Online health expert Doctor Dean encourages men to check their own prostates in between physicals. But he also admits it's "a bit tricky."
Just as your arms are too short to box with God, your fingers are too short to reach all the way around your prostate. In fact, not all men can get their fingers on it at all. There's only one way to find out if you're one of the lucky guys.
Day One. I get on my hands and knees on a towel and don a vinyl glove. It's easy enough to slide my index finger in and find my prostate. The hard part comes when I have to rotate my hand so that the palm side of my finger is facing my bladder. It's a wrist-torquing motion and an awkward angle of approach, but I manage it eventually. But then I can't find my prostate again.
When I ask the PR guy at the American Urological Association, about prostate self-exams, it takes him two minutes to stop laughing. Eventually, he refers me to Thomas Brady, a Reno, Nevada urologist, who admits he can't manage it, and neither can most men over 50, who are "lucky to be able to tie their own shoes."
Day Two. I try getting on my side the way one self-exam Web site recommends. That doesn't seem to help, so I get on my back and reach between my legs. My index finger doesn't get close. Then I try my middle finger and hit paydirt. I can barely nudge my prostate with the palm side of my finger, and can't really feel its texture.
I discover that Robert Morgan Lawrence, Ed.D, DC has failed to examine his own prostate, despite serving as a model for second-year Stanford medical students to learn prostate exams. "Don't you wish your fingers were just a little bit longer?" I ask him. "That's one of the reasons we have social skills, darling," the San Francisco sex educator says.
A twentysomething shouldn't fear prostate cancer, but he may get prostatitis, an inflammation of the prostate. Some Web sites preach a "do-it-yourself" approach for treating prostatitis in which the sufferer massages his own prostate until fluid leaks out. Self-massage has fired controversy in the prostate community, including flame wars between detractors and fans.
Dr. Brady actually believes massage can be useful for chronic prostatitis, which a blockage of fluid rather than an actual infection. Massages can help get fluids out of the seminal vesicles, although frequent ejaculations may do the same thing. Of course, prostate massages are best performed by an expert, and hurt so much that most people won't massage themselves. They can actually be harmful for acute prostatitis, in which the prostate is severely infected and "red hot," Dr. Brady says. With acute prostatitis, a massage will just spread bacteria around.
Dr. Lawrence encourages self-massage if your doctor has already done one for you first. In such a case, self-massage could be helpful, but your doctor probably won't tell you that for professional reasons.
Day Three. Dr. Lawrence says squatting with your head touching your knees is the absolute best way to examine your own prostate. So I try that position, and finally get in touch. But I still can't tell much about how my guy is doing. Then I topple over, forehead on the floor, in defeat.
Charles Anders' favorite record is Hey Man, Smell My Finger by George Clinton.