Penis health is an important part of your health — and it goes beyond your ability to get and keep an erection, ejaculate, and reproduce.
Penis problems can be a sign of an underlying health condition. Ongoing health issues affecting your penis also can impact other areas of your life, causing stress or relationship problems and harming your self-confidence. Know the signs and symptoms of penis problems and what you can do to protect your penis health.What affects penis health?
Various factors can affect penis health — some modifiable and some not. For example:
- Unprotected sex. You can contract a sexually transmitted infection if you have unprotected sex.
- Heart disease and diabetes. Many conditions that lead to heart disease, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can also cause erectile dysfunction.
- Certain medications and treatments. Certain medications and treatments can affect your penis health. For example, surgical removal of the prostate gland (radical prostatectomy) and surrounding tissue as treatment for prostate cancer might cause urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction.
- Smoking. Along with other health risks, smoking also increases your chances of having erectile dysfunction.
- Hormone levels. Hormone imbalances, especially testosterone deficiency, have been linked to erectile dysfunction. Obesity can also result in lower testosterone levels.
- Psychological problems. If you experience an erection problem, you might be concerned that it'll happen again — causing anxiety or depression. This can lead to further problems with erections.
- Neurological conditions. Stroke, spinal cord and back injuries, multiple sclerosis, and dementia can affect the transfer of nerve impulses from the brain to the penis, causing erectile dysfunction.
- Getting older. Erectile dysfunction and other sexual dysfunctions become more common as you age. Testosterone levels also decline normally over time.
- Piercings. A penis piercing can cause a skin infection and also disrupt urinary flow. Depending where the piercing is placed, it might also worsen your ability to achieve an erection or orgasm.
- Aggressive or acrobatic sex or masturbation. If your penis is bent suddenly or forcefully while erect, rarely the trauma can cause a penis fracture. It might also lead to permanent curvature, even if the penis doesn't fracture.
Conditions that can involve your penis include:
- Erection or ejaculation problems. These might include the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex (erectile dysfunction) or, uncommonly, a persistent and usually painful erection that isn't caused by sexual stimulation or arousal (priapism). Other concerns include the inability to ejaculate, premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, painful ejaculation, reduced ejaculation or retrograde ejaculation, when semen enters the bladder instead of emerging through the penis.
- Anorgasmia. In some cases, men might not be able to achieve an orgasm despite adequate stimulation. This might reflect hormonal problems, such as low testosterone, or indicate an underlying problem with the nerves. Medications or diseases such as diabetes might make this condition more likely.
- Changes in libido. Reduced desire for sex (libido) can be due to several conditions, including a hormonal imbalance, relationship issues or even depression. Significant and abrupt increases in libido, particularly in older men, might be due to substance use or conditions affecting the brain. Discuss an abrupt change in libido with your doctor.
- Sexually transmitted infections. Various sexually transmitted infections can affect the penis, including genital warts, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and genital herpes. Common signs and symptoms include painful urination, penis discharge, and sores or blisters on the penis or in the genital area.
Problems with the foreskin. A condition known as phimosis occurs when the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis can't be retracted from the penis head. This can lead to infections, as well as cause painful urination and erections.
Paraphimosis occurs when the foreskin can't be returned to its normal position after being retracted. This condition can cause painful swelling of the penis and impaired blood flow.
Other diseases and conditions. A yeast infection can cause a reddish rash and white patches on the penis. Inflammation of the head of the penis (balanitis) might cause pain and a foul discharge. Peyronie's disease, a chronic condition that involves the development of abnormal scar tissue in tissues inside the penis, might result in bent or painful erections.
Penile cancer — which might begin as a blister on the foreskin, head or shaft of the penis and then become a wartlike growth that discharges watery pus — also is a rare possibility.
Consult your doctor as soon as possible if you have:
- Changes in the way you ejaculate
- Bleeding during urination or ejaculation
- Warts, bumps, lesions or a rash on your penis or in your genital area
- A severely bent penis or curvature that causes pain or interferes with sexual activity
- A burning sensation when you urinate
- Discharge from your penis
- Severe pain after trauma to your penis
- Abrupt increases in sexual desire, particularly in older men
- Significant declines in sexual desire
You can take steps to protect your penis health and overall health. For example:
- Be sexually responsible. Use condoms or maintain a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who's been tested and is free of sexually transmitted infections.
- Get vaccinated. If you're age 26 or younger, consider the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to help prevent genital warts.
- Stay physically active. Moderate physical activity can significantly reduce your risk of erectile dysfunction.
- Practice good hygiene. If you're not circumcised, regularly clean beneath your foreskin with soap and water. Be sure to return your foreskin to its normal position after sex.
- Know your medications. Discuss medication use and possible side effects with your doctor.
- Pay attention to your mental health. Seek treatment for depression and other mental health conditions.
- Stop smoking and limit the amount of alcohol you drink. If you smoke, take the first step and decide to quit — then ask your doctor for help. Excess alcohol can lower testosterone levels. Experts recommend that men have no more than two drinks a day.
- Make healthy choices. Maintaining a healthy weight, can help reduce the risk of developing abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. A healthy lifestyle might also help prevent erectile dysfunction.
Not all penis problems can be prevented. However, routinely examining your penis can give you greater awareness of the condition of your penis and help you detect changes. Regular checkups also can help ensure that problems affecting your penis are diagnosed as soon as possible.
While you might find it difficult to discuss problems affecting your penis with your doctor, don't let embarrassment prevent you from taking charge of your health.