Amy Pearlman, a urologist at the University of Iowa, is bringing men’s health to the younger demographic by hosting educational presentations at UI fraternities. (Provided by Amy Pearlman)
IOWA CITY — Many of the men who end up in the office of urologist Amy Pearlman at the University of Iowa are in their 30s, 40s or 50s and have symptoms. They are tired. They cannot get or keep an erection. They hurt. Or a mass.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“So many of the conditions I see related to men’s health are so preventable,” said Pearlman, who runs UI’s Men’s Health Program. “I want to empower people so they know they don’t have to suffer. They can prevent these things. They really can live their best life if they just get a simple education.
And that’s where Pearlman comes in.
“A lot of these behaviors start young,” she said.
Like in college, when new high school graduates are alone for the first time and feel invincible – going out late, drinking, smoking, eating cold pizza for breakfast.
“We’re doing such a bad job initially, simple education, and I was just trying to find a way to educate people creatively — rather than just person-by-person in the office,” she said. “My clinic has 20 or 30 patients, and I just educate each person one by one. When in reality, the things that I have expertise in – when it comes to men’s health – are relevant to every person who has male genitalia.
So where can Pearlman access large groups of young men with an all-encompassing educational presentation on men’s health? Fraternities, and its premiere drew a crowd of over 100 brethren this fall.
“And this spring, we have at least four more fraternities that have signed up for this educational session,” Pearlman said.
The goal of Pearlman’s fellowship-based men’s health sessions is to give young men a roadmap to better health later in life and a toolkit to follow it.
“My hope is ultimately, can we change our behavior,” she said.
Pearlman, through his presentation, shares with students basic tips for staying healthy longer and different types of providers and resources they can and should access. But she also focuses on the “why” – which looks different for teens and men in their early twenties.
“So their reason for not having a cigarette might not be because they don’t want lung cancer — that doesn’t really resonate with a lot of 20-year-old guys,” Pearlman said. “But one thing that would resonate with a 20-year-old guy might be his penis – his penile health.”
In her presentation, Pearlman aims to normalize the conversation around urology and criminal health by discussing how the body works and is structured.
“Let’s talk about how your brain signals your testicles to produce testosterone,” she said. “Let’s talk about how we can increase your testosterone levels. Let’s talk about what makes up your penis.
“It’s hard to offend people when you go back to anatomy.”
In her presentation, she also talks to students about sexually transmitted infections, dispels myths, shares resources, encourages testing, and offers communication tips.
“We tell people, if you have an STI or herpes or something like that, you have to tell your partners,” Pearlman said. “But we don’t give people the skills to teach them how to do it in a way that doesn’t shame them, make them feel guilty, or damage the relationship they’re in.”
She offers examples and talking points, like, “I really care about you. I respect you. I care about our relationship and want us both to be healthy. I just want to let you know that I had a herpes outbreak a year ago. I haven’t had anything since. I have no current active lesions. But I just wanted you to know because I care about you.
She also talks about how alcohol and overconsumption can affect the penis – using this, again, as a relevant “why” for reconsidering excessive alcohol consumption.
“Men understand that when they drink too much they can’t get an erection,” she said.
Although Pearlman begins with fraternities — spreading men’s health news among the younger demographic — his vision is to pack an auditorium with students from all areas of campus.
“Because when you think about whose role it is to educate men about their health, to be honest with you, I don’t want fathers educating their sons,” she said. “And the reason is that fathers don’t even understand their bodies. Dads are in my office, in their 60s, 60s, and 80s, and for the first time in their lives, they’re learning what their bladder is doing and what their prostate is doing.
“So I don’t want fathers to educate them,” she said. “We need to start by educating as many people as possible, so they can then educate their friends and family members.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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