviewed by
5 minute read

The colloquial term “blue balls” refers to epididymal hypertension. This is the experience of aching, discomfort, or pain in the testes when orgasm and emission isn’t achieved following strong feelings of arousal and/or an erection.

Dr. Steven Sterious with Einstein Healthcare Network, tells O.school that the term may have gotten its origin “because the scrotum can have a bluish tint because of the deoxygenated blood that is congested in the testicles.”

The term has permeated pop culture to describe any sort of sexual frustration. 

The simple truth is, while uncomfortable, blue balls are in no way a threat to one’s health or future sexual experiences, nor does it last very long and it definitely isn’t an appropriate excuse to coerce a partner into helping “resolve” the issue.

What are the symptoms of blue balls?

Though research on epididymal hypertension is limited, according to healthcare professionals, anecdotal descriptions of symptoms include:

  • Discomfort
  • Tenderness
  • Mild pain
  • Heaviness
  • Slight bluish tint
  • Aching

Why do blue balls happen?

During sexual arousal, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, and the blood vessels of both the penis and testes expand. This allows for increased blood flow towards the penis and testes while trapping the blood in that general area. Eventually, the penis and testes become engorged with blood, causing both to swell and become stiffer and enlarged, and the penis to become erect. 

When orgasm and emission is reached, or arousal decreases, the blood in the penis and testes is released back into the body, and the penis and testes return to an unaroused and unengorged state. However, if someone in a state of arousal is unable to reach orgasm, they may experience a period of discomfort, heaviness or mild pain. 

People who are easily aroused or stimulated may experience epididymal hypertension more frequently. 

Can “blue balls” happen in people with vulvas/vaginas?

Yes, people with vulvas can experience “blue vulva.”

“Vasocongestion just means blood filling the genital region,” sexual physiologist and founder of sex biotech company Liberos LLC, Dr. Nicole Prause, PhD tells O.school. She adds people with vulvas can absolutely experience a similar aching sensation or feeling of heaviness in their general vulvar and clitoral area if sexual arousal and stimulation goes unresolved.

How is blue balls resolved or treated?

According to Jennifer Litner, sexologist and founder of Embrace Sexual Wellness, LLC, the quickest way to resolve epididymal hypertension is to achieve an orgasm. “There is no reason that this has to be through sexual intercourse, oral sex, or hand to genital sex,” she says. “Masturbation is just as effective.” If you are with a partner, you can discuss exploring things like mutual masturbation as well. 

Since the symptoms will start to resolve as arousal decreases, if someone is unable to reach orgasm or, for whatever reason, cannot engage in genital stimulation, epididymal hypertension can be resolved by becoming unaroused. Over time, the blood will drain from the genitals, allowing symptoms to slowly cease. 

Try these things to turn yourself off and ease pain: 

  • Take a cold shower
  • Focus on something non-sexual and unarousing
  • Distract yourself with an activity like watching TV, listening to music or podcasts, or working
  • Apply a warm compress to the area to alleviate soreness
  • Apply a cold compress to the area to constrict the blood vessels and not allow further blood flow to the testicles
  • Lay down to encourage blood flow in the body
  • Exercise to get normal blood flow going

These same methods can be employed for those experiencing “blue vulva.”

What are other causes of testicular pain or soreness?

These conditions are considered more serious, and if you experience the following coinciding symptoms, you should see a doctor:

  • Severe, acute pain in the penis or testes
  • Nerve pain or nerve damage in the penis or testes
  • Lower back pain
  • Sores or outbreaks on the penis
  • Discoloration of semen

If you are experiencing “blue balls” that are causing distress in your everyday life, or in your relationship(s), you may want to talk to a sexual health specialist or sex therapist.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Jamie J. LeClaire (they/them) is a sexuality educator, freelance writer, and consultant. Their work focuses on the intersections of pleasure-positive sexual health, queer & transgender/gender-nonconforming identity, body politics, and social justice. You can find more of their work at their website, and follow them on Instagram & Twitter.

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