Health issues

Sex influences on health

The paper Sex, Gender and Health reports that the particular nature of male and female reproductive systems generates specific health problems for each sex. Only women can get cancer of the cervix for example, while only men can get cancer of the prostate. However, women’s capacity to become pregnant and give birth means they have additional needs for care both in sickness and in health.

Key differences between the sexes are outlined in Wizemann and Pardue's book Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter?

Gender influences on health

Gender influences the way women and men relate to their health through differences in power, opportunities, and personal and social expectations. Examples of gender differences include:

  • Paid and unpaid work. More women work part-time (alongside caring responsibilities) and more men work full time.
  • Health behaviours and risks. Male work roles can be more risky than female work roles – such as oil rig workers, fishermen and construction site workers.
  • Inpatient experience. Women have generally less positive experiences than males.
  • Help-seeking behaviour. Men consult their GP less often than women and are more likely to attend an emergency department.
  • Perceptions of personal health. Men are more likely than women to assess their health as being good or very good.

There are differences in health outcomes for men and women in the following:

  • life expectancy
  • coronary heart disease
  • mental health and emotional issues
  • overweight and obesity
  • cancer
  • sexually transmitted infections
  • auto-immune illnesses, for example diabetes and multiple sclerosis.


The study Safety to School by Scottish Government reported that boys are twice as likely as girls to be killed or seriously injured in pedestrian road accidents.

According to a paper on pre-natal testosterone and gender related behaviour, gender differences in health in large measure reflect socially determined roles and pressures, but hormones have a significant influence.

A 2009 paper by Dreber et al claims exposure to prenatal testosterone may influence more gender-typical play behaviour. Certain genes can have differential effects on behaviour between the sexes, for example inclining men to be more risk taking.

Sexual health

Research from Stonewall found that 17 per cent of Scottish lesbian and bisexual women between the ages of 25 and 64 have never had a smear test, compared to 7 per cent of women in general.

A European Study group on Heterosexual HIV Transmission found male to female infection with HIV is more than twice as efficient as female to male HIV infection.

Mental health

The 2005 report, Addressing Mental Health Inequalities in Scotland, noted that women experience higher rates of depressive disorder than men.

NHS Health Scotland’s Dimensions of Diversity report and the Scottish Public Health Observatory website contains further examples of observed differences between the mental health of men and women.

The Men's Health Forum along with partners developed a guide offering a number of ideas for improved practice in delivering effective male mental health services.

Updated April 2015

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