Are you a guy who hates going to the doctor? Are you the woman who nudges or nags your man to take care of his health?
Neither of you are alone with your actions. A national poll taken in 2000 found American men were three times more likely than women to go a year without seeing a doctor. Another survey for the American Academy of Family Physicians found the #1 reason men go to the doctor is because of the women in their lives.
When women put off going to the doctor, it’s usually because they are taking care of everyone else first. Not so with men. For them, it appears to be much more personal.
It Starts Early.
The noted psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, M.D., would say the problem begins when the little toddler discovers his “private parts.” In the beginning, these parts are a source of great delight. As the exploration continues, he learns there are actually very few times when it’s appropriate to celebrate his new found knowledge. Thus begins the feelings of inappropriateness and embarrassment about his body. This feeling may be compounded by the doctor who examines the boy and asks him to “turn your head and cough.” His parent or guardian has tremendous influence at this moment in time. Discussed as a normal fact of life, the process becomes a routine health exam. Viewed as odd, abnormal or disgusting and the child will learn to avoid the subject as taboo. It’s no different for all other body parts, including the most feared of all of them, the rectum!
When young, boys and girls have equal numbers of wellness examinations. Come puberty’s hormonal display, girls are socialized to have annual gynecological examinations, helping to create a pattern of prevention, routine medical care and discussion. Boys meanwhile don’t have the same expectations and will cease annual checkups after puberty, creating a pattern of discontinued medical care.
Without opportunities to discuss health related issues, as boys become men, they can be embarrassed and uncomfortable talking about their emotions or bodies. Over time it becomes easier to avoid these conversations altogether. It’s much easier for a guy to talk about a painful shoulder or a sore back than the stress at work or the lack of libido. In my 30 years of experience, it’s the rare male who is familiar with the simple self examination test for testicular cancer (Lance Armstrong’s disease) even though it is the most common solid tumor in males 18 to 40 years old!
Men are Macho.
Concurrent with their developing bodies, boys are often brought up with expectations to be tough, to suck it up, and to shake it off. Youth sports promote the “walk it off” and get back in the game attitude. Collegiate and professional sports of all kinds celebrate and glorify the ability to play with pain. Without being able to admit a problem exists and discuss them as they arise, these behaviors morph into “Be strong, be tough and be independent. Do not appear weak or acknowledge a weakness.”
Let’s fast forward to the older adult male. Problems that occur as we get older often have more serious consequences when ignored. Without the ability to discuss health issues, doctor appointments get put off until a crisis ensues. No wonder men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, injuries and stroke!
Medicine Designed for Women.
In marketing circles it’s well known that women are the major healthcare consumers. They pick the doctors. They make the appointments. They are the ones typically more passionate about wellness, and the system is built around them.
Children learn early and accept that health is a women’s issue. Little boys almost always arrive at the doctor’s accompanied by a mom, sister, grandmother, but rarely a male relative. As kids mature, the perception that health awareness is women’s domain only gets stronger. When girls reach puberty, they see gynecologists for annual checkups, but there is no equivalent specialty for men. Is it any wonder men could feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in an environment where magazines and décor are gender biased?
Tips for Men
- Bottom line, we know men benefit from annual checkups as much as women, since many diseases are preventable. Also, if we want to control health care costs, it has to be by promoting prevention rather than treating sickness.
- Urgent care clinics have a place for exactly what they say: problems that need immediate attention. However, who will be your advocate when issues come up requiring continuity of care?
- Find a primary care practitioner whose style and manner appeal to you. Comfort with both the office surroundings and the ability to discuss issues are critical. Many doctors offer free “meet and greet” interviews. Taking the time to research compatibility is critical.
- Use a minor problem to become known at the office. Don’t wait until something critical comes up to establish a medical history. Follow this up by scheduling a full physical. Then when something does come up, as it surely will, time and attention will be in your favor.
- Do for yourself what you would do for your partner or best friend. Asking yourself what you would say to your best friend about a problem will take some anxiety out of the process.
- Make your own appointments and get your own prescriptions. You’ll feel more in control of your care and you will be your own best advocate.
- Try using humor to discuss embarrassing problems. Humor helps lighten the burden, both for yourself and those you talk to, making the appointment a pleasure rather than a curse.
The medical profession needs to do a better job of making men feel part of the system, but in the end, men have to take a greater responsibility for their bodies. If you are a father, lead by example and make healthcare a routine part of your son’s life. By doing so, we’ll help create a society where men and women are equally involved in promoting good health.
To your health.
Dr. Larry Greenblatt
To read the original article by Dr. Greenblatt please visit the IS & Beyond Website.