When a man begins having penis problems, he'll usually respond in two ways: avoid discussing the issue and wish that the trouble would disappear. But these reactions pose major health risks. So it's often up to the women in their lives to look after their man's sexual health. "Most of my patients ignore sexual dysfunction until they are dragged into the office by their wives or girlfriends," says William C. Baker, Jr., M.D., a clinical assistant professor of urology at the University of California, Davis Cancer Center and chief urologist at the Sacramento VA Medical Center. "But they don't realize that sexual problems can often be a late sign of disease." So to make sure your man's plumbing stays in good working order, you should urge him to adopt these habits:
Get checked. Although testicular cancer is rare in African-American men (about 2 in 100,000 cases are diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society), Baker suggests that your man perform monthly self-exams. He should feel his testicles for abnormal lumps and look for any changes in size, texture or appearance.
Clean up. Within an hour after sex, he should urinate and wash his penis to get rid of any vaginal or anal bacteria.
Drink less. "Many men mistakenly assume that alcohol improves sexual performance," Baker says. "But moderate intoxication will impair love-making skills." More serious is chronic alcoholism. "This can result in decreased libido and the inability to get erections," he warns. Another damaging habit is smoking, which can lower sperm count and decrease sperm mobility—not good for wanna-be dads.
Eat healthy. "A low-fat diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables is best for good sexual function," Baker says. "Fat causes hardening of the arteries, which can reduce blood flow to the penis and result in erectile problems." Decreasing fat intake particularly saturated fat (found mainly in animal products), is also thought to lower the risk of developing prostate cancer, says Jeannette Jordan, a registered dietician and spokes woman for the American Dietetic Association.
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Exercise. Kegel exercises, which women can perform to strengthen pelvic muscles and heighten sexual pleasure, can also be done by men. "The exercise can prevent premature ejaculation and heighten orgasmic pleasure," says Cedric Bryant; Ph.D., chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. To perform Kegels, your partner should squeeze and then release the muscles that control his stream of urine.
Boxers or briefs? A study reported in the October 1998 Journal of Urology concluded that underwear styles are unlikely to have a significant effect on male fertility. But if your man is experiencing fertility problems, boxers may be worth a try, Baker says. Briefs hug the testicles to the body, and it's possible that wearing them can slightly raise the sperm's temperature, and heat can kill sperm. In fact, it's the scrotum's job to maintain the testicles at their ideal temperature, about 93.6°F.
Keep moving. "Exercise can resuscitate a dying libido," Bryant says. "It promotes feel-good endorphins for increased arousal, improves blood circulation for better penis function, and helps prevent obesity, which can lead to impotence."