03/09/2012 02:13 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Balls in Your Court to Keep Clean

Genitals require very little care to function properly throughout a lifetime, but as with anything valuable, they appreciate being looked after. Some basic maintenance helps these organs provide years of pleasure.

In infancy, the foreskin protects the penis from infection and injury. There is no medical or logical reason for circumcision in either male or female children. After the first couple of years, the foreskin will separate and retract from the head of the penis, at which time parents can teach their toddlers to pull it back and wash underneath it as part of their cleaning routine. They may notice a white, waxy substance called smegma under the foreskin. It is normal and harmless.

Other than this routine cleaning, male genitals remain maintenance-free during childhood until puberty, at which time parents are advised to teach their sons to do regular check-ups of their testicles for unusual or asymmetrical growths. These are uncommon but more frequent as our planet becomes more polluted. They can signal trouble and are best caught early. With that maintenance made habitual, young adulthood should pass without incident -- provided our boys are employing a comprehensive knowledge of safe sex techniques.

On that point, note that the foreskin contains cells particularly receptive to transmission of the HIV virus, as are other mucous membranes. This has no sexual impact provided we respect safe sex practices.

Not until about the age of 40 is anything else required, at which time annual PSA (prostate specific antigen) tests and digital exams become advisable. We formerly marked this timeline ten years later, but newer research reveals younger and younger men have enlarged and cancerous prostate glands.

So we are dropping the age limits. This pertains especially to men who do not enjoy frequent ejaculations, who have experienced repeated problematic urinary tract infections, or who are avid bicyclists (the problem is in the pressure on the base bulb of the penis from resting on the bicycle seat for hours at a time).

The PSA test measures the amount of an antigen in the blood that refers to the overall health of the prostate gland. It alerts health care professionals to look more closely if the score is elevated. The digital exam (a gloved finger up your bum) is potentially uncomfortable, particularly if you fail to relax, but is essential for the doctor to feel the smoothness and texture of your prostate. This brief examination can be a life saver.

The two major sexual problems that distress men are premature ejaculation (come too soon) and erectile dysfunction (can't get or keep it up). Premature ejaculation is a learned response and responds to treatment whereas erectile dysfunction can have physiological or psychological causes, or a combination of both. We attribute physiological reasons in the majority of cases.

Erectile dysfunction is, as well, a natural function of aging. Very few men under the age of 50 lose erectile capacity permanently. However, ED affects more men as they age, to the extent that about half of seventy-year-olds complain of this problem. The more men age, the more they tend to be affected, although some men enjoy full erectile function well into their 80s and 90s. Smoking, inactivity, and high cholesterol hasten the onset of the problem. Though the numbers seem bleak, it means that about one quarter of men are fully capable of having intercourse well into their 80s and 90s. Wise men understand that good lovers do not require stiff penises.

So you see, the male urogenital system requires very little maintenance to provide a lifetime of pleasure and function. Routine checks for asymmetrical lumps, and frequent ejaculations to keep the system well 'flushed', coupled with annual check-ups for prostate problems past the age of forty is basically all that is required. A solid knowledge and usage of safe sex techniques and a healthy respect for the power of sex combine to equip men for a lifetime of great sexual adventure.