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Trop Med Int Health. 2008 Mar;13(3):384-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3156.2008.02013.x. Epub 2008 Feb 19.

Socio-cultural, psychosexual and biomedical factors associated with genital symptoms experienced by men in rural India.

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London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK.


Biomedical, anthropological and psychiatric frameworks have been used to research different elements of men's sexual health - sexually transmitted infections, psychosexual concerns and psychological distress - but rarely within the same study. We combined these in a study in rural north India. In Tehri Garhwal and Agra districts, we explored male perceptions of genital and sexual symptoms through focus group discussions and then conducted a clinic-based survey of 366 symptomatic men who presented at rural private provider clinics. Men's urine specimens were tested for gonorrhoea and chlamydia infection using polymerase chain reaction techniques. Researchers screened them for probable psychological distress by administering the General Health Questionnaire (12- items). Results revealed that local and traditional notions of health influenced men's symptom perceptions, with semen loss their predominant concern. Dhat, commonly perceived as an involuntary semen loss, corresponded most closely with the symptom of urethral discharge, but was attributed mainly to non-infectious causes. It could also manifest as a syndrome with physical weakness and mental lethargy. FGD participants lacked correct and complete information on reproductive health. Around 75% of the symptomatic men presented with dhat, but only 5.5% tested positive for gonorrhoea or chlamydia. Application of syndromic sexually transmitted infection (STI) guidelines in these settings could result in over diagnosis and over treatment with antibiotics. In contrast, there was a significant association between dhat and probable psychological distress as detected by the GHQ (Adjusted OR, GHQ case positive: 2.66, 95% CI: 1.51-4.68). Our study confirms the existence of a dhat syndrome in rural India, which is culturally influenced and reflects heightened psychosexual concerns as well as mental distress states. Comprehensive health services for men should include assessments of their psychosexual needs and be supported by reproductive/sexual health education. STI treatment guidelines for urethral symptoms should be revised and be based on epidemiological data.

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