Who Do Men Talk to About Their Health?

Survey says it’s not their spouse or doctor

"Men are from Mars, women are from Venus,” said that bestselling relationship guide from the ‘90s. Men and women were viewed as worlds apart in how they think and communicate. But a 2018 U.S. survey has found that the opposite sexes are actually more alike than we thought—at least when it comes to talking about health.

man talking to doctor

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The survey found that 56 percent of men prefer keeping health concerns to themselves, not sharing them with anyone—not even their doctor. A lot of wives may be rolling their eyes and nodding. However, they may be surprised that 57 percent of women reported doing the same.

That’s not to say that men and women don’t think sharing health concerns with their spouse or significant other is important. Most of them do (88 percent of men, 85 percent of women).

Yet how many first talk to their partners about a change in their health? Only 15 percent of men and 14 percent of women.

Maybe we’re not so different after all.

Why We Don’t Talk

Cleveland Clinic surveyed nearly 2,200 Americans living in the continental U.S. It’s the third year we’ve conducted a survey on men’s health, but the first time we’ve collected insights from women too.

Past surveys have studied what makes men so tight-lipped about health issues. We’ve heard a variety of reasons: Men don’t want to seem weak. They don’t want to be a bother. They don’t want to cause worry. It’s just how men are raised to be men, we’re told.

This year’s survey showed that six out of 10 men (61 percent) neglected to see a doctor even when they needed to. Six in 10 women said the same, by the way.

As a physician that focuses on men’s health, I want to change that. Men—and women, for that matter—need to speak up about changes in their health and not hesitate to get medical attention.

Talking About ED Saves Lives

For a lot of men, sexual health seems especially taboo. Two in five (41 percent) won’t discuss painful erections with their partner. And 43 percent won’t discuss erectile dysfunction (ED).

Patients tell me all the time how they’re embarrassed to bring up these things. I remind them that I and other doctors talk about these medical problems every day. We fix these problems every day. It’s important to bring them up—if not with your partner, then at least with your doctor—not only to make yourself feel better but because below-the-belt issues can indicate other health problems.

For example, ED can be a sign of heart disease. One study found that two in three men hospitalized due to a heart attack had ED. So did more than half the men that had bypass surgery for heart disease.

Considering that 81 percent of men and 90 percent of women said they were more concerned about heart disease than sexual health issues, more men should start talking about ED with their doctors. Most of the time, a primary care provider can treat ED as well as review heart disease risk factors. If initial treatments don’t help, you may be referred to a urologist.

What Sends Men to the Doctor

The good news is that 67 percent of men would see their doctor if they noticed blood in their urine. Bloody urine can indicate a range of conditions, from infections to kidney stones to tumors. It’s always wise to get it checked out.

Around half of men would see their doctor about a change in their testicle(s) (59 percent) or pain in their testicle(s) (49 percent). These rates should be much higher. The most common cancer in men age 15 to 45 is testicular cancer, which shows up as a nodule or mass in the testicle.

While it’s not common, it is something we have excellent ways of treating—if you find it early. Unfortunately, only 41 percent of men say they perform testicular self-exams regularly. Men should be doing these once a month, usually in the shower, supporting each testis with one hand and feeling for lumps with the other hand.

A painful erection would send 46 percent of men to the doctor. A painful erection that does not go down (priapism) is an emergency and could cause irreversible problems with the penis. This always requires medical care. A painful erection that subsides after intercourse is not an emergency. It could be Peyronie’s disease, which is treatable if the patient desires.

Internet Self-Doctoring

When noticing health changes, just as many men and women research their symptoms online (27 percent of men, 27 percent of women) as consult a doctor (27 percent of men, 26 percent of women). While the internet may help you develop a better medical vocabulary so it’s easier to talk with healthcare professionals, the quality of information online is variable. And putting it into context is challenging.

For example, a patient with a new, localized prostate cancer may inadvertently read about advanced, metastatic prostate cancer and get the wrong impression about his condition.

If you search for medical information online, make sure you’re using reputable sources, including ".gov" sites and information written or vetted by board-certified physicians. No matter what you learn, you’ll need a physician to help you interpret it accurately.

Men vs. Women

While survey responses from men and women seemed to align on most topics, there was one that could become a point of contention. The vast majority of women (83 percent) think it’s important for their male spouse or significant other to have annual checkups. But 30 percent of men (and 24 percent of women) say they don’t need annual checkups because they are healthy.

If you’re feeling healthy, that’s great. It’s the best time to have a checkup, including health screenings. Diseases like prostate cancer are easier to treat before they progress enough to cause symptoms. By the time you notice symptoms, it’s sometimes too late.

Other diseases, like high blood pressure, usually don’t have symptoms at all. You don’t know you have it until it causes an irreversible problem, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Even if you’re a healthy 20-year-old, it’s important to check in with your doctor every couple of years to make sure you’re maintaining your good health. Most health screenings aren’t recommended before age 50 unless you’re at high risk for a certain disease. However, you should establish a relationship with a primary care provider well before then. You never know what might come up when.

One Thing We Agree On

Sharing health concerns can make anyone—man or woman—feel vulnerable. Yes, it sometimes requires extra strength to broach a sensitive subject or have a frank conversation with your doctor. But it’s a necessary part of protecting yourself and staying healthy.

There’s no shame in that. And that’s one thing we all can agree on.

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  • The 2018 MENtion It surveys were given to 2,196 American men and women who lived with their spouse or significant other. Respondents were 18 years and older and lived in the continental U.S. The surveys, weighted to be nationally representative of age, gender, ethnicity, and education, were conducted online between April 10 and May 7, 2018. (The margin of error for the total sample is +/-3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.)