Penis Exams

Penis exams help ensure the penis and everything around it is healthy. Learn more about what is examined during a penis exam.

Dr. Laurence Levine
Expert in male sexual health, leading Urologist in USA
by Dr. Laurence Levine Last updated 11/28/2022
penis examination

Penis exams involve a lot more than just the penis.

In fact, doctors tend to refer to a male penis exam as a genitourinary and rectal exam. This involves examining everything in the area around the male genitalia.

Quick FAQs

It's important for screening for conditions in older men, and checking for injuries or abnormalities in younger men.

A doctor will ask the male patient to pull down their pants and underwear so they can examine the private area. It usually only takes a few minutes.

Some conditions that may get screened for include hernias, penile or scrotal tissue damage, and testicular cancer.

In addition to examining the penis head (gland) and shaft, a real penis exam will also involve:

  • The scrotum
  • The testicles
  • The groin area
  • The anus and rectum
  • The prostate

While not everyone looks forward to a genital exam, it’s a necessary part of maintaining good health.

Why are penis exams important?

Penis exams should become a regular part of a man's annual physical and are important for screening for certain conditions for men over 50 years old.

One example is prostate cancer. It’s the second most common type of cancer in older males, impacting about one out of every eight American men.

Children and teenagers should also regularly receive penis exams to check for any injuries or abnormalities as their bodies develop.

Testicular self-exams are also suggested and can be performed at home in between annual physicals by simply feeling around the testicles for any lumps or abnormalities.

Testicular cancer impacts about one in every 270 men, particularly in younger men. In addition to these conditions, there are various other issues men may experience in or around the genitalia including: 

  • Pulled groins
  • Hernias 
  • Complications from other illnesses or diseases

It all underscores the necessity of a penis exam.

What to Expect From a Penis Exam?

Though it may seem awkward to undergo, a penis exam is nothing to be embarrassed by. 

Regular checkups and exams on the penis are all a part of maintaining good overall health.

General Physical Exam

Unless men are specifically visiting a urologist for a  penis exam, a genital examination is typically part of an annual general physical check-up.

A general physical exam is often carried out by a man's primary doctor and will screen for blood pressure, heartbeat, lung health, skin health, and monitor any issues or conditions that an individual may be more at-risk for.

It will likely conclude with a genital exam where the doctor will ask a man to pull down his pants and underwear to his knees to begin the assessment of the private area.

This part of the physical exam usually only takes a few minutes.

A typical penis exam performed during a general physical will also likely consist of the following:

A rectal exam: This involves the doctor gently inserting their finger into the rectum to check the size and shape of the prostate. Rectal exams are common in men 55 and up to help screen for prostate cancer and other issues.

Testicular exam: This involves visually examining and feeling the testicles for any lumps or abnormalities.

Other Medical Exams for the Penis

More tests and exams may be performed depending on the results and conclusions drawn from the more basic genital exams and digital rectal exams.

These may include:

Urine tests: This can help identify any urinary infections, kidney disease, kidney stones, or even diabetes.

PSA exams: Prostate-specific antigens exams are blood tests that complement the digital rectal exam when screening for prostate cancer.Results of less than 4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) are considered normal, 4-10 ng/ml is intermediate, and more than 10 ng/ml is high.

Doppler ultrasound imaging: This involves using a transducer to view areas of the penis to take a better look at any abnormalities, notably in the testicular region. It can also be used to gauge blood flow throughout the organ.

Injection test: Often performed on men who experience erectile dysfunction, this involves injecting a chemical into the shaft of the penis to induce an erection to gauge how long it lasts and determine if further ED treatment options are necessary.

Overnight erection test: Often suggested for men with erectile dysfunction, this helps determine if ED issues are psychological. It involves placing a ring onto the penis shaft at night. 

If it's broken in the morning, it's evident that a man reached an erection overnight as he slept.

What Gets Screened During a Penis Exam?

A thorough genital exam will carefully assess the pelvic and genital areas. Some of the conditions that are screened for during such an exam include:

  • Hernia, or a condition when the intestines push through muscle into the groin area.
  • Urinary tract infections, or UTIs
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH. This may also be referred to as prostate gland enlargement, a common condition in older men
  • Erectile dysfunction, or ED. Surveys show that erectile dysfunction affects about 30 million American men
  • Peyronie’s disease is a non-cancerous condition resulting from scarring around the penis
  • Penile or scrotal tissue damage from diabetes or high cholesterol
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Prostate cancer
  • Penile cancer
  • Testicular cancer

Many of the aforementioned conditions become more frequent with age, so it's likely that genital exams will last a bit longer as more issues are screened for later in life.

For teenagers or young men not at risk of many of the issues listed above, genital exams are likely to last for only a few minutes.

Can I Perform a Male Penis Exam at Home?

While it's still recommended that a medical professional perform a genital exam at an annual physical or as directed, it is possible - and it may even be recommended by a doctor - to perform an exam at home.

This is especially true in men who develop rectal or genital conditions at a young age, as such conditions may need to be more frequently monitored.

Even for those who do not, it's still good practice to begin doing occasional self-exams to complement the annual professional doctor or nurse penis exam at annual checkups around the time an individual hits puberty.

How Do I Perform a Self-Exam?

Self-exams are very easy to carry out at home.

Here's a step-by-step look at how to perform them:

  1. Relax the genitals. It's important that the tissue remains loose to allow you to feel thoroughly around the penile and testicular region.
  2. Pinch the scrotum to hold the testicles in place as they are felt.
  3. Using the fingers and thumb, gently feel the entire surface of each of the two testicles. Take note of any lumps or hard tissue, which may be as small as a grain of rice or as large as a grape. Keep in mind that there's a rather significant lump on the back of the testicle, the epididymis. That's perfectly normal and should be there.
  4. Finish the exam by examining the penis shaft and head. Feel and look for any lesions or tissue. Gently squeeze it to check for lumps or tender spots. Uncircumcised men should move back the foreskin to look and feel under it.

Self-exams are easy and fast to do.

Many doctors suggest performing one on a monthly basis to become more familiar with the genital area and be able to quickly notice any changes or abnormalities as they occur.

Remember, the better a man knows his body, the better in tune he'll be with any changes as they occur over time.

When Should I Get a Penis Exam?

All men should receive a clinical genital exam on an annual basis during their physical check-up.

However, based on any issues or abnormalities that are felt or observed during at-home self-exams or any other pre-existing conditions, men may need to see their doctor on a more frequent basis.

Clinical exams may also be sought following injury to the genital region, whether they be work-related or athletic-related.

One of the most common injuries in male athletes is a pulled groin. Sports hernias are also common.

In some cases, men may also be referred to a psychologist or a counselor if it's determined that any genital abnormalities stem from mental, physical, or emotional trauma.

Takeaways

No matter who they're performed by, penis and genital exams are normal and a part of ensuring good overall bodily health for men.

Penis and genital exams may involve everything from visually inspecting and feeling the penis and testicles to more advanced tests to screen for other issues.

Whether it's a female doctor penis exam, genital exam performed by a nurse or urologist, such exams are designed to screen for various conditions, abnormalities and dysfunctions.

Men can also perform self-exams on their genital region at home as a way of screening for basic genital health concerns.

Dr. Laurence Levine

Dr. Laurence Levine

​Dr Laurence Levine is a Professor of Urology and practices at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He is focused specifically on Male Sexual Health and is past President of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America (SMSNA). Dr. Levine graduated from the University of Colorado School of Medicine where he received his MD and completed his training in Urology at the Harvard Program in Boston.​

Sources:

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The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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