The Naked Truth
- On average, sperm survive in a woman’s reproductive tract for 3-5 days.1
- After being produced in the testicles, it takes sperm 4-6 weeks to travel through the epididymis.2
- One ejaculation can contain up to 500 million sperm.3
- Sperm that aren’t ejaculated are broken down and reabsorbed or washed away in urine4
- Morning erections are not the result of urine build-up, but caused by specific neuroreflexes that are stimulated during REM sleep.5
- To produce a lot of healthy sperm, your testes must be cooler than your body.
Gynecomastia is a condition that affects men, causing them to develop abnormally large breasts. The word comes from Greek in which “gyne” means woman and “mastos” means breast. Gynecomastia occurs commonly in adolescent boys who usually lose the excess breast tissue within a matter of months. However, an unfortunate few are stuck with large breasts permanently. True gynecomastia is not simply excess fat in the chest area, but firm breast tissue, usually growing under the nipple. The condition often causes breast soreness.
The general cause of gynecomastia is an increase in the ratio of estrogen (female hormone) to androgen (male hormone). Factors that can cause such an abnormal ratio of hormones include steroids, marijuana, tumors, genetic disorders, chronic liver disease, side effects of certain medications, and aging.
If you suffer from gynecomastia, you should avoid any drugs that might be causing the problem. For overweight men, the first treatment your doctor is likely to suggest is losing weight and exercising. If this doesn’t work, medications are occasionally prescribed to make breast tissue go away. Surgery is rarely needed.
Hair loss is a common, yet often distressing affliction, which not only affects men, but also women and children. About 95% of cases are the result of genetics, but there are other causes as well, such as medication or an underlying medical condition. The medical term used to refer to balding is “alopecia.” People naturally shed 50-100 hairs a day, and new hair grows from the follicle to replace shed hair. When hair growth does not keep pace with hair loss, the result is alopecia. In cases of baldness caused by genetics, heredity determines the age at which you start losing hair, and the pattern and speed of baldness. Other causes of alopecia include disease, poor nutrition (lack of protein or iron), medication, medical treatment, surgery, childbirth, hair treatments, and scalp infections.
A condition called “alopecia areata” is an autoimmune disease that results in patches of hair loss. The immune system perceives hair follicles as foreign material that must be destroyed. Patients afflicted with alopecia areata eventually regrow lost hair, but it may take years.
There are several treatment options for hair loss that depend on the cause of the problem and the amount you’re willing to spend. Minoxidil, sold as Rogaine, is a lotion applied to the scalp twice a day to improve blood supply to the hair follicles. This treatment usually slows hair loss, but rarely results in regrowth. Finasteride (Propecia) is a pill taken once a day that blocks the affects of the male hormone that causes hair follicles to shrink. It’s not prescribed for women, and those who are pregnant should be especially careful to avoid the substance because it can produce severe birth defects in male fetuses. Hair graft surgery is expensive, and may need to be performed several times for permanent hair replacement, since grafted areas will eventually thin out.
The medical term to describe blood in ejaculated semen is “hemospermia” or “hematospermia.” The causes of hemospermia vary widely – from an insignificant biological quirk to serious infection. If you notice blood in your semen, it’s important to see your health care provider who will begin investigating the cause by asking a series of medical history questions. Possible causes include inflammation, infection, obstruction, or trauma anywhere in the male reproductive tract. The treatment you receive will depend on the underlying cause. Fortunately, in many cases, the problem goes away without treatment in about 1 to 2 months. Some men have recurrent bloody ejaculate with no apparent cause.
Prostatitis is an infection or inflammation of the prostate, which can be treated with antibiotics. The prostate is a walnut-size gland just below the bladder responsible for producing semen, the liquid that nourishes and helps transport sperm. The infection may be acute, requiring emergency medical treatment, but more often it’s chronic, developing more slowly with less severe symptoms. Causes vary depending on the type of infection, but often involve bacteria. Scientists are investigating possible causes of chronic, nonbacterial prostatitis, such as heavy lifting, operating vibrating machinery, and structural abnormalities of the urinary tract. Signs of prostatitis include fever, chills, aching pain behind the testicles or in the lower back, painful or frequent urination, and pain during or after sex.
Testicular cancer (although not a primary concern for young men) is the most common form of cancer in men aged 20-35. It is important to do testicular self-exams monthly, or as advised by a doctor, in order to catch the disease early. To examine yourself, stand in front of the mirror and look for swelling on the skin of the scrotum. With thumb and fingers, feel the testicles, epididymis (comma-shaped cord behind testicle), and vas deferens (tube-like structure at the back of each testicle) for lumps. Your testicles may not be the same size, but this is normal.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) occur in some area of the urinary system, such as the kidneys, ureters (tubes that carry urine from kidneys to bladder), bladder, or urethra (tube that conveys urine from the bladder out of the body). Because UTIs are usually the result of bacteria entering from the outside, women are more susceptible. Bladder infections are relatively uncommon in males.
Urethritis is the most common UTI in men, referring to an infection of the urethra. Men who suffer from urethritis experience pain or a burning sensation during urination and erection, and discharge from the urethral opening at the tip of the penis. The infection may be caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia, and can be cured by antibiotics. In order to prevent the development of a UTI, get tested regularly for STD's, drink plenty of fluids, and do not hold in urine for extended periods of time.
A varicocele is a tangled network of blood vessels on the scrotum, and is usually harmless. Due to failure of valves in the blood vessels to keep blood moving in one direction, veins transporting blood from the testicles stretch and enlarge, becoming more prominent. Commonly developed during puberty, varicoceles appear in about 15% of guys between 13 and 20 years old. They do not usually affect a man’s fertility, but may damage the testicle or decrease sperm production. Usually they require no special treatment.
Go to the doctor if you…
- Find a lump on any part of your genitals
- Have an enlarged testicle
- Notice skin sores, bumps, or other changes in your genitals
- Experience burning or pain when you urinate
- Notice discharge from the penis
- Experience aching pain in testicles or lower abdomen
- Have pain during or after sex
If you would like more information or want to schedule an appointment with a health care provider, call UHS at (609) 258-3141. [top]
2www.kidshealth.org, “A Guide to the Reproductive System,” 7/31/03
4ETR brochure “Men’s Health: What’s Normal, What’s Not.” © 1997.