If women can bear breasts why can't men take on their tackle?

Women just have to get used to the idea the doctor's going to cop an eyeful, however much they try to avoid it.

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It seems strange in these days of
Something For The Weekend, ("Can you guess which is your boyfriend's sphincter? And just to make it more difficult we're going to conceal it in a row of teatowel holders!") that we are, many of us, still too embarrassed to go to the doctor and discuss any problem concerning the sensitive area of our bodies. I suppose, seeing as babies pop out of woman's most sensitive area, that it is unavoidable for many women, who just have to get used to the idea that the doctor's going to cop an eyeful, however much they try to avoid it.

It seems strange in these days of Something For The Weekend, ("Can you guess which is your boyfriend's sphincter? And just to make it more difficult we're going to conceal it in a row of teatowel holders!") that we are, many of us, still too embarrassed to go to the doctor and discuss any problem concerning the sensitive area of our bodies. I suppose, seeing as babies pop out of woman's most sensitive area, that it is unavoidable for many women, who just have to get used to the idea that the doctor's going to cop an eyeful, however much they try to avoid it.

No, it is particularly men who avoid discussing their weaponry and its attendant pathology until, in enough cases to seriously worry the medical profession, it's either about to explode, drop off or they're about to pop off. Recently, we passed through Bowel Cancer Week, (put it in your diaries for next year, chaps). The Big Intestine lobby tried their best to mess things up by squabbling over the date and dragging the trim-bummed Prince Charles into their dispute. Even so, it is difficult to understand how wall-to-wall coverage of the bowels and information about the symptoms of bowel cancer on your average Richard and Judy type show has not led to people taking the information on board.

So why is it still so hard to get the message across?

First, perhaps these campaigns are targeting the wrong viewing group. It is obvious, I suppose, that the vast majority of viewers of This Morning and its ilk are still women and that men are still not getting the opportunity to absorb the knowledge. Or maybe the intention of charities is to get the message across to women in the hope that they will pass it on to their spouses. "Right, just before I get your pie out of the oven, have you had any rectal bleeding lately, dear?"

It seems that this may well be the case, as I spotted a tiny article in the newspaper last week detailing a plea by the medical profession for women to get involved in checking their partner's testicles for lumps when they're in bed together. There was no more advice than this, so I am not sure whether women are supposed to have a surreptitious feel disguised as foreplay, or whether they are supposed to come right out and suggest a clinical examination before the main event. Fair dos, maybe people in their enlightened, drunken 20s may find it a bit of a laugh, though I suspect the age group being aimed at includes slightly older couples who haven't seen each other's genitalia since England won the World Cup. Of course I am happy to be corrected on this.

The breast cancer charities seem to have evolved slightly further in approaching and dealing with human sensibilities, with the advantage that women are far more likely to have a forum in which to discuss their fears (namely with their women friends) than men, who tend to steer clear of more personal things. I know this is a cliché, but I think it still holds.

The fact is, ironically, that women have a lot more to lose if their most obvious sexual feature is in some way sullied, because for many women, still, the biggest gun in their armoury is their looks. For men, however, their attractiveness to the opposite sex does not depend quite so exclusively on their tackle being in perfect condition. In terms of education, storylines in soap operas can help. Take Peggy in Eastenders. I am sure that following the progress of her breast cancer was a great comfort to women going through a similar trauma. Then, unfortunately, husband Frank went off and romped with two-breasted ex-wife Pat on holiday, and I reckon you'd have a lot of trouble convincing Peggy it wasn't anything to do with her breast surgery.

How successful would a storyline in EastEnders or Coronation Street be about bowel cancer or testicular cancer, I wonder. Perhaps people would laugh at it. Still, if breasts can move out of the sniggering zone, surely bowels and testicles can follow.

I still retain a vision, however, of overworked GPs sitting in their surgeries, heads in hands, despairing over the latest health campaign that has attracted yet another queue of what are called "the worried well" to their door with their latest anxieties, following a Watchdog health special or an article in the paper. Different GPs vary enormously as to how dismissive they are of your fears, from the "Don't be ridiculous!" variety to the sympathetic ones who have time to listen.

Of course, the other problem with us as a nation is the delicate problem of phrasing our complaint, and those of us who are not medically trained have enormous difficulties in deciding how to articulate our condition. It may seem a small thing, but the fear that they will be laughed at or present their problem in a way that makes them look ridiculous sends people into paroxysms of anxiety. I know from experience that this fear of losing one"s dignity can prevent people presenting themselves at their GPs until they have almost died from the problem.

When I worked in a psychiatric emergency clinic, I once interviewed a new patient and we sat in tortured silence until he finally managed to blurt out his intimate physical problem. Poor bugger had psyched himself up for days only to end up in the wrong clinic. I had to send him off to the local general hospital knowing that he would have to go through it all again there.

So what's the answer? Perhaps the anonymity of the phone line will help some people, or even advice on how to describe an intimate problem at the doctor's. Maybe targeting men at their place of work or in the magazines they read, rather than expecting women to take on the responsibility, might help too.

Also, GPs, despite their wealth of experience, may need to be more aware of how excruciatingly humiliating it can be to explain, using a child's medical vocabulary, what you think is wrong to someone looking quizzically across a desk at you. I'm sure it's no consolation to anyone, but it feels 10 times worse if they've seen you on the telly.

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