It may seem like teen guys have it easy when it comes to sexual and reproductive health — no periods, no chance of getting pregnant, no gynecological exams. So it’s no surprise when most people — guys and girls — think men’s sexual health is only about whether to buy cherry-flavored, non-lubricated condoms or ribbed-for-her-pleasure condoms.
But this assumption pushes guys out of the total equation. After all, it takes two to tango, and sexual health is something that both girls and guys need to think about. A new study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) — an organization that conducts reproductive health research — finds that men’s sexual health needs have long been ignored. What’s up with that?
First of all, when it comes to birth control, women have many more options. While girls can debate the merits of the pill vs. the shot, or the diaphragm vs. the female condom, guys have two options: the good, old-fashioned latex condom, and the much less reliable method — withdrawal. That means it’s possible for guys to skip the clinic visit and go straight to the drugstore for over-the-counter birth control.
So while it’s great that guys are buying condoms, it also means that no one’s really checking up on their sexual health. Girls are supposed to have a gynecological exam when they become sexually active or by the time they’re 18 — but there isn’t really a “gyno for guys.” Sexual health issues are usually not addressed during a regular checkup with a regular clinician; in fact, according to the AGI study, 25 percent of general practitioners are afraid that asking sex-related questions might offend their patients! And most people aren’t likely to bring up this topic on their own.
The problem goes beyond clinicians. Guys need more than medical checkups — they need reliable, in-depth, accessible information about sexuality. Men’s sexual health doesn’t get enough public funding, and there are few people who are trained specifically to deal with guys’ sexual health needs. Many schools teach nothing but abstinence in sexuality education programs, and parents are less likely to talk about sex with their sons than with their daughters. So where do guys go for information on sex? Mostly, the media and their friends — which aren’t always accurate sources.
Teen guys do need to pay attention to their sexual health, especially if they’re sexually active and at risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections. And many clinics do provide services for men. Let’s hope in the future this becomes the norm instead of the exception.
In the meantime, guys, schedule a routine appointment with your health care provider. Many centers offer health services specifically for guys!