It is inarguable that men's health receives more attention than women's, and this piece does not aim to take that on at all. In a recent guest essay in the New York Times, the respected obstetrician, gynaecologist and author, Dr Jen Gunter, outlined what a 'more feminist menopause' would look like. It is a wonderfully cogent piece, and much recommended to understand the challenges of menopause better, but when contextualising medical language in the gender narrative, Dr Gunter points to the term 'erectile dysfunction,' instead of say, penile failure, as a sign that men's problems are referred to as phenomenon, and not as problems with integral parts of the body.
The point about problematic references to women's health and wellness issues in medical language holds, but the reference suggests a freeing of erection issues from stigma, and that seems to fly in the face of all the evidence we see at Misters. Men find it extremely difficult to acknowledge that they may have a problem such as erectile dysfunction, because it is intrinsically linked to the idea of manhood, and a problem seems to suggest that the man is not well enough. Also while on the question of language, for a long time the penis was referred to as 'manhoid' in gentle erotica, and at least in North India, much communication targeting erectile dysfunction refers to it as, "namardi", which can be loosely translated as 'not-man-ness.' Erections as an essential condition for maleness is all around us.
It is interesting that in some ways this connection seems to originate in male privilege itself. With all that privilege comes in the expectation of invulnerability, and to keep signalling that invulnerability there is a default protocol of ignoring, wishing away and sometime overcompensation that kicks in in response to a less than ideal erection experience.
There has to be a strong case to free both male and female health and wellness issues from stigma, and the resultant problematic language that is deployed to address them. Unlike so many other implications of privilege, this one does not seem to be making things any easier for those who enjoy it. At least not when it comes to discussing issues such as menopause or erecile dysfunction.
In fact there seems to be a lot to learn from the discussion on menopause and menstrual health when it comes to men's sexual wellness. We see much evidence of male ageing itself being underdiscussed. While that experience--characterised by a drop in testosterone through the thirties and onwards--does not have the same cliff-like quality of menopause, it still has significant implications such as increased anxiety, stress and irritability, increased sleep issues and indeed, decline in sexual function. Feeling past one's prime or burnt out are manifestations we see all around us.
The Ageing Male Symptoms (AMS) questionnaire is a clinically researched tool for men to understand ageing issues better, and it can be taken right here to index the experience.Understand your ageing experience