Here’s the Sexual Health Self-Exam You Should Be Doing
Two-thirds of sexually active men agree it’s important to regularly perform below-the-belt self-exams—but 47 percent have no clue how to do one, according to a survey by Men’s Health parent company Hearst Media. No need to count yourself in the clueless half; below is your instruction manual on how to perform a sexual health exam in the privacy of your home—and why doing so is crucial for your health.
Step 1: Start as early as possible
Because testicular cancer skews young—the disease is seen mainly in men between the ages of 20 and 40—self-exams should start as early as possible. Ideally, that would be in your teenage years, says Adam Ramin, MD, urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles. Begin self-exams when there doesn’t seem to be a problem, so you can establish a baseline of what’s normal for you.
Step 2: Take a shower or bath
Doing a self-check while showering or bathing is easier because it relaxes the skin of your scrotum, says Boback Berookhim, MD, director of male fertility and microsurgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Plus, you’re already naked, so why not?
Step 3: Examine one testicle at a time
Move your penis out of the way and assess each testicle individually. Dr. Ramin says it should feel firm, similar to the webbing on your hand between the forefinger and thumb. Press gently to feel all parts of the testicle. As you feel behind the testicle, there may be a pea-sized lump; these are often benign, since cysts are common in that area, but if you find one, take note of its size and check with your doc if it’s painful or starts getting larger.
Step 4: Compare them to each other
It’s common for one testicle to be slightly different in size or shape than the other. If you’re noticing a change in what constitutes normal for you, that should prompt a checkup.
Step 5: Examine the scrotal sac
The upper part of the testicles may have veins that look like a “bag of worms,” says Dr. Berookhim. Called “varicose seals,” these veins aren’t usually cause for concern, but if they start to enlarge or harden, get checked because that could affect fertility.
Step 6: Do a visual check of the penis
Look for skin changes, pimples, pustules, painful warts, or sores, all of which could be associated with a sexually transmitted infection.
Step 7: If you’re uncircumcised, pull foreskin back
If bringing the foreskin back causes pain or is difficult, see your doctor. This could be an indication of diabetes, says Dr. Ramin.
Step 8: Assess for sensitivity or change in shape
Your penis should be straight, so if there’s a slight bend that’s more pronounced during an erection it could be Peyronie’s disease. According to Dr. Ramin, this condition could occur when excess calcium forms plaque in your penile blood vessels, or be caused by scar tissue caused from an injury. If your penis is painful to touch, it’s best to get it checked.
Step 9: Do a chest check, too
Yes, men have breast tissue and can get breast cancer, so whenever you do a self-exam, check your chest as well. Gently but firmly press in a circular pattern around each nipple and outward, feeling for any small lumps. If you feel one, don’t put off getting checked; men have a higher mortality rate for breast cancer than women, which experts link to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
Step 10: Grab a hand mirror
Once you step out of the shower, use a small mirror to inspect the underside of your penis and the inside of your thighs for sores or moles. Melanoma in the genital region is very rare, says Dr. Berookhim, but it does happen.
Now, repeat every six months
If you’re not detecting an issue, do a self-check every six months, suggests Dr. Ramin. But if you’ve had a problem or there’s an area you’re keeping an eye on, check more often.
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food.
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