How often do you talk to your male patients about their fertility? In a recent study, two thirds of GPs agreed that it was their role to discuss fertility with male patients, but nearly 80% practiced this only occasionally1, despite men contributing to around 50% of all fertility issues2. Paired with the fact that men visit the doctor less often than women and have shorter consultations, opportunities to talk about sexual and reproductive health are often missed.
There’s an opportunity for GPs to take the lead on these conversations when patients come in for a consultation, even with the challenge of time constraints.
Discussing sensitive issues around sexual function or reproductive health is a shared responsibility, but male patients can be negatively impacted by:
- the nature of the relationship with the doctor (e.g. talking to a new doctor)
- stereotyping around men’s health concerns and needs (e.g. older men are less likely to want to talk about sexual issues)
- embarrassment around discussing sexual health.
Strategies GPs can employ
So how do we normalise these discussions? There is a range of strategies that GPs and health professionals can employ to get men talking about their health. These include:
> Creating male-friendly environments and resources
Showcasing men’s health information in health practices can be an easy way to inform men, whether it be through wall posters or brochures. It’s also useful to address the challenges that men face in making appointments by offering evening or weekend appointments.
Providing men with printed or digital material — like fact sheets or website links — that they can read and absorb in their own time can also help with engagement and education.
> Getting to the point
A frank and straightforward approach is not only welcomed by patients, but it also minimises misunderstandings. It’s important to deal with men’s health concerns comprehensively and quickly, and to immediately refer them onto a specialist (if required) — especially if a health issue remains unresolved.
> Asking the right questions
It’s a good idea to raise sexual health and fertility questions during most appointments and making this as comfortable as possible. A lead-in sentence can be broad, such as ‘Are there any issues you want to talk about?’ or ‘How are things going with your sex life?’.
Questions can also be more specifically linked to a physical condition — ‘It’s common for men with diabetes to experience erectile problems. I can help you if that’s the case.’
> Showing empathy and creating a relaxed environment
It’s essential to listen carefully to what your patients are communicating, as this highlights their knowledge gaps and gives you cues around their concerns.
Humour can be employed thoughtfully to build rapport, alleviate concerns, and keep the dialogue open. It’s less about sharing a joke, and more about creating a laidback approach when talking about fertility and health.
> Building trust through knowledge
Stating facts clearly and using easy-to-understand terminology is important when talking to men and boys of all ages. Keeping on top of new research and the latest developments, and demonstrating this knowledge to patients, can help to build trust too.
Healthy Male offers a range of patient resources, as well as clinical resources, research reviews, and professional education for medical professionals. We recommend starting at the Resources and tools or For health professionals sections on our website.
1 Kirsten Hogg A H, Taletha Rizio A, Ramesh Manocha B, Robert I. et al. Men’s preconception health care in Australian general practice: GPs’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.
2 Daumler D, Ch P, Lo KC, Takefman J, Zelkowitz P. Men’s knowledge of their own fertility: a population-based survey examining the awareness of factors that are associated with male infertility. Human Reproduction 2016