Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Do Women Experience More Pain Than Men?

Kevin and I have been having a good discussion in the comments section of my Men and Communication post regarding gender differences in communication. He pointed me to this article: Women Feel More Pain Than Men.

As you may be able to surmise from the title, the article claims that...

drum roll please...

Women feel more pain than men.

Though I have done no research whatsoever on this matter (other than reading this article) I would have to say I disagree. This should come to no surprise to people who know me since I will almost always disagree with people who make blanket statements and generalizations. Now maybe if the title would have been: In General, Women Feel More Pain Than Men, I might have gotten on board with it, but... even then, I probably would have found a way to argue. (In general, I am more argumentative than men.. and most women..)

My belief is that pain is not a gender-based thing... It's felt by people that are hurt or injured or sick, which can happen to both men and women. The article says:

A variety of chronic and painful conditions, for example, are far more common in women, including migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia -- which affects at least four times more women than men. Women are less tolerant of pain. Their pain lasts longer. And they are more likely to become disabled by it.

I'm sure there are plenty of painful diseases that are more common for men. And I'd be willing to bet, a whole lot more men have been injured or disabled because of violence (ie. war, sword fights, etc.) than women.

Now, if you take away all the sickness and injury and you just take two healthy people well then, yeah, women get the short end of the stick because of our reproductive systems! Not only do we have to go through hormonal hell, we have a bunch of messy and, yes, painful stuff, that we don't normally talk about (at least not to men!) because it's just.... embarrassing! And then there's childbirth! Nine months of pregnancy and then squeezing a baby out your vaginal canal... yeah... that's painful.

The study goes on to say that not only do women feel more pain, but that they don't handle it too well. They get depressed and "have a higher tendency to catastrophize." I found this paragraph interesting:

In experiments that challenged people to hold their hands in ice-cold water, one of Thorn's students found that people who tolerated the pain longer were less likely to have catastrophic thoughts and less likely to have emotionally vulnerable personalities. Emotional vulnerability is a traditionally feminine trait, Thorn said, and even women who play traditionally masculine sex roles have higher levels of pain tolerance and feel pain less intensely.

I was especially interested in this because I had planned to take an ice bath after the marathon I'm running in a couple of weeks (rumor has it, if you do this, you won't suffer from stiffness). However, now that I know that ice water was used as an example of seeing how well people tolerate pain, I'm thinking maybe I don't need to do that ice bath after all...

Here's my unscientific conclusion to all this: It's not that women feel more pain than men. They're just bigger whiners! I say this in all deference to my gender, but I do believe that in general, women dramatize and often make a bigger deal out of things than men do. (As an example, I had a bunch of women tell me how terrible getting a mammogram was, and when I got one, I thought... this is it?)

I think it's true with emotional pain as well. Based on my observations, women, in general, dramatize, and typically have a lot harder time moving past emotional pain or "letting things go." This isn't to say that I think women have more emotional pain than men. I just think, in general, men are less likely to spend as much energy and time talking about their pain, either physical or emotional.

So, I guess you could say, in general, I sort of do agree with the article. I do think women have more physical pain (if you disregard diseases or injuries) and I don't think we handle pain as well as men.

But, according to this article, it's because of these findings that "doctors might some day personalize the management of pain, based on the genders of their patients."

Let's hope not! We have enough issues with gender discrimination (for both men and women) as it is, we don't need to start getting it in health care! The last thing I want is some doctor assuming I'm going to get depressed and offer up therapy if I get some painful disease. Just give me the pain-killers and let me be on my way!

In closing, I would like to offer up this joke in which a husband offers to take the pain of childbirth from his wife:

Transfer the Pain

A married couple went to the hospital to have their first baby. While there, a new doctor told them he’d invented a machine which could transfer the mother’s labor pains to the father. The husband thought this was a terrific idea. (Talk about dumb!)

The doctor set the machine at ten percent, explaining that even ten percent was too much for most men. But the husband felt just fine. So, the doctor turned it up to twenty per cent. Still nothing. Amazed and with some trepidation, the doctor turned the machine up a notch, to fifty percent. But the husband continued to feel just fine. Wanting to help his wife, however, who was writhing in pain, he told the doctor to transfer all the pain to him.

In the end, the wife delivered a healthy baby, and the husband suffered no pain at all.

When they arrived home the next day, they found the mailman dead on the front porch.

1 comment:

rebecca @ altared spaces said...

Thanks for letting me know about the RedPillWeekend.