A Pavlovian Experiment

Since June I have participated in several health fairs and I consistently notice a clear trend: Men by-passing our tables like one would do with a slow car on the highway.  Men would most likely ignore our table and all the valuable information we have to offer like the plague if we fail to catch their attention with incentives, giveaways, and our genuine caring personalities.  To illustrate my perspective even further, I offer an analogy:

Picture a guy in a mall walking by a lingerie store.  As he walks by, he slyly takes a peek or two into the store, long enough to check out the scene, but quickly enough to maintain his cool, just in case anyone was watching him.

This is exactly what I see at health fairs.  Men continually refuse to engage with our knowledgeable staff to learn about men’s health.  This is the sad reality.  How can men be expected to make informed decisions on health issues when they are generally uninformed and unwilling to take the initiative?

Men’s reluctance to engage in health-seeking behaviors are deeply rooted in socially accepted norms that men should always be “macho,” “powerful,” “confident,” and “impervious to health problems.”  Additionally, these norms have been institutionalized.  Male health screenings, such as the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which screen for prostate cancer, remain as an out-of-pocket health service for many providers, including government agencies.  Females, on the other hand, have been conditioned to seek routine health care.  A prime example is the annual reproductive examination as soon as females reach puberty.  Interestingly enough, the female reproductive examination includes a variety of other preventive components, including a discussion on various health topics such as allergies, a previous medical history, family history, social history and a review of systems, among others1.  As a result, Robert Alt, MD, argues that males should be conditioned in a similar fashion.  By using the annual female reproductive examination as a model, the next generation of males would have preventive health-seeking behaviors instilled at younger ages and as a result, they would be more likely to carry that same proactive philosophy throughout their lifetime.

If you have any comments or suggestions to improve men’s health in your community or on a national level, please do not hesitate to contact me at ramonl@menshealthnetwork.net.


1. Alt, Robert L., MD. (2002). Where the Boys Are Not: A Brief Overview of Male Preventive Health. Wisconsin Medical Journal: V101(4):22-27.

Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES

View posts by Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES
Ramon holds a Masters in Public Health degree with an emphasis on health promotion and health education from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and a BS in biological sciences and biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the Men's Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association. His background includes health promotion at the US DHHS in Washington, DC and Director of Programs for Men's Health Network.
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