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Overcoming embarrassment and stigma in men’s sexual health

Overcoming embarrassment in male sexual health

Although often a difficult topic for men to discuss, sexual health can profoundly impact men’s lives. Men generally seek healthcare advice less often than women and are more likely to overlook this aspect of their health due to associated stigmas, ignoring the role of sexual health as a key element in their overall wellbeing.

A 2022 survey of 1,500 men conducted by Hearst Media for Men’s Health magazine found that two in five sexually active men had experienced a sexual health problem, but only half of them had seen a medical professional about it. One third of all respondents said they were too embarrassed to talk about their sexual health with anyone - including their GP.

This statistic reveals the unfortunate truth that many men still appear to be avoiding helpful open conversations about sexual health with medical professionals.

On the upside, there are markedly more – and better - conversations about men’s health in the media, with more information available, leading to less stigma around the topic.

One particularly stigmatised area that can have a major impact on men’s health is sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Do I have an STI and what can I do about it?

Many STIs can be easily treatable if caught early. Below, we take a closer look at the symptoms and diagnosis of two of the most common STIs in the UK.

What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is passed between people through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, with symptoms usually developing within two weeks of being infected. Around one in 10 infected men will not experience any noticeable symptoms, meaning the condition can go untreated for some time.

In men, symptoms may include an unusual discharge from the end of the penis, pain when you pee or inflammation of the foreskin.

What is genital herpes?

Caused by a virus called herpes simplex, this is passed on through vaginal, anal and oral sex, with symptoms including small blisters that burst to leave open sores around your genitals, thighs or bottom.

These blisters can take months or years to appear, so even if you haven’t had sex for a long time, it’s important to see a GP if you observe these symptoms. The infection can also cause a burning or itching around your genitals and pain when you pee.

How to get rid of herpes

All these symptoms can clear up on their own but may return, as there's no cure for genital herpes. The virus remains in your body but can be managed with treatment such as antiviral medicines.

If you think you may have a sexually transmitted infection, the good news is that getting tested and treated is straightforward and confidential. You can see your GP, who may refer you to a sexual health clinic. Don’t let stigma prevent you from getting tested if you’re experiencing symptoms - and don’t have sex until you’re given the ‘all clear’ (or negative result).

A private GP appointment at Benenden Hospital can get you the initial answers you need, quickly. We offer fast access to 25-minute face-to-face appointments for £100 in a calm and welcoming environment.

Phimosis vs. balanitis – recognising the symptoms

Other under-discussed conditions can affect men’s overall wellbeing if they suffer in silence. One of these is phimosis, a condition where the foreskin is too tight to pull back from the head of the penis. It can be common for boys in the early years of their life, and usually resolves itself as they get older, but can affect adults too.

Problems associated with phimosis can include difficulty urinating and pain during sex. If you’re experiencing pain, your foreskin is sore or swollen and you suspect you may have phimosis, see your GP. Following a physical examination, they may advise topical steroids and stretching techniques.

Other conditions that can affect the foreskin include balanitis – the inflammation of the foreskin and head of penis. Balanitis is not an STI, so treatment such as antibiotics and antifungal creams can be prescribed by your GP. This, along with better hygiene, will usually clear up the infection quickly.

However, if you’re suffering from recurring symptoms of either phimosis or balanitis, you should contact your GP for referral to one of our Consultant Urologists who may recommend circumcision. This is usually considered as a last resort and is a surgical day case procedure. 

Am I suffering from low testosterone or the 'male menopause'?

Some men may experience a loss of sex drive and erectile dysfunction when they reach their 40s and 50s. These symptoms, and a range of other physical and emotional symptoms, are associated with low testosterone levels.

Testosterone levels begin to steadily decline in men around the age of 30-40. The media has coined the misleading term ‘male menopause’ for this time in a man’s life. This testosterone decline is natural, and unlikely to cause any problems, but if you are experiencing erectile dysfunction, reduced sex drive, mood swings or fatigue and are concerned, you should contact your GP. They can help you to get the required tests done to find the root cause.

Get yourself checked

Visit our men’s health hub to access resources designed specifically for checking your physical and mental health. If you are concerned about any aspects of your sexual health, don’t hesitate to book a GP appointment.

To find out more or to book, complete our online enquiry form or contact our Private Patient Team by phone on 01580 363158 or via Livechat.

Published on 22 September 2023