Like every year since 2012 in France, this Wednesday, November 1 will mark the start of “Movember”, a movement to raise awareness of male diseases. An important initiative, since studies show: men go to the doctor less often than women, sometimes to the detriment of their health.
According to INSEE, 88% of women had, in 2019, consulted a general practitioner for less than a year, compared to 80% of men. At the same time, 60% of women had seen a dentist, compared to 54% of men. The gap was even greater for the use of a specialist doctor: 53% of women compared to 42% of men. Beyond the age of 65, however, men’s health-seeking behaviors were closer to those of women.
Social roles assigned from childhood, less systematic access to the healthcare system and the persistence of taboos are all obstacles. “Women consult more because they receive strong social pressure to take care of others and themselves,” summarizes Carole Clair, associate professor at the Faculty of Biology and Medicine in Lausanne, specialist in gender issues.
The roles traditionally assigned to men and women also condition the former to be more “enduring to pain”, according to her. In contemporary societies, being ill can in fact still be associated with vulnerability, a loss of virility. Of course, “things are changing,” observes Carole Clair. But “it is interesting to note the unconscious biases that we reproduce in patient care.” “This is particularly striking in pediatrics, where we noted that caregivers and parents more easily allowed a little girl to express her pain, when a little boy was told that he was “tough”,” says She.
Biases that appear from childhood
Gender differences in the consideration of health issues are built “from early childhood”, as Nathalie Bajos, research director at Inserm and EHESS, points out. “Through socialization, through family, school, peers, we teach children a different relationship to the body, to health,” notes this sociologist. Determinants “so heavy” that they persist despite changes in society.
According to the sociologist, men do not necessarily take less care of their health than women but are concerned about it differently, having “a greater tendency to want to preserve a body-machine, a body-tool”. They may therefore tend to minimize certain disorders or symptoms, if they do not prevent them from “functioning” well.
In addition to gender, differences in social class and ethno-racial origin also influence the more or less frequent use of the healthcare system, says Nathalie Bajos. And women between the ages of 15 and 50 have more regular access to the health system due to gynecological follow-up linked to contraception, the pregnancy or menopause.
“Unlike men, women are used to seeing a doctor since they are young,” notes Alexandre de la Taille, president of the French urology association. Conversely, a man often consults for the first time “when a health problem appears, or when he receives the Social Security paper at age 50 to carry out a colon or breast screening. prostate “, he laments. “In consultation, in two-thirds of cases, he is accompanied by his partner, who often explains her health concerns for him,” reports the urologist.
Typically male diseases – testicular cancer, prostate cancer, urinary or erection problems – remain “taboo”, according to this doctor who encourages men not to wait until problems arise to consult. “A late diagnosis necessarily complicates treatment. »
Since the first confinement, the emphasis of “Movember” has been on mental health issues, which also remain taboo among men. “Numerous studies show that a man does not say when he is not well, because he does not want to admit his weaknesses,” points out Mathilde Bourdon, spokesperson for France for the NGO Movember. However, 75% of deaths by suicide in France are men.