FREE ONLINE ED ASSESSMENT. Start Here

Penis Exam: When to Get One & What to Expect

Martin Miner, MD

Reviewed by Martin Miner, MD

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 07/30/2021

Updated 01/25/2024

If you wince at terms like spermatic cord and urethral meatus, you probably dread anything to do with the medical side of your reproductive equipment. 

Male genitalia can be hilarious when drawn on a dirty window. While examining it in a clinical setting is often awkward for patients, you can bet the doctor has seen it all.

Sometimes, you need help, though. If you’re worried about your sexual health, you’ll have to be brave enough to discuss your penile shaft or vas deferens with a healthcare professional.

Whether it’s pain, performance or some sort of outbreak, a penile exam might be your only option. But if you’re panicked and don’t know what to expect, we got you.

Below, we’ll cover what to expect from a penile exam, what it can screen for and what might happen at the end of a male genital exam.

We’ll also share some treatments for erectile dysfunction (ED) — a popular reason for seeing a medical professional about your penis and one you might have some questions about now.

Choose your chew

Add a boost to your sex life with our new chewable formats

What Is a Penis Exam and Where Do You Get One?

If you’re an adult, you’ve probably had a pretty comprehensive head-to-toe before. Unlike full physical exams, penis exams are quick, targeted check-ups for your genital region.

A penis exam is really a genital exam. Call it what you want, but understand that the medical expert is going to look elsewhere, too.

Speaking of experts, penis exams might be something your primary care provider can do. However, they’re usually carried out by a urologist, especially if there’s a particular issue that requires more comprehensive screening.

It’s an invasive few minutes. People have all kinds of hangups about the medical care they receive, but nearly half of men say they prefer someone of the same sex as their urologist.

Choose your chew

Add a boost to your sex life with our new chewable formats

What Conditions Do Penile Exams Screen for?

Since “penis exam” isn’t really an official procedure, you can assume having your penis examined will include a broader assessment of your entire reproductive and urinary systems.

As such, a general examination will check for penile problems, as well as:

  • Hernias

  • Urethral tract infections

  • Cysts or lesions

  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

  • Undescended testicle (when a testicle doesn’t move down to the scrotum)

  • Phimosis (inability to retract the foreskin)

  • Varicocele (enlarged veins in the scrotum)

  • Hydrocele (swelling in the scrotum)

  • Hypospadias (when the urethra opening isn’t at the tip of the penis)

  • Erectile dysfunction

That’s just a short list of what a urologist can effectively screen for. Now, let’s take a look at how they’ll do the screening.

What Can I Expect During a Penile Exam?

Everything in the region we’re talking about will get a look-see, so to speak. That means your testes, prostate and epididymis (the duct semen passes through) are all up for some form of examination.

How the procedure goes depends on who’s performing it and why the physical examination is taking place.

Your healthcare provider may also ask questions about your medical history, sexual history and family history as they pertain to your sexual health, so be prepared for those, as well. A urologist addressing a specific concern may do fewer tests than a general practitioner (GP) seeing you for an annual check-up.

But generally, a medical professional will carry out a visual exam while the penis is flaccid. They’ll look for irregularities in the appearance of your genitals, checking for herpes, warts, fungal infections, ulcers, lumps or bumps, along with specific issues in each section of your genitourinary system:

  • Penis. Key parts of the penile structure will be examined for abnormalities, including the foreskin (for both uncircumcised and circumcised men), urinary tract, urethra and glans. Penis exams also take into account the presence of any genital warts (which can signal HPV), as well as the position of the opening where urine is discharged. And your provider might swab your urethra to test for STIs.

  • Testes. To screen for testicular cancer and other issues, your healthcare provider will feel one testicle at a time, checking for lumps. This will include the epididymis (sperm duct), vas deferens (sperm-transporting tube) and other internal structures, along with the scrotum.

  • Prostate gland. A urologist or GP will check the prostate gland through the rectum to make sure it’s smooth, symmetrical and firm. The rectal exam is usually the least looked-forward-to part of the appointment, but it serves double duty as a screening for anal warts, hemorrhoids and fissures in that region.

Testicular Self-Exam

Getting screened for testicular problems (and specifically testicular cancer) is undoubtedly important. But even a healthcare professional will suggest carrying out a regular self-examination to monitor any changes in your genitals.

This DIY inspection should be done at least once a month.

Perform the test in the shower while lathered up for better accuracy — the scrotum relaxes in hot water, and your hands can move more easily when lubricated with soap.

Gently roll each testicle between your fingers and check the cords at the back of your testes. Feel around for hard lumps or strange bumps and any general changes to your equipment. And be on the lookout for painful areas.

Choose your chew

Sildenafil Chews

The same active ingredients as Viagra®. Starts working in 30 minutes and lasts up to 6 hours.

Tadalafil Chews

Same active ingredient as Cialis®. Starts working in 1 hour and lasts up to 24 hours.

Vardenafil Hard Mints

Exclusively at Hims, starts working in 15 minutes and lasts up to 6 hours. Same active ingredients as Levitra®.

How Penis Examinations for ED Work

If you think you might have erectile dysfunction, an ultrasound can be performed on your erect penis to screen for various causes of ED. 

You can typically expect to start with a manual or visual exam, followed by a:

  • Blood test. You might be tested for endocrine problems like diabetes or Addison’s disease (a reduction in hormone production). These conditions may be responsible for ED.

  • Blood pressure check. This measures blood pressure — duh — which may be causing ED if it’s high (hypertension) or low (hypotension).

  • Urine test. This screening is performed to rule out diabetes as a potential cause of sexual function issues.

  • Mental health exam. A psychological assessment might be performed, as ED can have non-physical causes like anxiety, depression, stress or self-esteem issues.

  • Doppler ultrasound imaging. A healthcare provider might do an ultrasound to evaluate penile conditions such as trauma, priapism (a painful, hours-long erection), Peyronie’s disease (scar tissue on the penis) and erectile dysfunction.

Once the above are completed, a physical examination is carried out to determine whether an erectile dysfunction diagnosis will be given.

What Happens After a Penis Exam

What happens after your exam is largely determined by what a healthcare provider finds or doesn’t find. Some of the tests we mentioned may come after an initial assessment, especially if the first pass happens as part of your annual physical.

Depending on your symptoms, diagnosable problems and signs of injury or irritation, you might follow up this appointment with:

  • A referral to a urology specialist

  • Referrals for further testing that may not be available through your physician

  • Filling and taking a prescription to see if your issues respond to medication

  • Therapy or counseling for problems weighing on your mental health

Keep scrolling for a rundown of erectile dysfunction treatment options.

Treatment Options for ED  

If all this “male physical exam” talk and your upcoming penis inspection are about ED, you probably have many additional questions, particularly about treatment.

One of the most dependable routes for treating ED is erectile dysfunction medication. PDE5 inhibitors make getting and maintaining erections easier for guys with ED. Brands include:

These medications and their generics (sildenafil, tadalafil and avanafil, respectively) increase blood flow to your penis, which can treat numerous ED causes. They’re available as tablets and chewable hard mints — a discreet alternative you can get online through our telehealth platform.

For psychological ED (ED that happens due to your mental state), treating anxiety, depression and specifically sexual performance anxiety with therapy or medication can help with recovery. Explore the different types of therapy to learn more.

Sildenafil citrate

Get hard for 95% cheaper than Viagra

The Importance of Penile Exams

Look, we get it: regular check-ups are already an uncomfortable necessity, and you’ll do just about anything to avoid a genital examination — because it can be a little awkward.

Penile exams may not be fun for most men, but they’re often necessary. We don’t need to tell you how important your penis is to your well-being.

Here are the big takeaways as you make and attend your appointment:

  • A penis exam is technically a male urology exam — a complete overhaul of your genitals and urinary organs.

  • The doctor for ED and any other penis-related issues is a urologist, though your GP can help with initial concerns.

  • If you’re worried about your erectile, testicular or prostate health, getting medical advice is essential. It can prevent diseases, cancer and other serious problems from becoming worse.

Have questions or want to know more about health issues relating to your penis? We can help. Reach out today through our sexual health platform.

6 Sources

  1. Amir H, Beri A, Yechiely R, Amir Levy Y, Shimonov M, Groutz A. Do Urology Male Patients Prefer Same-Gender Urologist?. Am J Mens Health. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142168/
  2. Gurung P, Yetiskul E, Jialal I. Physiology, Male Reproductive System. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538429/.
  3. White JM JR, O'Brien DP III. External Male Genitalia. In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 189. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299/.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-b). Diagnosis of erectile dysfunction - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/diagnosis.
  5. Fernandes, M. A. V., de Souza, L. R. M. F., & Cartafina, L. P. (2018). Ultrasound evaluation of the penis. Radiologia brasileira, 51(4), 257–261. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124582/.
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-e). Treatment for erectile dysfunction - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/treatment.
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Martin Miner, MD

Dr. Martin Miner is the founder and former co-director of the Men’s Health Center at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. He served as Chief of Family and Community Medicine for the Miriam Hospital, a teaching hospital of the Warren Alpert Medical School, from 2008 to 2018. The Men’s Health Center, under his leadership, was the first such center to open in the US. He is a clinical professor of family medicine and urology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence and has been charged with the development of a multidisciplinary Men’s Health Center within the Lifespan/Brown University system since 2008.

Dr. Miner graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin College with his AB in biology, and he received his MD from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Upon receiving his MD, he completed his residency at Brown University. He practiced family medicine for 23 years, both at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and in private practice.

Dr. Miner presently holds memberships in the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Rhode Island and Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Urological Association, and he is a fellow of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America. He is the former president of the American Society for Men’s Health and the current historian. He is the vice president of the Androgen Society, developed for the education of providers on the truths of testosterone therapy. Dr. Miner has served on the AUA Guideline Committees for erectile dysfunction, Peyronie’s disease, testosterone deficiency, and early screening for prostate cancer. He has served on the testosterone committees of the International Consultation on Sexual Medicine. He has presented both at the NIH and the White House on men’s health initiatives and has authored over 150 peer-reviewed publications and spoken nationally and internationally in multiple venues. He has co-chaired the Princeton III and is a steering committee member and one of the lead authors of Princeton IV, constructing guidelines for the evaluation of erectile dysfunction, the use of PDE5 inhibitors, and cardiac health and prevention.

Dr. Miner was chosen as the Brown Teacher of the Year in 2003 and 2007 and was recognized by the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Award as achieving the most significant contribution to Men’s Health: 2012.

Publications

Read more