violent death

Death erection

A death erection or terminal erection is a post-mortem erection, technically a priapism, observed in the corpses of human males who have been executed, particularly by hanging.


The phenomenon has been attributed to pressure on the cerebellum created by the noose. Spinal cord injuries are known to be associated with priapism. Injuries to the cerebellum or spinal cord are often associated with priapism in living patients.

Death by hanging, whether an execution or a suicide, has been observed to affect the genitals of both men and women.

In women, the labia will become engorged and there may be a discharge of blood from the vagina. In men, "a more or less complete state of erection of the penis, with discharge of urine, of mucus, or of the prostatic fluid, is a frequent occurrence ... present in one case in three." Other causes of death may also result in these effects, including fatal gunshot wounds to the brain, major blood vessels, or violent death by poisoning, and forensically, a postmortem priapism is an indicator that death was likely swift and violent.

Cultural references

Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It'd give us an erection.
Estragon: (highly excited). An erection!
Vladimir: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That's why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
Estragon: Let's hang ourselves immediately!

  • In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon relates an anecdote attributed to Abulfeda that Ali, on the death of Mohammed, exclaimed, O propheta, certe penis tuus cælum versus erectus est (O prophet, thy penis is erect unto the sky).
  • At the end of Herman Melville's short novel Billy Budd, Billy's unusual moral purity is suggested by the fact that, contrary to the general rule, he does not get an erection after being hanged. On the other hand, in Thomas Pynchon's novel Mason & Dixon, Charles Mason says to himself that "In my experience, 'tis usually the Innocent who get [terminal erections], and the Guilty who fail to."
  • In Boris Vian's 1946 novel J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (I Shall Spit on Your Graves), the final sentence mentions a lynching victim's "ridiculous" erection.
  • In HBO's therapist drama In Treatment (season 1, episode 2) a client tells about once having been clinically dead and about his fear that he could have had an erection meanwhile.


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