Macho Men Skip The Doctor

On average, men die earlier than women. Is it because they're too busy being macho to take care of their health?

That's the argument Hugo Schwyzer makes on the Good Men Project. He writes about his father ignoring the symptoms of stomach cancer, his grandfather dying in a car crash, his father-in-law drinking himself to death. He cites a Rutgers study showing that "men with strong masculinity beliefs" are much less likely than other men to get preventive medical care. And he argues, persuasively, that "part of being a 'real man' is being mentally, emotionally, and physically present for the people who love and rely upon us."

It's not only men who ignore broken bones and other medical problems — I have a story about my left foot that you don't want to hear. But it is true that unwillingness to seek medical care is a stereotypically male trait. Part of this likely has to do with ideals of masculinity, but part of it has to do with American public health policy. Because birth control is only available by prescription in this country, most women who are on the Pill have to go to the doctor once a year. These visits usually involve someone opening up your vagina and scraping your cervix — and if you get yeast infections, you've probably had plenty of doctors peeking at your vagina in between yearly physicals too. Result: women who have access to good reproductive and preventive care (which, sadly, is not all women) usually get pretty used to doctors examining their genitals. But the "turn your head and cough" thing is famously frightening to men. And it's pretty common to run into a dude who hasn't been to the doctor in years.

I've argued before that both birth control and oral yeast infection meds should be available over the counter. I still think that's true. But I do recognize that women's health has been systematized in a way men's health has not. I think that yearly — or at least regularly scheduled — physicals should be as much the norm for men as they are for women. Doctors should discuss sexual health and birth control with sexually active men as they do with women, and they should screen men for non-sexytime conditions too. Given the current state of health care and especially reproductive health care in this country, I doubt this is going to take place. And when women's right to an abortion is being attacked in so many states, it's hard to put the focus on men. But men need care too, and as Schwyzer points out, men's health is an issue for everyone. If seeing the doctor regularly was a dude thing as well as a lady thing, then maybe we'd all have our dads, brothers, partners, and friends around a while longer.

Macho Men Die Early [Good Men Project]

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