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Sexual health - signs, symptoms and how to get help

Learn how you can manage your sexual wellbeing and make the right choices for you and your partner(s).

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Prostate health
Testicular health
Sexual health advice for trans men
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)/sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Erectile dysfunction
Male fertility

Prostate health 

What is your prostate?

The prostate is a small gland found in men and trans women. This gland is located around the urethral tube – which carries urine out of the body. The role of the prostate in the body is to produce thick, white fluid, which is mixed with sperm to create semen.

Warning signs and symptoms:

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the UK, affecting one in eight males, with men over 50 at the greatest risk. The exact cause of this type of cancer isn’t known, but there are known risks which increase your chance of getting it.

Look out for symptoms such as: needing to pee more frequently, difficulties when trying to pee, feeling like you still need a wee after you go to the toilet or blood in the urine or semen.

Visit our helpful article on how and when to seek advice if you have any concerns.

Testicular health 

What are testicles?

The testicles are the oval-shaped sex organs, which are located inside the scrotum on either side of the penis. The testicles’ role in the body is to produce sperm and testosterone – which are two key elements of reproduction.

When it comes to testicular health, it’s important to get familiar, as a range of uncomfortable conditions can affect them. Testicular cancer, for example, most commonly affects younger men – and so catching symptoms early is vital.

Warning signs and symptoms:

Look out for symptoms such as; lumps, swellings, enlargement, increased firmness, pain and discomfort or change in appearance is important. Visit our helpful article on how and when to seek advice if you have any concerns.

Sexual health advice for trans men 

If you have a cervix, it’s important to attend your cervical screening tests (as well as the symptoms to look out for listed above and regular testing). The screenings (previously called “smear tests”) are currently offered every three years for eligible people aged 25 to 49. Eligible people aged 50 to 64 receive screening invitations every five years.

Trans men won’t automatically be invited to cervical screening if they've registered as male with their GP.  Speak to your GP for support in accessing the screenings you’re entitled to.

By regularly attending your screenings, you can prevent cancer from spreading by spotting warning signs early.

As a trans man, a cervical screening might prompt discomfort or distress. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has advice and support for trans men who are concerned about their cervical screening which you might find useful.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) 

Discover how to spot the signs of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or sexually transmitted disease (STD) and what you can do to protect yourself and your partners.

Common symptoms of STIs/STDs include:

  • Unusual discharge from your genitals.

  • Pain when urinating.

  • Pain during sex.

  • Lumps, blisters, or an unexplained rash around or within the genitals or anus.

  • Itchy genitals.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, go to a clinic straight away and don’t have sex until you’re given the ‘all clear’ (or negative result). Some STIs/STDs can be symptomless so it’s important to get tested regularly.

Learn more about sexually transmitted infections with advice from Terrence Higgins Trust.

Sexually transmitted infections are still stigmatised. If you’ve noticed symptoms, you might feel guilty or embarrassed due to society’s stigmatisation. STIs or STDs are very common and often easily treatable if caught early.

Anyone can experience an STI or STD. Some communities, however, experience increased stigma which can make it harder. Increased stigma due to homophobia may make it even more challenging for some gay and bisexual men from seeking support. If you’re concerned about experiencing prejudice in a medical setting, you may find it beneficial to discuss your concerns with your GP or with a specialist helpline.

Don’t let stigma prevent you from seeking help.

Contraceptives and when to get tested 

There are some things we can all do to protect ourselves and potential partners. These tips apply regardless of your gender identity, your partners’ gender or whether you’re in a long-term relationship or having casual sex.

  • Use a condom. Having unprotected penetrative sex is the most likely way to pass on a sexually transmitted infection. Here’s some advice on safe condom use.

  • If you’re at higher risk for HIV (for example, your partner is HIV positive), you could take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medicine. PrEP reduces your risk of getting HIV. Learn more about taking PrEP safely.

  • See a GP or go to a sexual health clinic to get tested before having unprotected sex for the first time with a new partner.

  • If you’re with a regular partner, continue to have routine sexual health checks at least once a year.

  • If you develop any concerning symptoms, get tested as soon as possible.

  • Be honest with your partner(s) if you test positive. This enables them to get tested as well to check if they also need treatment or support from a medical professional. It can also stop STIs from spreading.

Erectile dysfunction 

Erection problems are very common. Most men occasionally experience it. It’s usually nothing to worry about and nothing to be ashamed of.
However, if you regularly experience erectile problems, you should speak to your GP or visit a sexual health clinic.

Regular erectile problems could be caused by a physical health issue, including diabetes and high blood pressure. A doctor or nurse will be able to run basic health tests to rule out any physical causes.

Another cause of erectile dysfunction could be emotional. Your GP might recommend sex therapy to address this.

There is medication out there to treat erectile dysfunction which your doctor can prescribe.

Healthy lifestyle changes could also help you to manage erection problems, including:

  • Stop smoking.

  • Eat a healthy diet.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Try to reduce stress and anxiety.

Male fertility  

The most common cause of male infertility is poor-quality semen. This is the thick, white fluid which ejaculates from the penis during sex.

Issues with both the sperm itself, and the testicles, can cause infertility in males. The testicles produce hormone testosterone and are extremely important in this process.

Common issues with sperm:

  • Low sperm count – few or no sperm at all.

  • Sperm which do not move around, or move around properly.

  • Abnormally shaped sperm – sperm can sometimes be the ‘wrong’ shape, which makes it harder for them to move around.

Causes of poor-quality sperm:

1. Medical

  • Structural issues (varicocele, defects in tubes).

  • Inherited conditions (cystic fibrosis, Kallmann’s syndrome, Kartagener’s syndrome).

  • Infections.

  • Ejaculation issues due to underlying conditions (diabetes, surgery, spinal issues, prostate, bladder or urethra issues).

  • Tumours (cancer and non-cancerous).

  • Hormone imbalance.

  • Previous surgeries (vasectomy, hernia repair, prostate surgery, cancer surgery).

2. Environmental

  • Overheating (this has been potentially linked to sperm issues).

  • Radiation and x-rays (being exposed to radiation can reduce sperm count).

  • Chemical exposure (some chemicals, and heavy metal exposure, can reduce sperm counts).

3. Lifestyle factors

  • Drugs (recreational and non-prescription drugs can shrink the testicles. 

  • Alcohol (this can lower your testosterone levels, and reduces sperm count).

  • Smoking (proven to reduce sperm count).

  • Stress (this impacts the hormones responsible for creating sperm).

  • Depression.

  • Weight (obesity affects our hormones, which impacts fertility).

How to improve your fertility:

  • Stop smoking.

  • Limit your alcohol intake (keep this as low as possible, or if necessary, under 14 units per week).

  • Do not take drugs.

  • Avoid heat sources (saunas, hot tubs, tight fitting trousers or sitting for long periods of time increases heat in this area).

  • Manage your weight.

  • Avoid stress triggers.

  • Talk to your GP about medications you’re currently taking which may affect fertility.

  • Avoid chemicals wherever possible, such as pesticides and toxins, speak to your GP if you’re concerned about past exposures, for example through your work.

If you have any concerns or worries about the symptoms included in this article, speak to a medical professional such as a pharmacist or GP for further advice and support.

Benenden Health provides affordable private healthcare for everyone, including businesses, giving members access to services such as our 24/7 GP Helpline and Mental Health Helpline straight away. If you’ve been a member for six months, you can request access to diagnostic consultations and tests, and physiotherapy.

Medically reviewed in May 2023.