Men’s Health-Seeking Behaviour

I find myself walking past what can only be described as a lively testosterone fuelled men’s only chat. Hands were waving, they were talking over each other, voices rise and fall, and as I get closer, the reason for the animated discussion becomes clearer – they were discussing the females in their lives, and the irritations about nagging mothers, wives, girlfriends and sisters.

I realise that my gender was outnumbered so I make the smart decision to do a quick about turn, and shimmy away from the group. But luck isn’t on my side. I moved too slowly – the perils of wearing high heels, and as I am in mid pivot, I feel a gentle touch on my shoulder which halts my stride.

Mr Shoulder Touch says, “you are a woman. Can you please explain why women enjoy nagging men”. That was followed by another voice saying “my wife and daughter always nagging me, and keep going on and on about going to the doctor, please tell me why females are so miserable.”

Why they think that I should be the voice of all women I will never know. Maybe they heard rumours that I too can be prone to bouts of nagging. But since they so kindly invited me into their all male conversation I decide to stay and do my best to defend females.

Let me set the scene: One of the men with a dry hacking cough is reeking of tobacco smoke, two are worse for wear from the excesses of their previous night’s shenanigans, another complains of back pain, one has more gaps in his gum than he has teeth, and Mr Shoulder Touch has a drink in each hand.

As the conversation progresses it is apparent that one of the things that this group of men have in common is poor health seeking behaviours. At one stage, the discussions move on to prostate tests and erectile dysfunction, and one of the group states “the probe test is immoral and unethical, and I will never have it done, it is not necessary” another says “If I can’t perform and satisfy the ladies, I will not embarrass myself by going to see a doctor. I will buy Viagra on the internet”. Mr Shoulder Touch who is commandeering centre stage chimes in with “All men will know if they have a problem with their prostate. When a man suddenly starts waking up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and he finds a lump on his privates, that is when you should go to the doctor, not before. But my wife nags me to go because she has read somewhere that men over 50 should get checked”.

The cougher complains that his mother and daughters “keep nagging me to stop smoking” (that word keeps coming up). I try to offer an explanation that maybe what they perceive to be ‘nagging’ is concern and encouragement for the men to take responsibility for addressing their health needs, and for them to take preventative action or seek early interventions if necessary. My explanation is rebuffed and brushed off.

Mr Hang Over tells the group that he is having marital problems (jokingly bragged about his multiple acts of infidelity) and complains that his wife has been ‘nagging’ him to go for marriage counselling. He said “I am a very closed and private person, so I am not going to tell a stranger my problems. Anyway, I heard that counsellors wear you down until they make you cry. Imagine a big grown man like me crying? She can go by herself because women like to talk a lot anyway and it is her nagging that makes me want to go with other women”. The other Mr Hang Over responded “women nag us too much. My wife is a nagger. She is always on about me drinking too much, but I am not an alcoholic. I don’t ever drink first thing in the morning, but her nagging drives me to drink”.

Putting aside the raging sexism – which is a whole other story, I came away from the group realising just how complex men’s physical and mental health seeking behaviour can be. That it is clearly enmeshed in biology and traditional socio-cultural gender stereotypes; that there is still a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings when it comes to men’s health; that emotional suppression continues to be regarded as the default machismo response; and that many of the loving, nurturing, caring messages from mothers, sisters, wives, partners seem to be missing the mark.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society. 

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