Talk about your tackle? There’s no point beating around the bush

Many men experience reproductive issues yet find it difficult to talk about them. Jane Rawson

Getting men to talk about their “tackle” – those bits below the belt – is no easy feat. And the fact men aren’t talking about their reproductive health means they are putting their health and quality of life at risk.

In order to get men talking, Andrology Australia (Australian Centre of Excellence in Male Reproductive Health) launched the “Talk about your tackle” campaign at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in April 2011.

The need to talk

The need for the campaign was clear – among Aussie blokes, about half will experience prostate problems; one in five over the age of 40 has erectile problems; an estimated one in 20 is infertile; and one in 200 will suffer from testosterone deficiency.

Each year about 680 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer, and this number is rising.

These issues are very real and yet few of them are discussed by men when they visit their local doctor.

The aim of the campaign, fronted by former AFL players Matthew and Alan Richardson, was to get men talking about their reproductive health, preferably to their doctor but even to a mate or partner or family member.

The longer these issues remain unspoken and unaddressed, the more damage they can do.

Reproductive disorders such as erectile dysfunction can also be a sign of more serious illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes, so it needs to be brought up during medical consultation.

And it should be simple – just start talking. But for many men, this is still too difficult.

So, why, when there’s a light flashing on their body’s dashboard, do women talk while men just wait for it to go away?

A survey points the way forward

The 2003 Men in Australia Telephone Survey (MATeS) conducted by Andrology Australia showed that as men aged, they were more likely to visit doctors, primarily because of chronic diseases.

Reproductive health also deteriorates with advancing age, as significant numbers of men are affected by prostate disease, erectile dysfunction and lower urinary tract symptoms.

Yet, given the prevalence of reproductive health disorders in middle-aged and older men, treatment rates are strikingly low.

For example, the survey found that there was a wide gap between the estimated prevalence of erectile dysfunction and the number of men actively seeking or undergoing treatment.

MATeS involved computer-assisted telephone interviews of a representative sample of men, aged 40 years and over.

Respondents were recruited from across all Australian states and territories by random selection of households from the electronic telephone directory, with over-sampling in some age groups and geographic regions to ensure proportionate representation.

More than 5900 men agreed to participate in the study.

This survey highlighted that while men aged 40 years and over reported high levels of health service use, attending a health service did not mean they sought help for their reproductive health problems.

Factors such as age, marital status and area of residence significantly influenced both initial access as well as the likelihood of discussing reproductive health problems and receiving treatment.

Studying the results of this survey, Andrology Australia realised that distinct health promotion and education strategies were needed to facilitate effective help-seeking behaviour for male reproductive health issues.

“Normalising” reproductive health issues was seen as the key way of achieving this. The research also established that it was important for health professionals to be educated about ways to include reproductive health conditions as part of overall men’s health assessments, irrespective of age, culture or sexual interests.

The genesis of the campaign

The “Talk about your tackle” campaign arose from a combination of wanting to normalise reproductive health – by using two well-known former sports stars to front the campaign – and wanting to not trivialise the issues men face.

The community service announcement (see video below) commissioned for the campaign, titled “Nothing”, features a father, Alan Richardson, attempting to discuss a sensitive topic with his son, Matthew Richardson.

It demonstrates the awkward and uncomfortable silence many men experience when trying to bring up a difficult topic like their reproductive health.

Focus testing of the television commercial was largely positive, with strengths including its realistic awkwardness, the “tackle” analogy, and a style and tone that was different compared with other public health messages – there were no shock tactics.

The men involved in the focus groups said they found the message clear, using phrases such as “do something”, “don’t stick your head in the sand” and “speak up”.

Some of the men interviewed made comments such as: “guilty as charged”; “I just can’t seem to bring myself to talk about stuff like that”, and “women are great at it (talking); we blokes are just useless”.

Ultimately, Andrology Australia would like to see male reproductive health discussed openly so men receive appropriate care and information from their health practitioners.

Our main message here is that by getting men to “talk about their tackle”, we can help ensure that they’re getting the right treatment and support.