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Myths About Manhood Keep Teen Boys from Sexual Health Care


Research led by specialists at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center has found that teenage boys who hold some traditional beliefs about what it means to be a “real man” can undermine their sexual health and good preventive care in general.
Their report, in the April edition of Pediatrics, is the result of a nationwide study believed to be the first linking teens’ beliefs about manhood to their use of health care services.

A second finding of the study analyzing data from a survey of 1,600 boys ages 15 to 19 is that boys who can speak openly to their parents about sexual health are more likely to see a doctor for preventive care, while the lack of health insurance is a strong barrier to care.

“Many illnesses in young men, such as sexually transmitted infections, can be prevented through timely intervention by a doctor or a nurse,” says lead author Arik Marcell, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at the Children’s Center. “However, stereotypes about masculinity suggest that for boys, seeking care is a sign of weakness, and our analysis shows that such beliefs can be considered a health risk factor in and of itself.”

The survey probed the links between beliefs about masculinity, communication with parents, residence, socioeconomic status, school performance and health insurance, and the number of annual visits to a doctor or other health care provider.

Boys who reported openly discussing sexual health with both parents were more likely to see a doctor regularly than those who didn’t communicate with either parent. Among boys with more traditional beliefs about manhood, those who spoke openly with their fathers only were more likely to see a doctor than those who didn’t communicate with either parent.

The survey found that those more likely to seek care lived in the Northeast, were younger and communicated with both parents about sexual health.

“We should send out the message that seeing a doctor is not a sign of weakness and encourage parents to talk with their sons about sexual health, especially as they grow older,” Marcell said.

Co-authors on the study were Freya Sonenstein, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Carol Ford, M.D., University of North Carolina, and Joseph Pleck, Ph.D., University of Illinois.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, among other federal agencies.


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