The Facts About Penis and Testicle Health
A medical problem with your penis or testicles can be a sign of a potentially severe health condition that can affect many aspects of your life, such as your self-confidence and even your relationships. But not everything is quite so serious. If your sole strategy to keep your genitals healthy is to avoid contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), keep in mind there are other issues to be aware of.
Keeping your penis and testicles healthy goes beyond regular screenings for STIs, because there are health conditions outside of STIs that can affect genital health. You should also examine your lifestyle and hygiene habits, and identify any existing underlying medical issues.
What could go wrong?
A correctly functioning penis should allow you to urinate without issue and achieve and maintain an erection; functioning testes should adequately provide fertile sperm and produce adequate testosterone.
Factors that can negatively affect a penis' proper function include low testosterone levels, increasing age and any health conditions you may have accumulated. Health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and weight issues are known to especially affect penile function. Prescription medications can help counteract these problems, but often, such medications come with their own side effects.
Finally, there is the issue of hygiene. Even if you're circumcised, and a majority of American men are, washing your penis with soap and water every day is a good idea.
Speaking of circumcision…
Circumcision rates for newborns dropped significantly between 1979 and 2010, by about 10 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, fewer than 40 percent of men are circumcised, compared to more than 70 percent in the U.S.
Some people claim that being circumcised can lower the sensitivity and sexual function of the penis, but published studies on this topic have found mixed results. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement indicating that circumcision may reduce the risk of contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and several STIs. Another study carried out in 2017 found that women who have sex with circumcised males could be at a lower risk of cervical cancer.
Best practices if you're sexually active
If you're having sex, your in-the-moment actions and long-term habits can go a long way to support the health of your penis and testicles. Practicing safe sex, communicating with partners, getting tested regularly and maintaining cleanliness can all benefit your sexual health.
During any kind of sexual contact—vaginal, anal, oral—use a condom, and use it correctly. Get screened for infections regularly; a good rule of thumb is to get tested with every new partner. The earlier an STI is detected, the sooner you can start treatment and clear the infection. Monogamy with one uninfected partner is a good method of protection, and make sure you and your partner are aware of any other sexual partners you may have.
After sexual contact, you should urinate to clear any bacteria from the urethra. Men are less likely to contract urinary tract infections than women, but they aren't immune. You should also wash your genitals after sex, using water and mild soap. Don't wash up only after sex, though; you should clean your penis and testicles every time you shower. Depending on your anatomy, make sure to wash your pubic mound, inner thighs, scrotum, perineum and shaft. Men who are uncircumcised need to gently retract the foreskin and clean the skin beneath. These practices help to prevent infections from bacterial buildup, particularly a condition called balanitis that causes the head of the penis to become inflamed.
Common problems that affect penis & testicle health
Several issues are associated with penis and testicle health. Three of the most common are explored here.
Testicular cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer that strikes men between the ages of 20 and 34. Symptoms and signs include swelling or a lump in one or both testicles, pain in the scrotum or testicles, and a dull ache in the groin, lower portion of the back or abdomen.
Even if the cancer is discovered early—keep in mind this subject is very complex, and not all situations are the same—surgery will likely be required to remove the affected testicle or testicles. Then, the question becomes whether chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy are needed to stunt the growth of the cancer cells and, in a best-case scenario, kill them.
The epididymis is a tube located behind each testicle that primarily serves as a storage area for sperm before ejaculation. Epididymitis occurs when the epididymis gets inflamed, a condition that can develop if you have contracted chlamydia, gonorrhea or another STI. Symptoms may include redness or swelling in the scrotum, pain in one testicle and painful urination. Antibiotics are typically effective to treat epididymitis, but surgery may be needed if an abscess forms.
Also known as blood in the semen, hematospermia is a benign condition that nevertheless causes concern in men who experience it. While not likely a sign of a major health condition, blood in the semen might point to other problems, such as sexually transmitted infections, a blood disorder, tumors or, rarely, cancer.
If you experience any of these conditions, get in touch with your healthcare provider. Early detection can make a difference.
How to perform a testicular self-examination
The best way to maintain good penis and testicle health is to closely examine your genital area on a regular basis—say, once a week in the shower. Self-examination is not a time-consuming process, and the warm water of the shower will keep your scrotum, and the muscles that surround the testes, relaxed enough so you can easily feel or detect what's going on down there.
The first thing you may notice is that one of your testicles is a little bit larger than the other. That's normal. Also, it may seem as though there's some sort of growth near one of them. Don't be alarmed. What you're feeling is probably the epididymis, the previously mentioned tube behind the testicles.
Here's how to perform a testicular self-examination:
- Roll your scrotum gently so you can feel a testicle. Do you notice anything unusual, such as a bump or a lump that's typically not there?
- As you're carefully probing with your fingertips, take note of any soreness, aching or pain.
- Now locate the other testicle and perform the same procedure.
Regular simple exams such as this take roughly a minute of your time but could alert you of anything awry that may require further examination by your doctor. It's important to do these regular self-exams, just as regular screenings for STIs are.
General health goes far
While there are steps that directly involve your genitals and hygiene, leading a healthy lifestyle supports a healthy penis and testicles, as well. Quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake, as these are habits linked to erectile dysfunction. Implement a balanced diet rich in flavonoids, typically found in fruits and vegetables, and try to exercise, especially cardio. Even a light walk weekly or biweekly can help your overall reproductive health.
Small steps can go a long way. From performing a weekly exam to maintaining basic hygiene and everything in between, you're on the right track. Make sure you consult your doctor about any changes you notice and go in for regular checkups, and take ownership of your genital health.