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priap- (Greek, Priapos > Latin Priapus: god of procreation shown with a large penis; by extension, it means "penis").

Priapus, the son of Venus and Mercury [or Bacchus], is the god of procreation and hence of gardens and vineyards, as the embodiment of the generative force in nature. The Priapic cult was associated with the worship of the membrum virile [penis], and Priapus became equivalent to a satyr and the phallus, and priapism became a synonym of lewdness because it was represented as a phallac symbol; even as a phallus scarecrow in ancient gardens. Priapus is now a common noun and means the penis, especially in medicine; although rarely is it used in psychiatry.

With the introduction of Viagra® tablets to induce erection in men, new problems are appearing. Now newspapers are writing about priapism, formerly a persistent abnormal erection of the penis, usually without sexual desire or stimulation, and accompanied by pain and tenderness because it was caused by some form of disease. Now a man may have priapism triggered by Viagra®. There is also priapitis, inflammation of the penis, which might be related to Viagra® priapism or be the result of a disease.

What happens is that blood flows into the penis, but is unable to drain as it would in a normally flaccid penis. Considering that the penis provides little room for blood to circulate, the blood becomes stagnant after a while, acidifies, and loses oxygen. Without oxygen, the red blood cells become stiff, and even less able to squeeze their way out of the penis.

Whatever the cause, priapism is considered a serious matter. If the priapism lasts for three or four hours, the spongy tissues of the penis may be permanently damaged, which can make future erection impossible. When a man has an erection that continues for no apparent reason (or after ingesting Viagra®), he should call a physician or go to a hospital emergency room as soon as possible. Priapism is an emergency and should be treated as such!