A new study shows that 40% of men would rather go on a dreaded clothes shopping trip with their missus than visit a doctor for problems down below — proving that most men will do almost anything to get out of talking about their sexual health.
Even more worrying is a further 23% would rather have a painful root canal treatment than discuss these issues. Just what is it about their nether regions that men find so tough to open up about?
Women are no strangers to discussing their girlie bits — after all, they have childbirth, periods, smear tests and menopause to contend with. It’s no secret that a man’s sex drive wanes with time, but doctors warn against putting down changes in libido, sexual performance and toilet habits to the ageing process alone.
Only four in 10 men speak to their partners about their physical or mental wellbeing. “Men are not very good at talking about their health, and, past 50, it’s often the things men tend to be most embarrassed about that start to go wrong — like erectile dysfunction — that is sadly often perceived as a failure of masculinity,” says Dr Christian Jessen.
Creating a reassuring environment to discuss his health is key, so Dr Christian has a quirky tip on how to broach tough topics: “Wait until you’re in the car and you’re in the driving seat. When you’re side-by-side in a car, it’s a nice way of legitimately avoiding eye contact and this can make an embarrassing subject less awkward.”
Your man might find it hard to talk about it, but here are some simple ways you can help…
Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome
Are you worried that your man is having an affair? Has he lost all interest in sex or goes to great lengths to avoid intimacy? Is he irritable and exhausted? Before you jump to conclusions, consider if he might be part of the 8% of over-50s who suffer from Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome (TDS). “If you find yourself living with a grumpy old man who has lost his lust for life, then there may be more to it,” says Dr Christian. Production of testosterone tails off over time, but TDS occurs when this hormone drops to an unhealthy level. Symptoms include low libido, problems getting or maintaining an erection, hot flushes and reduced body hair.
How you can help
If you suspect that your partner is showing symptoms of this, it’s important to tackle the subject carefully. Some 13% of men worry that their partner might leave them if they found out they had TDS, so make sure you reassure your man that this isn’t the case. “TDS can impact quality of life emotionally and physically, and can cause wider problems if left untreated,” says Dr David Edwards. It’s easy to treat with testosterone supplementation, so get your man a GP appointment, pronto.
This is the most common form of cancer in men, with over 40,000 new cases being diagnosed each year. The prostate is a small gland in the rectum, which helps produce sperm. Symptoms of the cancer include a frequent need to go to the loo, difficulty passing urine, feeling exhausted, rapid weight loss and lower-back pain — though these may also be signs of a harmless enlargement of the prostate. “The vast majority of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer will not die from the disease, but early diagnosis is key to establish whether the cancer is aggressive or not,” says Dr Rob Hicks.
Statistics show that one in eight men over 50 will get the disease, and, though survival rates are relatively high, one man every hour dies as a result.
How you can help
“Encourage your partner to see a doctor straight away — this is often the greatest hurdle,” says Dr Rob. You can offer to attend an appointment together or suggest that he requests a male doctor. “Men think that because they’re registered with a female doctor, that’s who they have to see — but this isn’t the case. A man may well feel uncomfortable discussing difficulties passing urine with a woman, and that’s fine.”
When younger men struggle to get things going in the bedroom, it can often be a case of performance jitters with a new partner. When you’ve been together for years, this is less likely to be the case. “In older men, erectile dysfunction can be an early sign of a serious problem, such as raised blood pressure, diabetes or an impending heart attack. It can be the wake-up call you need to sort your life out,” says Dr Christian.
Discussing erection problems is likely to make men cringe, but it’s worth a moment of embarrassment at the doctors if it prevents a heart attack. “GPs deal with this every day. It’s almost guaranteed that your partner won’t be the first person that day the doctor sees with that problem,” says Dr Christian.
How you can help
Yet again, this is a subject that needs to be dealt with using an extra large dose of tact. “Often, men bury their heads in the sand by avoiding sex, causing their partner to worry if there’s another woman in the scene. Encourage your partner to talk about the problem and reassure him that a majority of men manage to overcome it,” says Dr Rob.
If he is too embarrassed to bring up the subject with the doctor, he could ask for a blood pressure check-up, and mention that high blood pressure can cause all sorts of issues — including problems in the bedroom. “A tuned-in doctor will pick up on these clues and ask if he’s having any particular problems,” says Dr Rob.
Make a change
It might sound obvious, but a few key lifestyle changes can really impact on health.
1. Work out
Almost 50% of men believe that pumping iron will help keep their testosterone levels up, and they’re right. Maintaining a healthy muscle mass encourages production of this hormone, though Dr Christian warns that TDS sufferers may need treatment first as they could be too lethargic to exercise.
2. Lose weight
Make sure your partner keeps his BMI below 25. Being overweight is a key cause of diabetes, which is heavily associated with TDS and erectile dysfunction. “You’d be surprised how many men lose weight and the problem goes away,” says Dr Rob.
3. Stop smoking and drink less
“Alcohol and smoking are top of the list for why things start to go wrong in the bedroom. They effect your general metabolism and hormone levels,” says Dr Christian.