Tim, one of the nurses here at HCDS, who is a regular blog contributor, approached me a while back with an idea. Inspired by a men’s health campaign he had read about in a journal article, he wanted to author a series of blog posts on men’s health. The idea was to publish one article per week on Mondays during the month of March – hence the name ‘Man Up Mondays in March’.
The first of these articles was published on the 4th March and encouraged men to consider getting regular health checkups. The second article was posted on the 11th March and looked at body dysmorphia.
Today’s article focuses on sexual health, a topic commonly avoided, but incredibly important. Stay tuned every Monday during March for another article (5 in total).
If you want to connect with Tim in relation to any of his posts, you can email him on firstname.lastname@example.org
Men’s Sexual Health
By Tim Adler
By now you may have started to notice a common theme in my writing. If you have not I will now draw your attention to it. The main idea is to take responsibility for your own health and this is no different for sexual health. In regards to sexual health I could spend much time trying to rehash information that’s readily available however I will simply start with the following:
For most men sex is an important part of life, and for many of us we start thinking about it early on in life, often before puberty, then continue to think about it right through to the end stages of life. Sex is an activity that is pleasurable and can also help cement the bond between two people. It is also driven by hormones and is a natural bodily function.
What is sexual Health?
Sexual health refers to a state of well-being that lets men and women participate in and enjoy sexual activity. A range of physical, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors influence a man’s sexual health.
Whilst male sexual health includes sexual desire and the ability to get and sustain an erection, it also covers the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases as well as emotional and physiological factors.
Why focus on men’s Sexual Health?
Yeah I get that sexually transmitted disease (STDs) affect both women and men alike, however in a study by Cunningham, Kerrigan, Jennings and Ellen (2009), 70% of young women reported to have got a STD screen in the past year, compared with only 35% of young men.
Another study by Denson et al stated that a major reason for not screening was perception. This may be perceiving STDs as not being serious, or not understanding the screening process. For all men in this study the fear of judgment was a major factor in not getting screened.
In going with the main theme of these articles I cannot stress this enough. Safe sex is just as much a responsibility for men as it is for women. When talking about contraception and safe sex practices there is no male contraceptive pill to take. However this does NOT get us out of our responsibilities. It remains the responsibility of men to:
- Initiative and/or have a conversation with your partner regarding contraception
- Have and use condoms
- Undergo regular health and STD screening
- Ask a sexual partner when was their last screening test
What does testing involve?
These days the screening process has become much easier. It starts with a visit to your doctor.
The screening process can involve blood tests, swabs or urine tests and preferably a physical examination. If the physical examination has got you worried then express this to the doctor. If it means forgoing the physical examination to get the other screening tests done, then this is still better than not having it done at all.
What are the main things being tested for?
Below are a list STD’s and symptoms taken from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/male-sexual-problems. For more information please visit the above link.
A big problem with chlamydia is that it often produces no symptoms, and if left undetected and untreated, complications can occur. People who have chlamydia can still transmit the infection, even if they don’t have any symptoms themselves. When symptoms do occur, they may not appear until several weeks after having sex with an infected person.
Men with chlamydia are at risk of infections that can result in
- Swollen and sore testicles,
- Discharge from the urethra (the tube through which urination occurs)
- Difficulty urinating
- Pain when urinating
Having oral sex or anal sex with someone who has the infection can result in infection of the throat or the rectum, causing pain and a discharge of pus or mucus
Most people infected with genital herpes have no symptoms, but some people can have distressing symptoms.
They may include:
- stinging or tingling in the genital area
- small blisters on the genital area which develop into small painful red sores
- sores that look like a rash or cracked skin on the genitals
- Difficulty passing urine.
The first episode of infection can also have flu-like symptoms such as:
After the first episode, the virus remains dormant (sleeping) in your body for the rest of your life, which means you can experience recurrent episodes (outbreaks) of sores and blisters.
Recurrent episodes are usually milder, shorter and less frequent over time. They are more likely to occur when your immune system is weak, due to illness, tiredness or stress.
Genital warts are usually painless. They can be bumpy, flat, or appear in clusters. Your doctor can often tell if you have genital warts by examining you.
In men, when symptoms do occur, they usually develop within one to three days. In men, symptoms may include:
- thick, yellow or white discharge from the penis
- pain, discomfort or burning sensation when passing urine
- pain in the testes (balls)
- redness around the opening of the penis
- anal discharge and discomfort
- Sore, dry throat.
Occasionally gonorrhoea can involve the eyes, joints, heart or brain, causing permanent damage
Some people with syphilis have no symptoms at all, so you may not know you have it unless you get tested. There are four stages of syphilis infection: primary, secondary, latent and tertiary.
The signs and symptoms of syphilis depend on the stage of disease.
Primary syphilis occurs 10-90 days after infection. Symptoms may include a single painless sore usually about a centimetre big at the site where the infection entered the body – such as on the penis, mouth or anus. There may also be swollen lymph nodes.
The sore, or sometimes multiple sores, can go unnoticed because it is usually painless and may be hidden from view in areas like the back of the throat, vagina or anus.
These sores usually go away by themselves after 3 to 6 weeks, even with no treatment. But, even though the sore heals, if you have not been treated, you still have the infection and can pass it on to others.
Secondary syphilis occurs seven to 10 weeks after the initial infection in about one in four people. A wide variety of symptoms can occur and these may include:
- A red rash on the palms, soles, chest or back
- Enlarged glands in the armpits and groin
- Sore throat
- Hair loss
- Weight loss
- Ulcers in the mouth, nasal cavity or genitals
- Neurological symptoms.
Latent (sleeping) syphilis generally has no symptoms and it is only picked up on blood tests. If syphilis is not treated at this stage it can remain latent or develop into tertiary syphilis.
Tertiary syphilis can appear anywhere from five to 20 years after primary infection. At this stage, the bacteria can damage almost any part of the body including the heart, brain, spinal cord, eyes and bones, resulting in heart disease, mental illness, blindness, deafness and neurological problems.
I recognise that there might be a slight difference in presentations between this blog and the first couple that you may have already read.
There is no pretty way to dress up some of these men’s health topics, including sexual health
As men we sometimes shy away from these seemingly scary or confronting topics. If after reading this particular health blog you feel that there may be some symptoms that match the conditions described, please make the time to discuss these with your doctor.
If having read this you find yourself a little worried about the fact that these STDs are out there, I would encourage you to open up a dialogue with your sexual partners before engaging in sexual activity. Always keep in mind that in addition to condoms being an effective form of contraception, they also help prevent the spread of STDs.
If you have any of these symptoms please feel free to contact your GP or the Flinders University Health Service.
Coming up in next week’s Man Up Monday in March! I keep the theme going and look at a different aspect of sexual health, focusing on the responsibilities us men have in helping prevent unwanted sexual encounters. Stay tuned!