Self-care is also for people with penises.
When people think of self-care, they mostly think of diet, exercise, mindfulness, etc., which are all incredibly important. But, there are many other parts of our body that need our attention. One of the most important in our opinion: the reproductive system. There are numerous ways to take care of ourselves in both the short-term and long-term, which as we know don’t always line up.
A great example of a form of self-care that accomplishes short-term care and long-term care for most people with penises is ejaculation. Most males enjoy the feeling of ejaculation, and usually the buildup to the ejaculation. Of course, if you don’t, that doesn’t make you any less of a “man.” As a bonus, it turns out that ejaculation is good for long-term health, as well! A Harvard study showed that men who ejaculated at least once a day in their 20s were less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life. The theory behind this idea is that ejaculation helps flush out some of the carcinogens that build up in the seminal fluid in the prostatic duct.
The tricky part can be ejaculating in a socially and emotionally healthy way. If you have a partner who likes to have sex every day, that’s awesome! But, you obviously should not force daily sexual acts on your partner for your own benefit. One of my patients inadvertently explained why partner sex isn’t your only option (for context, the patient is an 80-year-old woman from Philadelphia). She told our entire medical team, “Ladies, you need to take care of yourselves. The men can already take care of themselves; that’s what God gave them thumbs for.” Moral of the story: you can easily masturbate on your own. This should ideally take place in the bathroom or somewhere else private and never in front of someone if they don’t want that.
Back to sex for a sec. If you are going to have sex, you should wear protection. Some people think that condoms detract from sexual pleasure for you and them, and that may be true on a minuscule level, but we need to look back to long-term health goals. Let’s ignore babies for a moment, though keep in mind that you can impregnate a female during sexual intercourse even if you are a ‘master’ of the pull-out method. The real issue we will talk about is sexually transmitted infections, also known as STIs. These are caused by a vast number of viruses, bacteria, and fungi that can seriously affect your health for the rest of your life - and the rest of your partners’ lives. While STIs are treatable, you probably don’t want painful lesions on your genitals, penile cancer, or HIV. So, until you know that you and your partner are free of all STIs, and that you are truly monogamous, please wear protection, for your own health and well-being, and the health and well-being of others. We need to play the long game (pun intended).
Another important aspect of genital self-care is related to smegma. Besides having a hilarious name, it is also something easily dealt with to prevent irritation and potential tearing of the skin. This applies mostly to people with an uncircumcised penis, but anyone can be affected. Smegma is just a fancy way of describing oil and dead skin cells that accumulate on the skin of the penis. Gently pull the foreskin back to reach areas normally covered and lightly wash with warm soap and water all around. Be sure to bring the foreskin back over the tip of the penis. It’s healthy to be able to move the skin back and forth without it getting stuck in any position. If the foreskin gets stuck back (can’t get it to recover the tip of the penis), that is a medical emergency, and you should go to the Emergency Department.
Lastly, something that takes 30 seconds in the short-term but is amazing for long-term health is testicular self-exams. Trust me, it sounds more awkward than it is. It’s very important, especially for younger males because testicular cancer is most likely to develop between 20 and 40 years of age. So, every month, after a warm bath or shower, use your fingers to feel your testicles. They should be the same size and have the same texture. If you notice any lumps or are concerned about anything, make an appointment with your doctor,
Self-care comes in many forms. Don’t neglect your sexual self-care!
Header image illustrated by Marcy Gooberman
Evan Gooberman, DO, MPH is a resident physician at Abington - Jefferson Health in PA and the Chair of the Alan Z. Gartzman, DO Memorial Fund.