Background This study was done to diagnose Mycoplasma genitalium infection based on bacterial load in urine specimens from symptomatic and asymptomatic men. Methods Urine specimens from 94 men with visible urethral discharge, 206 with burning on micturition and 75 without symptoms presenting to a family practitioner were tested for M. genitalium as well as Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia trachomatis, Trichomonas vaginalis by transcription-mediated amplification assays. A quantitative polymerase chain reaction assay was used to determine the bacterial load for all specimens in which M. genitalium was the only organism detected. Results Among the 375 specimens collected, M. genitalium was detected in 59 (15.7%) men (both symptomatic and asymptomatic) using the transcription-mediated amplification assay, and in 45 (12.0%) of the total population, it was the only pathogen detected. One or more pathogens were detected in 129 (43%) of the symptomatic men, with N. gonorrhoeae in 50 (16.7%); C. trachomatis in 37 (12.3%) and T. vaginalis present in 24 (8.0%) patients. Among the 17 patients where mixed infections were detected, M. genitalium with N. gonorrhoeae was the most common (11/17; 64.7%). Patients with visible urethral discharge had significantly higher M. genitalium concentrations than those with burning on micturition. The median M. genitalium load in symptomatic men was significantly higher than that in asymptomatic men. Conclusions This study confirms the high prevalence of M. genitalium among men with urethritis in South Africa and demonstrates that there is a strong association with M. genitalium bacterial load and clinical urethritis. As the number of organisms increased, the severity of the symptoms increased, an indication of the role that the organism plays in disease progression.