Something wasn’t right with the skin on my kid’s penis. It was red, dry and peeling and though not itchy or sore, it was bugging him and our efforts to get on top of it with this or that cream weren’t working so off to the family doctor we went.
On route, I explained that the doctor would likely want to see his penis. I asked how he felt about pulling his pants down for her. He shrugged. I offered that it made sense to me if it felt awkward or caused some embarrassment since he has been taught that genitals are private. He noted that it might be easier if the doctor were male, like him. I agreed.
I explained that it is critically important that people get medical support relating to genitals/reproductive organs just like any other part of the body and that our doctor will treat any concerns with his genitals much like she would an earache or stomach flu.
I spoke for a minute or two about how, when it comes to genitals, people sometimes avoid seeking medical attention when they really need it because of embarrassment. I explained that men can develop a swollen or painful testicle and not seek medical help and how dangerous that can be. Testicular cancer may not be common but it is a young mans disease and so men, starting when they are young, need to do self-exams regularly and see a doctor when things aren’t right.
This car ride (it’s only 15 minutes from home) offered me a chance to also talk about how internal exams and Pap smears are important diagnostics for keeping women safe and healthy. I explained that these tests requires a doctor to put their fingers into a woman’s vagina to feel anything unusual (lumps, bumps, swelling) and helps to diagnose cervical cancer (the cervix, I explained, being the small area between the vagina and uterus).
When we were in the waiting room there was a pamphlet about Paps and my son pointed it out to me. I offered a ‘I told ya so’ explaining that with so many people avoiding these kinds of tests, the health care system looks for ways to reinforce their importance. Uncomfortable as it all might be, it’s critical for us to take care of our bodies and engage health professionals in doing so.
I also reminded him of the HPV vaccine that he received. I explained that while many people – men and women – contract HPV, it is closely linked to cervical cancer and so particularly dangerous to women. I offered my disappointment with our province’s health policy which covers the inoculation of all females and only a few ‘at-risk’ males. Since it is usually men who pass HPV to women (and visa versa) it would protect women best if male-bodied people were also vaccinated comprehensively without individuals having to pay for it. My kid has learned a bunch already and said that men can get penis cancers that are related to HPV. I added that, additionally, both men and women can get throat cancers that are related to HPV transmission through oral sex too.
Once in the exam room, we waited. Our doctor has a small white board on her desk where she requests people write the reason why they are visiting. My kid wrote the following to introduce the subject:
We laughed before she arrived and then she laughed when she showed up.
Our doctor did ask to look at the concerning body part and leaned in to get a good look. It lasted about one minute and she diagnosed eczema. In retrospect, a bit of eczema offered the best learning opportunity ever. Glad I didn’t pull out the cortisone cream earlier since this visit to our doctor might set him up to engage in good self-care forever.
Like this post? Check out this post on introducing the topic of STIs to young kids.