Ruth Pott, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at BAM UK & Ireland, is passionate about men’s health, so much so that she is a Trustee of the Men’s Health Forum, and the perfect person to profile ahead of Men’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
While many companies are talking about how they are getting the mental health conversation going with men in the workplace, very few are pushing boundaries in the way that Pott is. Her openness and willingness to tackle any taboo topic – from penis problems to porn to kink – is staggering, impressive and inspirational. So is her ability to construct a coherent business case around sexual health, and her drive to improve all aspects of her employees’ wellbeing, in order to improve their lives and make BAM a better, safer, more productive place to work.
Her dedication and commitment to the wellbeing mission also explains why BAM is the Judges’ winner in our Make A Difference Awards for ‘Construction’s best implementation of workplace wellbeing’.
We caught up with the straight-talking Pott for her thoughts on how, and why, to talk with men about sex in the workplace.
Why do you feel so strongly that, as part of addressing a man’s entire wellbeing properly, we need to talk about sex too?
We do a lot on women’s health like the menopause and its possible impact on sex and libido. It’s only right and proper that we address the things that men want to know about. And clearly, sex is one of those things.
If sex-related issues are not discussed, or if people don’t know how to have the right conversation with their partner, it can ultimately lead to relationship breakdown, and clearly, that can affect wellbeing.
We should be talking about sex and body parts that don’t work properly, because these are the worries that are on people’s minds.
Most of the men’s health content we’ve done in the past has been focused on topics like testicular and prostate health. But we’re now getting into the real nitty gritty of male anatomy because men want to know.
How do you start the conversation about sex at work?
Well, we do exactly that: have conversation starters! And we work with the Men’s Health Forum.
They put everything in very light-hearted, non-judgmental language, which is not at all preachy. They normalise talking about all subjects related to men’s health, including those that men might find difficult to broach, whether it’s erectile dysfunction or penis problems.
You’re also collaborating with one of the UK’s leading sex therapists, who is also a broadcaster and writer; isn’t that right?
Yes. I’m hugely keen on challenging and pushing boundaries and that’s why I wanted to do a talk and Q&A session with a leading sex therapist in a webinar. A similar event was run by the rail sector’s Rail Wellbeing Live, run by the Rail Wellbeing Alliance, in 2022, and it was a brilliant way of opening up the conversation.
There were all sorts of fascinating questions about sex being asked – mostly from men, but not exclusively. Things like ‘I want to do X or Y, but my partner’s not so keen’ and ‘how do I approach the conversation if I want to do more kinky stuff?’ and ‘my wife doesn’t want to have sex because she’s menopausal and our libidos don’t match’.
Webinars such as this offer appropriate, practical and relevant advice, from an expert who really knows what they’re talking about. After all, we’re not looking to tell anyone what to do, we want to give people a few tips and techniques that could help them with their partners. For me, it’s giving people that metaphorical ‘toolkit’ to deal with whatever the issue is, arming them with the facts to have the conversation and then signposting them to further support.
What kind of questions were being asked about menopause and sex?
Questions were about how you address the imbalance in libido. Men wanted to know how to sensitively have a conversation with their partners about it because, often during the menopause women’s libido drops.
We want to help men understand the impact of menopause on relationships and sex, especially because of the demographic of our workforce, many employees are married to women who are coming up to the menopause, or are menopausal. Marriages can obviously break up for many reasons, but the statistics bear out that the highest rate of divorce is during the menopausal years for women.
Have you ever had any feedback from men on how talking about the menopause has helped them in their relationships?
Yes. It’s been incredibly positive. I think men – and women – didn’t have any idea how long it can go on for and how profound menopause can be. We talk about the many treatments available because HRT is the main one, but there are lots of others too. It’s something that men and women need to talk about and deal with together.
In the past, men may have dismissed menopause as ‘women’s problems’ but, of course, they need to be interested because it has a very profound effect on them. I’m speaking as someone who is 57 and still sitting here having hot flushes because she can’t get hold of HRT in the current shortage!
What sex-related topics do you want to cover in the future?
We’re doing a really big piece of work with the Men’s Health Forum covering topics like the impacts of pornography and the objectification of women.
One thing that I learned from reading the Men’s Health Forum booklet about this is that porn is not actually about porn. It’s about algorithms and the algorithms drawing you in, like social media does, so you get addicted to it. They upsell the webcams and the chat functions to you. They want you to be thinking about what you’re missing if you don’t log on, who might be on the sites, etc… you end up having a relationship essentially with an algorithm, where you get your sexual gratification from, so you don’t bother with real relationships.
How do you sell-in sex to the board?
I think the fact that I’ve got an MSc in Workplace Wellbeing which I completed 18 months ago, absolutely helps, because I can confidently put forward a very compelling business case about why we want to talk about some of these topics and challenge norms.
The case is very clear to me – if an employee is having problems with sex this can impact their relationships and, ultimately, their wellbeing, then this can have an impact on safety in our industry.
You don’t seem embarrassed talking about anything today from penis problems to porn. What’s your secret, for those that are?
My advice is to be professional and understand that you will be helping a lot of people who might be sitting in your audience, in front of a webinar, say, who are wrestling with all sorts of questions that they might be struggling to vocalise. Many of these things are subjects men in particular find hard to even talk to their GP or friends about.
Also, I think you just get to an age, like me, when you have confidence talking about these things and pushing boundaries because, at the end of the day, the feedback we get is awesome. I’m so glad I get to work for a company that addresses every aspect of an employee’s health because it really does improve, and even, save lives.
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