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When it comes to broaching the topic of sexual health with a doctor, there can be a lot of awkwardness and embarrassment that comes along with it. This is especially true for males, who may not be used to discussing such personal matters. Resulting in consequences that can lead to male individuals only seeking help when it becomes critical. Nevertheless, the various healthcare applications that can be found online now, can help overcome this uncomfortable barrier by providing a convenient and fuss-free care journey while allowing patients to have a similar experience to what they would get if they were visiting a doctor in person.
Shame and embarrassment revolving around the topic of sexual health
Sexual health is an important but not often discussed topic. It encompasses various issues, including reproductive health, sexual behaviours, sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and more. While these are all relatively common issues that many men face, there is still a lot of stigma and shame surrounding them. Although in recent years, society can be seen slowly progressing by trying to normalise this intimate topic. However, men still hesitate to discuss their sexual health with a healthcare provider. Why is that so?
Why is there so much shame in discussing one's sexual health?
Based on our research and observation, there seem to be a few main driving factors to this behaviour - the lack of proper sex education, and having been from a conservative culture or upbringing. In return, these factors have resulted in sexual health topics being more or less “taboo”, and eventually become an uncomfortable topic to discuss openly, even with healthcare professionals.
Due to this “I feel embarrassed talking about my sex life or sexual health” mindset amongst the community, it has created an opportunity for people to shame or pass judgments on others whenever this topic is brought up. According to (Waling et al., 2022), the feeling of embarrassment stems from the natural body response to stigma and concerns about how others will see them, which is often heavily associated with other negative emotions such as guilt and humiliation.
Surprise! This feeling is mutual for some doctors too
This awkwardness surrounding sexual health does not just affect patients alone, but doctors too. Sexologists Chantelle Otten (2021) found that some doctors hardly bring up the topic of sexual health due to the limited consultation time patients have, doctor’s own limited knowledge about sexual difficulties, fear of mentioning something that will offend their patients or be culturally inappropriate, and just waiting for the patient to raise concerns. Hence, patients who might be able to sense this hesitation or awkwardness from their doctor's body language, will feel more uncomfortable discussing their sexual health (Sackville, 2020).
Toxic masculinity further deters males from seeking help for their sexual health
Another contributing factor that affects men alone and prevents them from getting the help they need, is masculinity ideals. That is, an idea that society has ingrained in men, that men are supposed to be seen as “strong”, “tough”, “manly” and other masculine-related terms.
The idea that males have to be “self-efficient” or “stoic” can have a detrimental effect on their general and sexual health. From the ‘MENtion It’ campaign survey done by CleveLand Clinic (2019), it was found that 65% of males will avoid seeing the doctor for help for as long as possible. However, for those who actually do see a doctor, about 20% of them confessed to not being honest about their health when discussing it with their doctors. Reasons for these behaviours are closely associated with the fact that most men are buying into this unhealthy masculinity idea, and this can be blamed on the unrealistic goal society has set for men.
This irrational concept has led to males, preventing themselves from seeking care unless something has obviously gone wrong (Auteri, 2018), fearing the result of their diagnosis, and being uncomfortable with physical examination (Tri-City Medical Center, 2017). With so many obstacles that men have to face, most of them are more comfortable googling their symptoms or turning to an anonymous platform such as Reddit to look for answers within a community that can relate to their situation. The consequences of using these preferred choices bring about the risk of men receiving misguided information that can worsen their health. Luckily for us, living in this digitalised age has given us the luxury of getting help at our fingertips, literally.
Healthcare apps can help to overcome these sexual health barriers
Creating a safe space, with no judgments or shame, may encourage men to be more honest about their experiences and sexual health. In this case, healthcare apps may be a great solution and gateway for men that need help but have not considered reaching out for it before. Perhaps, this can even help to ease men into seeking help without being too intimidating.
In 2020, it was observed that there were more than 90,000 health apps being introduced to the app stores (May, 2021). As it’s no secret that people are heavily reliant on their smartphones for just about everything, the increase in the number of health apps seems plausible. This fact can be backed by the recent digital trend observed by Fajardo (2022), where people are now using their phones more than ever for healthcare purposes.
Interesting services that these apps have to offer
These widely available applications have outdone themselves by providing services that are comparable to or maybe even better than the in-person doctor-patient experience, whilst overcoming the obstacles patients faced when talking about their sexual health. Services that these apps include - immediate personalised health care (Farjardo, 2022), access to medically accurate information, video call with medical professionals, booking of appointments, and more (Auteri, 2018).
However, with technology advancing nowadays, apps have more to offer than just those. Healthcare apps may be a more cost-effective alternative than an in-person visit (Sim, 2021) and some even have functions that allow users to remain private and confidential when discussing their sexual health issues with doctors (Fajardo, 2022). With all of these advances, it means that patients can now order medications or at-home STI testing kits in discreet, and can even have them sent directly to their doorsteps (Auteri, 2018)!
Anonymity feature, a safe haven for Men
Overall, the use of healthcare apps can be particularly more helpful for men who face bigger stigma, such as the “masculinity” idea created by society. It was found that apps that have an anonymous feature were the biggest appeal for men, thus are more inclined to use them. Additionally, men were more drawn toward health apps that have a supportive community platform while remaining anonymous (Reiner, 2021). Appealing features can encourage more men to get the help they need while also tackling the uncomfortable interactions with healthcare professionals, and providing a safe space for men without the stigma, shame, or judgments from others (Sim, 2021).
That said, healthcare apps only serve as a great alternative for men who are uncomfortable with seeing a doctor in person and help ease them into their sexual health care journey. These apps created are not meant to replace that doctor-patient relationship, but are meant to build upon and strengthen it (Auteri, 2018). Therefore, it is still highly recommended for patients to see doctors when things get critical!
Auteri, S. (2018). Our shame over sexual health makes us avoid the doctor. These apps might help. The Washington Post.
Fajardo, A. (2022). 8 Best Healthcare Apps for Patients | Top Mobile Apps in 2022. Rootstrap.
May, E. (2018). How digital health apps are empowering patients. Deloitte.
Reiner, A. (2021). For many men, apps can be ‘an important gateway to mental health’. The Washington Post.
Sackville, K. (2020). When you need to talk to your doctor about sex - don't hold back. The Sydney Morning Herald.
Tri-City Medical Center. (2017). Why don't men go to the doctor as often as women?. Tri-City Medical Center.
Waling, A., Farrugia, A. & Fraser, S. (2022). Embarrassment, Shame, and Reassurance: Emotion and Young People’s Access to Online Sexual Health Information. Sex Res Soc Policy (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-021-00668-6