The Prostate Gland

The prostate gland is a walnut-shaped gland located directly below a male’s bladder.1 This gland is essential for the functioning of the male reproductive system, as it is responsible for secreting a fluid that protects the male’s sperm during ejaculation, also called prostatic fluid.2   The prostate is composed of smooth muscle fibers and glandular tissue, and although initially small at a male’s birth, the prostate grows significantly during puberty, and enlarges even more with age. Because the prostate gland is out of sight and the role of its secretions is not widely known, it comes to most male’s attention only when it malfunctions, which it does somewhat commonly, especially in old age.2 The prostate, although not necessary for survival, is necessary for reproduction.3  For some males, the prostate can also be a source of sexual pleasure when stimulated.

Prostate Function

The prostate’s main biological function is for reproductive purposes. During ejaculation, the prostate contributes fluid to the final composition of semen; these secretions comprise 30% of a male’s ejaculate, the rest is sperm and fluid from the seminal vesicles.3 This fluid is pumped into the urethra by the contraction of muscle fibers within the prostate gland.3 The prostate's secretion, prostatic fluid, is a milky alkaline substance crucial for the sperm’s survival outside of the male body. Prostatic fluid protects the sperm, helping them to live longer and be more mobile.3 The fluid is comprised of enzymes, zinc, and citric acid and the alkalinity of the secretion counteracts the acidity of the vaginal canal; resulting pH levels create a suitable environment for the sperm to fertilize a female’s egg.1

 

Prostate Stimulation

For some, prostate massage and prostate “milking” may lead to a unique type of orgasm. However, the route necessary to reach the prostate is the anus, and for this reason, many people associate prostate stimulation with homosexuality. Nonetheless, males of any sexual orientation can enjoy prostate stimulation. Those interested in exploring prostate stimulation may do so by trying out solo masturbation techniques, manual stimulation by a partner, the use of sex toys, anal sex, and more.

The best way to stimulate the prostate is to insert a well-lubricated index finger to the second knuckle inside of the anus and use a "come hither" motion, similar to the way one might stimulate the female G-spot. As with the female G-spot, stimulation of the prostate gland (also known as the male G-spot), may feel uncomfortable at first, but with time, this feeling is often replaced with intense pleasure that differs from a typical male orgasm. 

Additionally, vibrators and dildos made specifically to pleasure the prostate may help when stimulating the prostate. The next time that a male wants to experiment with new sensations during masturbation or partnered intercourse, the prostate may be worth some attention, but make sure to communicate the idea with potential partners first.

 

Prostate Exams

Because prostate cancer is the second most prevalent cancer affecting men in the United States and other non-cancerous conditions affecting the prostate are common, it is recommended that all males receive their first prostate exam between the ages of 40 and 50 in order to check for abnormalities.5 Prostate exams most commonly take the form of digital rectal exams, in which a licensed health care provider inserts a well-lubricated, gloved finger into the male’s rectum in order to palpate, or feel, the prostate gland. Another procedure used to assess the condition of the prostate is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. This blood test is used to determine the levels of PSA in the blood, as high levels may be an indicator of prostate cancer.2 It is recommended that males discuss the costs and benefits of receiving a prostate exam with their health care providers in order to make the best individual decision regarding their prostate health. For males with high risk for prostate cancer, such as having more than one first degree relative that had prostate cancer at an early age, it is recommended to begin this discussion around 40 years of age.3 The recommended age for potential prostate exams or PSA blood tests vary on a case-by-case basis.3 A licensed medical professional can help decide what is best for each individual based on their health and medical history.

Prostate Conditions

There are three common medical conditions that affect the prostate: prostate cancer, prostatitis, and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Males who experience symptoms related to these conditions may be asked to complete a prostate exam to confirm a diagnosis. The prostate exam allows doctors to assess whether the prostate is tender, enlarged, or contains lumps. Remember that a professional healthcare provider should be consulted if an individual suspects the presence of one of these conditions, rather than self-diagnosing, since professionals are specifically trained to provide a proper diagnosis and treatment. The sections below will outline the three most common prostate conditions as well as their symptoms and treatments.

Prostate Cancer

The first medical condition related to prostate complications is prostate cancer. Among American men, prostate cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer, following skin cancer.2 According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 9 males in the United States will develop prostate cancer at some point in their life, and 40,000 males die each year from this condition in the U.S. alone.5 The main risk factors for developing prostate cancer include the following categories: age, family history of the disease, African-American race, and obesity.3 The average age of diagnosis for prostate cancer is 70 years old, as the prostate enlarges with sex hormone changes that accompany aging.  

Symptoms

Early prostate cancer usually causes no symptoms. More advanced prostate cancer sometimes causes symptoms such as urination problems, the presence of blood in semen or urine, and pain in the lower back or hips.2 Many of these symptoms may also be caused by something other than prostate cancer, therefore it is important to visit a health care provider if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, as prostate cancer can also be detected by a routine digital rectal exam or by the presence of abnormally high levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood.2

Treatment

There are several treatment options for prostate cancer. One option, radical prostatectomy, involves the surgical removal of the entire prostate gland and surrounding lymph nodes.2 The sexual side effects of this surgical treatment can be very significant, as radical prostatectomy makes ejaculation impossible. Additionally, erectile dysfunction (ED) may also be a side effect of radical prostatectomy as the nerves that supply the erectile tissue run through the prostate.2 Apart from radical prostatectomy, there are other additional treatment options available for prostate cancer. Radiation therapy may be used separately from or in conjunction with the surgical removal of the prostate, and testosterone-blocking drugs are another option for treatment.2

Prostatitis

Another medical issue linked to the prostate is prostatitis. Prostatitis can be defined simply as inflammation of the prostate gland. While prostate cancer mainly affects males over the age of 40, prostatitis affects males of all ages.2 Most cases of prostatitis do not have a known cause; however, untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been cited as one possible culprit (most frequently gonorrhea and trichomoniasis). Prostatitis may also develop as the result of a bacterial infection similar to an infection of the bladder. Prostatitis may be acute or chronic, with chronic prostatitis (also known as chronic pelvic pain syndrome) lasting for months or years.2

Symptoms

Most symptoms of prostatitis are related to urination, including the following indicators: frequent urination, burning during urination, difficulty in starting or continuing urination, excessive urination at night, and feeling like the bladder is not completely empty.1 Other signs of prostatitis can involve the formation of a fever as well as pain in the lower back, perineum, lower abdomen, upper thighs, above the pubic area, and at tip of the penis.1 Males with prostatitis may also feel pain following ejaculation.1 There are many possible indicators of prostatitis, but having just one or two symptoms is no reason to be overly alarmed. If a person has several symptoms or feels they may have prostatitis, they should consult a doctor who can diagnose the problem.

Treatment

Antibiotics are the most common form of treatment for prostatitis.2 Prostatitis should resolve with antibiotic use within several weeks. Other treatment options may include alpha blockers, which relax the muscle fibers where the prostate meets the bladder and relieve painful urination, and anti-inflammatory agents.3

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)

The third health problem associated with the prostate is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH describes an enlarged prostate, which is very common amongst older males due to varying hormone levels in the body. As males age, the prostate gland continues to grow, sometimes to the point that it constricts the urethra where it passes through the prostate gland.2 Contrary to popular belief, masturbation does not cause an enlarged prostate.

Symptoms

Similar to prostatitis, symptoms of an enlarged prostate include frequent urination, burning during urination, difficulty in starting or continuing urination, excessive urination at night, and feeling like the bladder is not completely empty.1 In some rare and serious cases, an enlarged prostate may prevent urination entirely.3 These symptoms arise because the enlarged prostate gland exerts more pressure on the urethra (as the prostate surrounds the urethra).

Treatment

An early remedy to BPH, now rarely performed, was the partial removal of the prostate, but this had several negative side effects, such as retrograde ejaculation and erectile problems. Fortunately, new medications such as alpha blockers are now available to those who have BPH.3 Similar to prostatitis, alpha blockers act to relax bladder neck muscles and prostate muscle fibers in order to facilitate urination, and usually are effective in relieving urinary symptoms within the first month of use.3

Prostate Health

Antioxidants have been shown to play an important role in prostate gland health.1 A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats can help to improve prostate health.3 Some specific foods that have been known to benefit prostate health include the following:

  • Salmon: Salmon is rich in healthy fats, which help prevent and reduce inflammation throughout the body.4
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, an antioxidant that may benefit the prostate gland.4
  • Berries: Berries, including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are rich with antioxidants, which help to remove disease causing agents from the body.4
  • Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage are all though to target cancer causing cells and promote healthy prostate functioning.4
  • Nuts: Nuts contain high concentrations of zinc, a mineral thought to help balance testosterone levels4
  • Citrus: Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits are all high in vitamin C, which is thought to protect the prostate gland.4

In addition to incorporating antioxidant and vitamin-rich foods into their diet, there are also foods that males may want to avoid in order to improve prostate health. These include the following:

  • Red meat: Daily meat consumption, especially of beef, is believed to triple the risk of prostate enlargement.4
  • Dairy: Regular consumption of dairy has been linked to an increased risk of BPH. Avoiding dairy products may help to reduce BPH symptoms.4
  • Caffeine: Caffeine may act as a diuretic, which means that it increases the amount as well as how often a person needs to urinate. Cutting back on caffeine-rich beverages such as coffee, soda, and tea may improve the urinary side effects of BPH.4
  • Alcohol: Similar to the effects of caffeine, alcohol can also stimulate urinary production.4
  • Sodium: High salt intake may worsen the urinary tract symptoms associated with BPH.4

While it is believed that the incorporation of antioxidant-rich foods into the diet may have positive effects on prostate health and the removal of other foods from the diet may help to manage certain prostate enlargement symptoms, seeing a doctor is the best way to obtain accurate and personalized information regarding prostate health.

 

Concluding Remarks

The prostate gland is an essential part of the male body that serves an important reproductive purpose. Because of the tendency for the prostate to enlarge with age, it is important to schedule regular check-ups to ensure that there are no concerning abnormalities that may be related to any of the prostate complications previously described. Males should consult their doctor if they experience any of the symptoms mentioned above or would like to seek more information regarding their prostate health.1 In addition to reproductive purposes, the stimulation of the prostate gland in males may lead to a unique type of sexual pleasure, but open communication between consenting partners is essential when exploring prostate stimulation. Overall, we hope to raise awareness about the importance of both the health and pleasure-related aspects of the prostate gland.

 

References

  1. Banschbach, Martin W. "Prostate gland enlargement." Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients. Townsend Group: Tulsa, Oklahoma, May 2006. Date Accessed: 19 February 2019.
  2. LeVay, Simon, Baldwin, Janice & Baldwin, John. “Men’s Bodies.” Discovering Human Sexuality. (3rd ed.) Sinaur Associates Inc. Publishers: Sunderland, Massachusetts, 2015. p. 76.
  3. Ali, Zia. “How is a prostate exam done?” Medical News Today. Healthline Media UK Ltd.: Brighton, UK, 2018. Date Accessed: 19 February 2019.
  4. Galan, Nicole. “What foods are good for an enlarged prostate?” Medical News Today. Healthline Media UK Ltd.: Brighton, UK, 2018. Date Accessed: 19 February 2019.
  5. “Prostate Cancer Cuases, Risk Factors, and Prevention.” American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Inc.: Atlanta, Georgia, February 2016. Date Accessed 19 February 2019.

Last Updated: 10 March 2019.