Men’s health can be a tricky subject, especially when it comes to the penis.
It’s a part of the body many men naturally like to keep private, but sometimes, staying quiet on health concerns can do more harm than good.
That’s the case with Peyronie’s disease. It is estimated that more than 440,000 Australian men are living with Peyronie’s disease, which is a condition that may result in the penis bending when it’s erect.
Peyronie’s disease occurs when scar tissue, also known as a Peyronie’s plaque, develops under the skin of the penis. The scar tissue can sometimes be felt as a small bump under the skin.
While the exact cause is not known, it is thought that Peyronie’s disease may develop in some individuals due to either a one-off trauma to the penis (such as a mis-thrust during sexual intercourse), or as a result of what’s known as microtrauma over many years — an abnormal reaction to normal wear and tear in susceptible individuals.
Common symptoms include bending or curving of the penis during an erection, a shortening or narrowing of the penis, and difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection.
It can also make having sex incredibly painful and in extreme cases can lead to anxiety and depression.
Even though Peyronie’s disease is not life threatening, the disease can inhibit a man’s ability to enjoy sex.
Dr Chi Can Huynh, urological, robotic and erectile restorative surgeon at The Male Clinic, says there is a variety of treatments available, including surgery, medication and injections, depending on what the patient wants to achieve.
“There isn’t one commonly prescribed treatment as it’s a very personal problem to a man and it depends on their desired outcome,” he explains.
“Sometimes they just want to be assured that the bend and the lump are not cancer, so the moment you tell them that it’s not they say ‘Okay, I’m fine with that’.
“Other times it may be that the bend causes a clash with their body identity and causes them stress or depression and they want to straighten the penis whichever way we do it, be that medically or surgically, for them to be comfortable with their body image again.”
For many men, having a trusted partner to offer support and comfort throughout the process is of paramount importance.
“It’s very important for the partner to support the man and show understanding, not just in the sense of the sexual relationship, but also for the loving side of the relationship – the part where the partner says, ‘I understand and I’m here with you’,” Dr Huynh says.
Dr Margaret Redelman, sex and relationship therapist at The Male Clinic, says Peyronie’s disease isn’t just an issue that affects men; their partner can also suffer from a lack of intimacy, because some men avoid being close to their partner in case it leads to sex.
“When people are anxious or insecure about their sexual function, they often stop intimacy because they don’t want to give their partner any incentive to make love,” Dr Redelman says.
“Sometimes men will stop holding hands or making eye contact, or they won’t give their partner sexual compliments.”
Dr Redelman adds: “Often it’s not the condition that’s such a big problem, it’s people’s response to the condition that’s the problem.”
No matter what the man’s desired outcome, the first and most important step is for him to talk to his doctor about any concerns he may have about changes to his penis, the doctors said.
“Treat this disease as you would any other health condition and seek help,” Dr Redelman advises.
She adds that encouragement from a partner is often paramount to the man feeling confident enough to seek help.
“Life’s pretty hard as it is and the job of being in a relationship is to try to make it easier,” she says.
“Couples often become closer during times of difficulty, which can only be a good thing in the long run.”