As a men’s health expert, I constantly get asked all kinds of questions about wellness. During these conversations, I’m frequently surprised by the amount of health myths I hear. There seems to be a lot of inaccurate information out there that is somehow taken as fact by men. To counter this issue, I’d like to share the seven worst men’s health myths that I wish we’d put to rest—and what you should know instead.
7 Men’s Health Myths
Myth #1: Erectile dysfunction is purely a sexual problem.
Holding on to this men’s health myth can get you into big trouble, because erectile dysfunction (ED) is often a symptom of a bigger health problem. For example, research suggests that ED could be an indication of heart disease or other disorders involving circulation, since optimal blood flow is essential for erectile function. Actually, ED involves not just the blood vessels but the brain, nerves, emotions, muscles and hormones as well. If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, talk to your health care provider. There’s a good chance another issue (e.g., diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, alcohol or tobacco use, use of certain medications, etc.) is involved, and treating it could eliminate or significantly improve ED.
Myth #2: Your tighty-whities are killing your sperm.
At best, the evidence that wearing tighter underwear affects sperm count is inconsistent, and a recent major study found no relationship between type of underwear and total sperm count. Sure, it can’t hurt to change your style of underwear if you’re trying to do everything possible to conceive. But it’s important to know that exposing your testicles to higher temperatures from hot tubs and keeping your laptop on your lap are likely greater hazards than tight briefs. There’s a reason why your testicles hang outside your body: They need to be at a lower temperature than the rest of your body to maintain optimal function.
Myth #3: Men can’t get breast cancer.
This men’s health myth persists despite the fact that a man’s lifetime risk of developing the disease is about 1 in 1,000 and an estimated 2,350 men in the United States will be given a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2015. Men can get breast cancer because they have both breast tissue and breast duct cells which, although less developed than those in females, can support cancer growth. Some famous men who have battled breast cancer include Richard Roundtree, the original “Shaft,” and KISS drummer Peter Criss. Risk factors for breast cancer in men include family history, alcoholism, chronic liver disease, high estrogen (estradiol) levels, and obesity.
Myth #4: Supplements can make your penis bigger.
Whether it’s late-night infomercials, Internet ads, or email blasts, you have probably heard about — and possibly even shelled out for — supplements that claim they can make your penis bigger. Unfortunately, while they’ll make your wallet smaller and might even be harmful to your health, they won’t increase your penis size. Devices such as penis pumps might temporarily increase your penis length by a small amount, and some surgical procedures might make you appear to have a little extra tissue — but that’s a lot of physical, emotional and financial pain for such a small return.
Myth #5: Prostate cancer is the most deadly disease.
Prostate cancer is actually the second most deadly cancer in men. (In fact, lung cancer is the number-one cancer, killing more men and women in the U.S. each year than prostate cancer or any other cancer.) While it’s still a very serious disease, it’s important to know that prevention and early diagnosis can help beat it. One in seven men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, but a smaller group, 1 in 38, will die from it. Having a PSA test, which measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen in your blood, is the first step in determining your risk of prostate cancer.
Myth #6: Men in sexual relationships don’t need to masturbate.
Although you might not masturbate as much if you’re in a satisfying sexual relationship, chances are you’re still finding time for self-pleasure—and that’s not a bad thing. Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexologist and sex educator, points out that most guys masturbate regardless of what type of relationship they are in. In fact, frequent masturbation isn’t always just about sex but simply a way to relax, relieve tension related to work or financial worries, or to help you sleep. Some research even shows it can have some health benefits, including boosting the immune system.
Myth #7: Men hit their sexual peak at age 18.
This statement has some truth, and it’s usually related to a males’ testosterone levels being naturally highest at around age 18. But it completely ignores two critical facts: First, experience in the bedroom can far outweigh a peak T level. Second, you can actually naturally increase your testosterone production at any age. Research shows that a number of factors, including adequate sleep, a diet full of healthy fat, strength training and exercise, and healthy weight loss can all help increase testosterone levels.
The bottom line? Eighteen-year-olds might have more sex drive, but older men are having better sex!