A man's moist groin area, with its sweat and piss residue and deep crevices, can take on a musty aroma redolent of testosterone-fueled manpower. For many, that smell may be quite pleasant, appealing even (note: pheromones). But sometimes a dick goes from smelling like musky man to hot summer garbage—rotten, like fish sauce meets dirty diaper. That acrid smell could be an indicator of a male yeast infection.
Yes, men get yeast infections too. And since a man can pass a yeast infection on to his partner, it's vital that we learn how to identify and treat our own yeast infections. Male yeast infections of the penis are caused by the same critters that cause athlete's foot and jock itch. Yeast infections—in both men and women—are essentially fungal infections of the skin in warm, moist areas where fungal colonies can thrive.
Fungal infections of the penis, groin, inner thighs, toes, and even armpits can be transferred from place to place. Here's a potential journey: Walk barefoot in the gym shower and you can get athlete's foot, which then thrives in the warm, dark, airtight environment of your favorite sneakers. After taking off your shoes and socks and scratching your feet, the fungus gets on your fingers. Then, if you scratch your balls, it could possibly move to your groin. This is all caused by the same skin fungus.
According to James Elist, a urologist who specializes in male sexual dysfunction at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, this type of autoinfection of fungus hopping from body part to body part is indeed common in men, and is sometimes contingent upon their hygiene habits. Elist also says it is possible for a man to pass his yeast infection on to a female sex partner. In this case, they'd typically share many symptoms: itching, redness, foul smell. A woman may have a vaginal discharge, though, whereas men don't experience penile discharge with yeast infections (this can make male infections harder to detect). A woman with a yeast infection can pass it to a man, who can then pass it back to her. It's like an uncomfortable, itchy game of ping pong.
Approximately 75 percent of women will experience a yeast infection in their lifetime, but the literature on how common penile yeast infections are for men is rather shallow. It is believed 14 to 18 percent of men carry yeast on their penises, much of it unnoticed, untreated, or generally asymptomatic. Elist cites a list of fungal-related knowledge that many women often know, but males don't. "Risk factors for male yeast infection include taking antibiotics. Diabetics are very prone to yeast infections. You can get yeast infections from steam rooms. When you go swimming, do not sit for a very long time in a wet bathing suit. Fungus thrives in that moist environment," he says.
More from Tonic:
The treatment for male and female yeast infections are essentially the same. Clotrimazole, an over-the-counter drug, is used to treat male and female yeast infections, diaper rash, athlete's foot, and jock itch. The treatments for male and female yeast infections contain medicines from the same -azole class of drugs, just different formulations based on where it's being applied. For more persistent infections, the oral drug fluconazole (Diflucan) can also be used by both men and women.
Elist says that the best way to prevent yeast inflections as a man is to clean your junk thoroughly and routinely. Uncircumcised men should retract their foreskins after urinating and clean it of any moisture or dead skin. Both circumcised and uncircumcised men should always wash their penises in the shower with soap and warm water, with uncircumcised men also cleaning under the hood, he says.
"Most men get yeast infections because they don't dry their groins," Elist says. "Air is the best healer when it comes to yeast infections. Use a hairdryer to dry your groin area if you have to. If you have the privacy, walk around naked after a shower until you are dry."
Teaching boys to practice good hygiene from an early age is extremely important, according to Elist. This is even more important for uncircumcised boys, who have a higher rate of penile infections from improper hygiene. While the US is still mostly pro-circumcision, the rate of this contentious practice is on the decline. "Parents should teach their uncircumcised boys to pull back, clean, and dry their foreskins after showering and urinating," Elist says. "And when they are babies, parents should clean and dry under their boys' foreskins with a Q-Tip or Kleenex."
When men grow up unaware of how to take care of their penises, Elist says this can lead to excruciating urological mishaps. He cites the story of a middle-aged male patient who was unable to urinate. At first, doctors thought he might have a prostate infection. When nurses tried to catheter him to drain his bladder, they couldn't find his urethra. His foreskin had fully retracted over the head of his penis. Elist recognized this for what it was: a yeast infection gone terribly wrong. The untreated fungal infection under his foreskin became so irritating, that the patient developed balanitis—infection of the foreskin.
To treat this patient, Elist had to make a small incision along the foreskin to open it up, let the patient urinate, and then they were able to treat the yeast infection. Because the infection had been so bad, Elist had to circumcise the patient weeks later to fully solve the problem. A bit of proactive penile hygiene, along with seeing a doctor earlier could have kept this case from going so far. So men, know that keeping your penis at 100 percent means more than STD screening (while that's extremely important too, of course). A clean dick is a happy dick.
Read This Next: 6 Things People Still Get Wrong About Sex