Adult Incontinence: Men – an Embarrassed and Underserviced Consumer

When it comes to adult incontinence, women are reportedly affected by the condition more than men. Subsequently, product development and marketing continue to lean more towards the needs of the female consumer.Recent years have seen more attention paid to male-specific advertising and male-specific products. Nonetheless, there is still room for improvement, in terms of product innovation as well as product availability in stores, whether through bricks-and-mortar retailers or online distributors.

Incontinence in men is no small matter

While not as much in the spotlight as female health, the issue of incontinence reporting and management in men has been progressively gaining more recognition.

The level of discomfort and embarrassment associated with the condition is high among men and is strongly linked with the image of masculinity. An article in Men’s Health Forum published in March 2014 aptly commented, “Is there a problem that is more embarrassing for a man to admit to than not being able to get an erection? Many men reckon there is — incontinence.” The article further quotes a Consultant Urologist Gordon Muir, who states that, “Men will just not talk about it, so no-one really knows the true extent.”

Looking at the available statistics (potentially underestimated due to underreporting), men suffer from various forms of incontinence in no small numbers. According to studies published in the Reviews in Urology, in the US the prevalence of urinary incontinence (UI) varies from 11% among those aged 60 to 64 years to 31% in older men, and from 16% among white men to 21% among African American men. According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, UI affects up to 13% of Australian men. Furthermore, the foundation reports that faecal incontinence affects up to 20% of Australian men, compared to 12.9% of Australian women. A study published in European Urology (Volume 61 Issue 1) in January 2012 cited the results of research into UI types in men and women in Sweden, the UK and the US to further examine various subtypes of UI and offer a comprehensive review of prevalence in men. Of 14,140 men and 15,860 women who participated in the study, 6,479 men (45.8%) and 10,717 women (67.6%) reported incidences of UI.

Aside from urinary incontinence, other types of incontinence are gradually gaining recognition. However, once again, many healthcare sites and discussions centre on women. Such is the case with Accidental Bowel Leakage (ABL), or faecal incontinence. However, some studies show that men suffer from ABL almost to the same extent as women. According to research published by the Digestive Diseases and Sciences journal, in the US 7.4% of adult men and 6.9% of adult women suffer from minor faecal incontinence. Using the population census, this figure would bring the estimated number of adult men suffering from incidences of ABL to about eight million, in the US alone.

Product innovation responds to rise in awareness

As consumer awareness is increasing, and men are encouraged to speak up and seek help, the industry is taking notice.

The past three years have seen more prominent male-specific advertising by the leading manufacturers of incontinence – SCA and Kimberly-Clark. In 2013, the latter launched a new TV advertising campaign for Depend under the “Guard Your Manhood” slogan and featuring Tony Siragusa, former National Football League defensive tackle and a host of DIY network’s “Man Caves”. The following year’s campaign, “Underwareness”, aimed at the younger generation and the stigma associated with the condition, featured both men and women wearing incontinence undergarments. In 2015, SCA launched an advertising campaign under the slogan ““Keep Control”, promoting TENA Men products. The campaign uses humour and emphasises the fact that urinary incontinence need not interfere with men’s life pursuits.

The increase in spending on male-specific marketing comes along with innovation in men’s incontinence management. More products and, importantly, new product formats can certainly help address the unmet demand and go beyond urinary incontinence. More traditional product types, such as in undergarments, underwear, pads and guards, still dominate men’s incontinence. They do feature improved quality fit for men’s anatomy, thinness and discretion, leak and odour control, such as such as SCA’s TENA Men Protective Shield, as well as products designed to feel and look more like real underwear, such as Depend Real Fit Briefs for Men.

The marketplace is also seeing innovation, however, which brings more diversity in product formats. Recent examples include the launch of Butterfly for men – an incontinence product designed for ABL by Butterfly Health. The product fits in between the buttocks using gentle dermal adhesive and a unique butterfly-shaped design. Butterfly was launched for women and followed up quickly with a product designed specifically for men. Furthermore, the new X-Top pouch for men by McAirlaid’s claims to be the first incontinence product designed specifically for men. The pouch covers the penis, which is designed to make the product more discreet and provide a better leak protection than more traditional incontinence products for men. The pouch comes in three absorbency formats – moderate, heavy and overnight.

Need for improved selection in stores

While the industry is certainly seeking to address the unmet demand for men’s products, the category can further benefit from better product positioning and wider product selection in retail.

Online retailers, like HDIS in the US, offer a wider selection of product formats and brands. However, many bricks-and-mortar stores still show a limited assortment of brands and products. While online retail has certainly picked up and also allows for more discretion (given the category stigma) and more interaction in case advice is needed, it is important to remember that there is still significant demand for products sold in bricks-and-mortar outlets. The demand is also further supported by the fact that people from the older generation, while catching up, are not as active online as their younger counterparts. For the older demographic affected by incontinence, having well-stocked easily found incontinence aisles can minimise the embarrassment and play an important role in encouraging product use. This applies not only to older incontinence sufferers, however, but also to the younger generation and those who care for family members suffering from incontinence and in search of the relevant products.

Improved product display and selection can go a long way in helping to overcome stigma and discomfort and to promoting product use among men.