Young men, and young adults in general, can be particularly vulnerable when it comes to incontinence and other bowel issues. As incontinence rates rise across the generations, it is important to improve the experience for young men with continence issues and help them normalise their condition.
It is estimated that over 12.2 million young adults suffer from continence issues. However the continued stigma of the issue cause many to hide their symptoms and not access the help they need. Men are particularly vulnerable as there is less recognition of male continence problems. Surveys have shown that more than 50% of young adults would be uncomfortable discussing incontinence issues with relatives or friends and over two-thirds would be too embarrassed to see a doctor.
This issue is only compounded by a lack of early intervention avenues for young people, gaps in specialist services for children’s bladder and bowel issues, and a lack of specialist support during the transition from children to adult medical services. Further, healthcare staff often have little training in continence issues and have little awareness on the impact it has on young people.
Finally, over a quarter of young people believed that incontinence and bowel incontinence only affected the elderly. This lack of education and gaps in essential healthcare have created a wide-ranging impact on young adults, preventing them from accessing necessary medical intervention and creating a barrier in regard to social interactions. This is especially the case for young men.
While men are less likely to report continence problems – and the problems tend to be age related when the do – bowel and bladder issues affect men of all ages and at all stages of life. Further, male incontinence is often linked with prostate surgery, with 10-15% of men treated for prostate cancer experiencing persistent urinary incontinence. Studies show that many men used a mixture of devices and pads to meet their needs however there was an extreme lack of information and advice on how to use medical devices.
Research on continence issues in young men aged from 11-20 showed that the fear of embarrassment, bullying, stigma and lack of understanding meant that many went to great lengths to hide their bladder and bowel issues, leading to social isolation, distress, and leaving underlying conditions untreated.
The continued social perception that continence issues only affect young children, women and the elderly leads many young men to feel abnormal and misunderstood. Very few men ever tell friends and most admit that they hide it to some level and want few people, if anyone, to know. Many young men are too embarrassed to discuss the issue with their parents, partner or with a healthcare professional – especially with their parents or guardian present.
Further, those who do confide in medical professionals often experience with a lack of continuity of care or poor understanding of the wider impact of continence problems in their lives. They also lack a sensitivity in regards to their issues, especially during hospital admissions, with no say in what products are being used or say in who is informed of their condition.
It is important to normalise incontinence for young men by remembering: