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Partner Exams

  • Use Intimacy for Early Detection

  • For most of us, there are few human beings who get to see our naked bodies, in all their unique glory – perhaps only our doctor and our most intimate partner. And do we really even gaze at our own naked body? Or do we avoid close examination – scurrying away from that full length mirror?

    We might see our doctor once a year, for a short period of time, and get a full body exam. But we are in the presence of our partner all year long. How can we use our proximity – as well as our loving concern for one another – to ensure both partners’ good health?

    “The fact is that many breast lumps in women are discovered by their partners,” notes Sacramento doctor Kay Judge, M.D., Internist and Integrative medicine physician with Sutter Medical Group and Medical Director of Healthy Choices, Healthy Lives. “Many women are not as familiar with the shape and texture of their breasts as their partner might be. Looking out for one another is a good idea.”

    How can you take advantage of your physical intimacy with another to focus on health – without turning a hot moment into a purely clinical exam?

    “I think we could consider our intimate relationship as a wonderful opportunity to communicate about many things, including health,” says Dr. Judge. “If we are willing to be open with one another, comfortable in our bodies, and playful and curious about it all, it can only enhance the relationship on many levels.”

    In fact, including good health as part of your commitment to your partner might be a good way to broach the subject. “Men can be reluctant to see a doctor, for any reason,” notes Dr. Judge. “Yet the partner might be concerned about a health issue. I always suggested inspiration – not nagging.” Inspiration might be your own commitment to eating better, exercising more and scheduling your own regular exams. And consider asking for a “check up” by your partner, to open the door to playful, curious examination of the body.

    So, in “those moments,” how can you use your closeness to keep an eye on health?

  • Both Genders – The Skin

  • While snuggling, caressing and viewing, check out the skin of the one you love. You can see areas they have a hard time viewing!

    What to look for?

    • Notice any mole that changes shape or size. The deadliest of skin cancers is melanoma, appearing as a darkened, irregular patch on the skin.
    • Check out rashes, lumps, bumps or areas of redness. You can keep an eye on skin changes that might indicate infection, allergic reactions or even autoimmune diseases.
    • Bumps under the arms or groin – lymph nodes can become enlarged with different infections.

  • Women – The Breasts

  • A partner familiar with a woman’s breasts is probably already familiar with their size, shape and consistency.

    What to be alert for?

    • A lump or bump in the breast that doesn’t go away in a month. In menstruating women, cysts can arise during the monthly cycle. But a lump that remains longer than a month should be checked by a doctor. (For more on this, see this Q&A about breast lumps.)
    • Discharge from a nipple, if squeezed.
    • Changes in the shape or skin texture of the breast.

  • Women – Vagina and Labia

  • Partners often have an easier view of the female pelvic organs than the woman herself, and are therefore more likely to notice changes.

    What to be alert for?

    • A red spot or ulcerated sore.
    • Increased discharge, different that the usual.
    • New bulges or bumps that could indicate pelvic prolapse.

  • Men – Testicles

  • Men are urged to conduct regular testicular exams, but how many do? The partner can help here, with a quick feel. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men younger than 35, so start early.

    What to look for?

    • Inside the scrotum, one should feel a round lump, the size of an egg, on each side – and tissues behind the testicle that might feel like worms – the epididymis that transports sperm.
    • Become familiar with what’s normal, and be alert for anything that changes shape or size.

  • Men – The Penis

  • Check it out – visually. Why not?

    What to look for?

    • Rashes, lumps or bumps that weren’t there before.
    • Discharges that are different from the normal.

  • Men – the Prostate

  • While an actual prostate exam is best left to the health care professional, partners can be alert to some of the symptoms that might indicate the beginning of an enlarged prostate.

    In this case, what to listen for?

    • A weakened urine stream, or difficulty in getting started when urinating.
    • Frequent trips to the bathroom at night – more than usual.

    “Hopefully a focus on your partner’s health won’t detract from your love life – in fact, it might enhance it,” notes Dr. Judge. “Bringing an attitude of concern, openness and humor can break down inhibitions and increase your closeness.”

    Even when fully clothed, Dr. Judge suggested you use your partnership as a catalyst to good health. “Consider your annual exams a goal you both set – and reward yourselves once you’ve completed them. Make a post-exam date to celebrate another year of good health – and healthy intimacy with one another.”


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