Why Do Men Avoid Going to the Doctor? Experts Weigh in.

Plus, doctors and psychologists offer tips for breaking this bad habit.

Last updated: Oct 1st, 2023
Why Men Avoid Going to the Dr

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard this one before: men are notorious for dodging the doctor until they’re literally doubled over in pain. Sweeping generalizations like this tend to wither under scrutiny, but this particular one is substantiated by a multitude of surveys. For example, a 2022 Cleveland Clinic survey found that 55 percent of men don’t see their doctor for regular health screenings. Another 2022 poll by Orlando Health reports that a third of men don’t think they need to get annual health checkups at all. In their 2022 report, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that women are more likely to have interactions with the healthcare system than men.

Are men just lazy? According to psychologists, the reasons are deeper and more complicated. And medical professionals urge us not to ignore the trend because avoiding the doctor until an absolute emergency can have major consequences for a person’s long-term health.

How avoiding the doctor can impact health

When people adopt an “if it’s not broken, why fix it” approach to healthcare, it means that preventive care is completely neglected. Ron Hunninghake, MD, the Chief Medical Officer at Riordan Clinic, says that skipping out on a yearly check-in with a primary care doctor can be detrimental to health and to your pocketbook in the end. “Regular checkups help in detecting potential health issues at an early stage when they are more manageable and less costly to treat,” he says.

In other words, skipping routine doctor visits — however uneventful they may seem — tends to lead to costlier problems or emergencies and health outcomes that can be far worse. Ignoring an underlying, developing health problem is one way to turn certain treatable or manageable conditions into terminal illnesses.

Renaldo Barrios, NP, a nurse practitioner with One Medical in Miami, Florida, puts it this way: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Staying up to date with healthcare maintenance decreases the risk of future illness.”

What’s a reasonable goal for scheduling checkups?

Dr. Hunninghake emphasizes that yearly checkups allow the opportunity for primary care doctors to provide important preventive guidance. This can include addressing any lifestyle concerns or offering vaccinations or screenings appropriate to an individual's age and risk factors. Without annual visits, those valuable opportunities are lost.

In addition to seeing a primary care doctor once a year, Dr. Hunninghake says that other important health appointments for men might include a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, dermatologist, and urologist. This, he says, depends on the man’s age, family history, and lifestyle. For example, if cardiovascular disease runs in your family, it’s worth it to see a preventive cardiologist who can assess your risk for heart disease.

Even if they know that being proactive about their health is generally important, plenty of men still don’t do it. But why? There are several different psychological reasons for this. We’ll explore each of them below, in no particular order.

Reason number 1: My health gripe is super common

If a health issue is common or seems like just a natural product of aging, many guys decide to just cope with it or try to manage it on their own. Why make a big deal out of something that just happens to people? But there are several things wrong with this logic.

Suppose you’re having trouble sleeping. It’s a very common problem, affecting about one-third of adults to some degree and ten percent significantly enough to be considered a disorder. But the commonness of insomnia doesn’t mean it’s a personal problem to deal with on your own; this is something to share with your doctor. Inadequate sleep can lead to weight gain, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and depression if not successfully addressed.

Or perhaps you recently switched to a plant-based lifestyle. That’s not only common but supposedly a healthy thing to do, as well right? So why schedule any doctor’s visits? Telling your doctor may prompt them to do a blood test to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B and iron. Being low in these nutrients could lead to anemia and extreme fatigue, and nutritional deficits are not uncommon in people who are changing their diets, even with healthy goals in mind.

Or maybe all that’s happening is that you’re getting older. That happens to everyone, right? So why see a doctor? Well, if you’re over 50 and have never been screened for colon cancer, it’s time. Doctors are familiar with common age-related concerns and diagnostic necessities.

The fix: Commonness is actually a good reason to share a health concern.

The commonness of health issues is no reason to ignore them. In fact, if you are dealing with a common health problem, the chances are greater that something very useful can come from bringing it up to a doctor. Doctors and patients should love to discuss common problems because those are often the health concerns for which there has been the most heavily funded research to identify courses of action that lead to improvement. The scary problems in health are the rare problems. So don’t avoid the doctor because you are experiencing common health issues. If you do, you’re missing out on common, effective treatments that will make you happier and improve your life.

Reason number 2: Men didn’t grow up scheduling doctor appointments

Barrios points out a logical reason why men are less likely to schedule doctor appointments than women: Many women have had to see a doctor regularly to obtain birth control or get pap smears. Unlike men, plenty of women had to see either a primary care doctor or gynecologist for these reasons.

“Boys often have their medical appointments scheduled for them by their parents, whereas a lot of females start going to additional appointments [to the gynecologist] in the teenage years or young adult years, so they often grow up interacting with doctors more than males,” says Darren D. Moore, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Mental health counselor Matthew Schubert agrees, saying, “Males grow up going to the doctor once a year, if our mom is on top of it. But many females have more interaction with doctors and pharmacists from a younger age.” Then what happens? Schubert says that adult men often don’t even think about going to the doctor. Or if they do, the process of finding one and scheduling an appointment sounds so cumbersome to them that they don’t do it.

The fix: Plan checkups to coincide with something you’ll actually remember

For all the men who don’t see a doctor because it’s simply not on their radar, Schubert offers up this advice: Sync it up with something else truly memorable. It could be the week of the Super Bowl or the week leading up to your birthday. Pick a calendar event you care about, and decide that that’s when you’re going to get some time with your doctor. (Plus, you can include any other appointments you may neglect, like the eye doctor or dentist.) Over time, the connection will become ingrained in your mind, and it will become second nature.

Reason number 3: Not wanting to hear bad news

Both Schubert and Dr. Moore say that one major reason why men avoid seeing the doctor is because they fear hearing bad news. “It’s the fear of the unknown. Many men would rather not know about bad news than have to deal with it,” Dr. Moore says.

This way of thinking backfires for a couple of reasons. One reason is exactly what Dr. Hunninghake pointed out earlier: If there is a health problem, the longer you wait to treat it, the bigger of a problem it becomes.

But physical health aside, Dr. Moore and Schubert both say that avoidance just makes anxiety worse, as well; the amount of anxiety will grow over time because you never properly dealt with it.

The fix: Bite the bullet

Both mental health experts say that the only way to break the cycle of avoidance (in this case, avoiding the doctor) is to stop avoiding it. That means actually scheduling your doctor’s appointment. If there’s something specific you’ve been worried about but reluctant to face (like finding out if the spot on your back is a mole or something more sinister), it also means scheduling an appointment with a specialist who is knowledgeable about that particular issue (in this case, a dermatologist).

Dr. Moore and Schubert say that breaking the cycle of avoidance will lead to a huge sigh of relief if nothing is wrong—which feels way better than living with anxiety. And if something does end up being wrong? In that case, you can at least face it head-on and improve the chances of a better outcome. Taking control of your health can lead to positive feelings of empowerment.

Reason number 4: Worrying about being judged

Schubert says that another reason why men avoid going to the doctor is because they’re self-conscious or worried about being judged. Simply put, going to the doctor can be uncomfortable. It might require getting naked, which can cause dread or anxiety for someone with body insecurities. It could require talking about something personal, like erectile dysfunction or excessive gassiness.

Gay or bisexual men may worry about being judged by their doctor, an unfortunately legitimate fear. According to a survey by the non-profit The 19th, 24% of LGBTQ Americans report being blamed for their health problems while visiting a healthcare provider compared to 9% of non-LGBTQ Americans. Fear of judgment in its various forms is a very real reason why men avoid seeing the doctor.

The fix: Build a doctor-patient relationship at your own speed

If you’re worried about being judged by your doctor (whether it’s for your sexuality, body, or medical issue you want to address), Schubert suggests building the relationship in incremental steps. Use the initial appointment to feel the doctor out: Do they seem like someone you can trust? Do they make you feel comfortable? Use this appointment as a general checkup. If you do feel comfortable, Schubert says the next step is making a follow-up appointment for what you actually want to talk about. If something felt off during the initial appointment, repeat the process with someone new.

Even if it takes a few tries to find a medical provider you can trust, the extra work will be well worth it in the end because you’ll have established a relationship with a doctor you can trust for years to come.

Reason number 5: Lack of access

Not all men avoid going to the doctor because they don’t want to go, but rather because it is inaccessible to them. “Many people don’t have a primary care provider because of lack of access,” Barrios says. “When people call a medical center, they’re often put on hold; they have to press multiple numbers to get the information or attention they need; and appointments are usually weeks or months away.” These barriers get in the way of actually being seen.

According to a 2023 report by the National Association of Community Health Centers, 100 million people in the United States don’t have a primary care provider, with lack of access being a major reason.

The fix: Take full advantage of the access you do have

If you lack health insurance or don’t have access to a primary care doctor, you may have to think outside the box to receive the care you need. Research to find the nearest community health center that provides affordable or free healthcare to those who would otherwise not be able to afford it. (Visit the Health Resources & Services Administration website to find one near you.) If your barrier to seeing a doctor is transportation or having someone watch your kids, take advantage of telehealth appointments by searching for a telehealth doctor through your insurance provider’s website; you may be surprised about the level of access you can have using your phone or computer. If you're uninsured, some telemedical portals offer a free initial doctor’s visit for certain common health concerns related to sexual wellness, hair loss, and other issues.

The truth is, you may never actually like going to the doctor. But similar to doing your taxes, it’s just something you have to do. Focus on which reason in particular is causing you to put it off, and then take action to fix it. Doing so just might save your life someday.



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