July 31, 2000 -- Donald Smith hesitates outside the door of a basement
classroom at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Diego, Calif. He's 56, with
gray hair, but the anxious expression on his face makes him look like a school
kid who forgot his homework.
Before Smith has time to fake a stomach ache, Bruce Bekkar, MD, a Kaiser
obstetrician-gynecologist, persuades him to come on in. "You're in the
right place," says Bekkar, who teaches the class called "PMS, the
Menopause, and You."
By Janice Graham
As you hit one of those big birthdays, you probably worry more about new
wrinkles than about less visible body parts — like your heart. But recent
research has found that each decade of your life is a crossroads, with new
health concerns to worry about. What's more, you need to be aware of these
issues — because your doctor may not be. "Many physicians fail to recognize how
much a woman's risk factors for heart disease evolve over her lifetime," says
This three-hour crash course for men about women's anatomy and health
concerns is believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States,
although Bekkar hopes it will become a trend. His premise is straightforward:
Teach men to understand why their wives or girlfriends may sometimes feel
crabby, bloated, or on fire. By doing so, relationships are saved, and often
grow stronger. Trouble brews, he says, when guys don't understand what their
wives or girlfriends are going through.
Soon, Smith is sitting in the classroom, surrounded by 13 other men, most of
whom look as uncomfortable as he does. They busy themselves reading handouts,
eyes glued to the printed materials. Bekkar, who has taught the classes monthly
for two years and always has a full house, warms them up quickly with his easy
lecture style, punctuated by jokes, jazzy slides, and a wit honed by his
stand-up stint at a San Diego comedy club. As he teaches the men, women attend
a similar class next door to discuss their own concerns about PMS and
menopause. Some of them are the girlfriends and wives of the guys in the
While most of the men are here because their partners asked them to come,
about a third came to the class even though their wives didn't. James, 50,
became concerned a few months ago when his wife Jan showed signs of unusual
behavior. Three times in six months she forgot to mail the credit card bill.
"Never in her life has this happened," he says. She was feeling
stressed-out and out of control. When his wife's friend suggested it could be
menopause, James decided to come and get educated.
Ignorance Is Widespread
As his class settles in, Bekkar assures them that they're not the only ones
in the dark about women's anatomy. As proof, he displays the drawings he
collected at a focus group conducted while the class was in the discussion
phase. He asked several men, ranging in age from 25 to 55, to draw and label
the female reproductive system as accurately as they could.
He shows three of the winning drawings, which he also includes in his book,
Your Guy's Guide to Gynecology, written with his colleague, Udo Wahn,
MD. "This is one of the better ones," says Bekkar, grinning. The
"first prize" drawing Bekkar refers to is a childish picture that
resembles a faceless rabbit with ears (the ears are actually meant to be the
fallopian tubes). Another winning drawing looks like a close-up of the same
rabbit, and the third, charitably speaking, could be compared to a flower. And
these were drawn, Bekkar points out, by educated men: a banker, a computer
consultant, and an administrator.