What to know about penis health
Medically reviewed by Kevin Martinez, M.D. — Written by Jenna Fletcher on April 2, 2020
This article is a repost which originally appeared on MEDICAL NEWS TODAY
Edited for content
A healthy penis should be free of lesions, warts, and abnormal discharge. In general, the penis should be roughly the same color as the surrounding skin, though it may be a shade darker or lighter.
Also, a person should not experience any pain in their penis when urinating or engaging in sexual activity.
A sudden change in the appearance, sensation, or function of the penis may signal an underlying issue that requires medical attention.
This article describes certain lifestyle factors and health conditions that can affect penis health. It also outlines some possible symptoms of poor penis health and provides tips on penis care.
Lifestyle factors that affect penis health
Lifestyle factors that can affect penis health include sexual relationships, weight management, and alcohol use.
The sections below outline some common lifestyle factors that can affect penis health.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can negatively affect penis health. Some of the most common STIs include:
- human papillomavirus (HPV)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people practice safe sex in order to reduce their risk of contracting an STI. This involves using barrier methods during sexual activity and getting vaccinated against hepatitis B and HPV.
The following can also help reduce the risk of spreading and contracting STIs:
- limiting the number of sexual partners
- maintaining a monogamous sexual relationship
- abstaining from sexual activity
Often, people who contract an STI do not experience any symptoms. This is why it is important for people who are sexually active to attend regular sexual health screenings.
Obesity can negatively affect many aspects of a person’s health, including penis function.
People with obesity may be more likely to experience erectile dysfunction, or impotence. This occurs when a person is unable to develop or maintain an erection during sexual activity.
According to the Obesity Action Coalition, obesity can contribute to erectile dysfunction by:
- decreasing testosterone levels
- causing inflammation throughout the body
- damaging the blood vessels, including those that supply blood to the penis
However, one 2018 study suggests that the relationship between obesity and sexual health is not completely clear. Although obesity may contribute to erectile dysfunction, other factors may also give rise to poor sexual health. These include:
- self-esteem issues
Eating a healthful, balanced diet can help prevent obesity and related sexual health problems.
A 2017 animal study investigated the potential link between diet, obesity, and erectile function. In this study, one group of rats consumed a calorie-rich diet, while a second group consumed a standard diet.
The rats that consumed the calorie-rich diet were more likely to develop obesity, and they also showed significantly poorer erectile function.
The types of food a person eats could also affect their penis health. For example, one 2016 study found that a diet rich in flavonoids was associated with a reduced risk of erectile dysfunction in men below the age of 70.
Flavonoids are chemicals that occur naturally in a range of vegetables, fruits, and grains. Some examples of flavonoid-rich foods include:
- root vegetables
- citrus fruits
Exercise is important in helping a person maintain a moderate weight. This means that it also helps reduce the risk of obesity-related sexual health concerns.
Exercise may also benefit sexual health more directly. For example, one 2015 study investigated whether or not regular walking exercise could help improve erectile dysfunction in men who had recently had a heart attack.
Those who took part in the regular walking program reported a 71% decrease in erectile dysfunction symptoms. Those who did not take part in the program reported a 9% increase in erectile dysfunction symptoms.
The researchers conclude that regular exercise may help reduce symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
A 2011 meta-analysis investigated the effects of aerobic exercise on erectile dysfunction. The researchers analyzed five studies involving a total of 385 participants.
All the studies showed improvements in erectile dysfunction following aerobic activity. The researchers conclude that men with erectile dysfunction may benefit from aerobic training, though further studies are necessary to confirm this.
Alcohol and tobacco use
Drinking a lot of alcohol can negatively impact many aspects of a person’s health.
According to the CDC, excessive drinking can interfere with male hormone production, potentially contributing to impotence and infertility.
Alcohol also increases the likelihood that a person will engage in risky sexual behavior. Such behavior puts a person at increased risk of contracting or transmitting an STI.
Tobacco smoking can also have a negative effect on penis health. According to the Truth Initiative, smoking may play a role in the following sexual health issues:
- erectile dysfunction
- decreased libido
Health conditions that may affect penis health
There are several health conditions that can directly affect penis health. Some of the more common ones include:
- STIs, such as chlamydia, herpes, or genital warts
- phimosis, which occurs when the foreskin cannot extend over the head of the penis
- balanitis, which is inflammation of the head or foreskin of the penis
Other conditions not directly related to the penis can also affect its health. Many of these conditions may cause erectile dysfunction or issues with fertility. These include:
- high blood pressure
- certain heart conditions
When to see a doctor
Anyone who is sexually active should check for symptoms of STIs regularly. They should look for:
- rashes, sores, or blisters on the penis
- burning or itching sensations in the penis
- abnormal discharge from the penis
- a foul odor coming from the penis or groin area
- pelvic pain
- pain when urinating or passing stools
Anyone who thinks that they may have an STI should visit their doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Importantly, many people who contract an STI will not experience any symptoms. Regular sexual health screenings will help detect STIs that a person may not have noticed otherwise.
Anyone who thinks that they may have erectile dysfunction should also see their doctor, who will work to diagnose the cause.
How to care for the penis
A person should clean their penis at least once per day using a mild soap. Using abrasive or heavily scented soaps could irritate the skin of the penis.
A person should wash all parts of the penis, including:
- the pubic hair
- the scrotum
- the area between the legs and scrotum
- the penis shaft
- the area underneath the foreskin, if uncircumcised
Tips for a healthy penis
The tips below can help a person keep their penis healthy:
- using a barrier method during sex
- limiting the number of sexual partners they have
- undergoing a sexual health screening at least once per year if in a monogamous relationship
- undergoing a sexual health screening as often as every 3–6 months if having sex with multiple partners
- keeping the penis and genital area clean
- limiting alcohol consumption
- avoiding the use of tobacco products
- exercising regularly
- eating a healthful, balanced diet
A person can take several steps to maintain the health of their penis. This includes exercising regularly and eating a healthful diet. A person may also wish to avoid having unprotected sex, drinking a lot of alcohol, and using tobacco products.
To maintain a healthy penis, a person should thoroughly wash the penis at least once per day. Those who are sexually active should also go for sexual health screenings at least once per year and perform regular self-checks at home.
If a person has any concerns about their penis, they should talk to a doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will work to diagnose the cause of the issue and provide appropriate treatments.
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- What are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or diseases (STDs)? (n.d.).
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