A Woman's Guide to Your Man's Health

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Women make most of the health care decisions, including those for the guys in their life. Wouldn't it help if we understood male health issues better? CBS health correspondent Emily Senay, MD, author of "From Boys to Men: A Woman's Guide to the Health of Husbands, Partners, Sons, Fathers, and Brothers" was our guest on June 16, 2005.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Senay. Thank you for joining us today. We are talking today about women caring for the males in their lives. Why is it that most health care decisions and actions are made by women? We make sure they get to the doctor, we remind them to take their meds, we try to get them to eat right. Are men that disconnected from their bodies? What is going on?

It's a wide open question, but I think there are specific reasons why we have this particular relationship surrounding health care within the family.

Men and women are socialized differently. And while so much of our relationship between the sexes has been explored, everything from child care to cleaning the house to dividing up chores -- the so-called 50/50 relationship that many couples have -- for some reason caring for the health or thinking about the health of the family is what the women still do. It's sort of the final frontier of the evolution of the relationship between men and women. Women continue to be the health care czar within the family, and many times they do not even realize the profound role they play in the family's health. Women are nurturers by nature and I think despite years of hearing that men and women are equal, there are differences between how men and women approach life. I believe that this is one of the areas where women continue to play a traditional role, though they may not acknowledge they're doing it and they also get little credit for caring for the health of the family.

Let's start by looking at how we raise our sons. As mothers, we have a great influence on our sons. What can we do to help them grow up with a better attitude towards their own health? So much of our societal attitude towards boys involves "boys will be boys" -- hell bent for action. There is almost a sort of badge awarded to boys who get injuries. It's not healthy.

You're absolutely right, there is a double standard. They've studied this and explored the way mothers and fathers react when children take risks. For example, if a boy and a girl are doing the equivalent thing of walking along a high wall or some other risky behavior, studies have found that the language parents use is very different if it's a boy compared to a girl. They're much more likely to issue words of caution to little girls and not to little boys. The expectation that boys are tougher, stronger, more capable is a tacit one, but when people begin to explore these things for themselves, they often find this double standard.

We do need to be more conscious about the messages we send our children, but particularly our sons, about respect for caring for their bodies, and making sure we don't send divergent messages on risk taking. In other words, we want to be equal in our language with our sons and daughters. This is a very important message, not only for mothers, but for fathers. Fathers model behavior for their sons and whatever Dad is doing sons are learning and will likely do the same.

"Boys are more vulnerable than girls to illness, disease, and even death, during in utero, at the time of birth and throughout infancy and childhood."

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