Daryl Ilbury

Pain, it seems, may be a little sexist

In Eish!, Science on December 3, 2011 at 11:54 am

"Doc, it seems I may have come to some 'arm"

My wife always rolls her eyes back whenever I tell her I feel a cold coming on, because she knows that I am soon going to start whining like a baby because my head hurts and I that “don’t feel very well”. She will naturally mumble something that will include the words “typical” and “men” in the same sentence. Little does she know that I’m just using it as an excuse for some lovin’. She also doesn’t know that her (and most women’s) assumption of men’s supposed inability to deal with pain and discomfort – as compared to women – has been disproven by science.

If anything, it seems the opposite is true.

A recent report by Serge Marchand, Ph.D. and Isabelle Gaumond, Ph.D., two researchers at l’Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, has shown that sex hormones play an important part in the experience of pain. Working with rats they found a difference in pain perception between rats that had received a gonadectomy (castration in males and ovariectomy in females) and those that hadn’t. They also claim that any difference in pain perception between human males and females is absent before the onset of puberty.

This suggests that sex hormones play an important role in the perception of pain. Importantly, their research suggests that when it comes to experimental pain, women have a lower pain threshold and perceive a stimulus of the same intensity as more painful than men.

Of course, ‘pain’ is a highly complex concept; and it has a wide range of determinants that are not only biological, chemical, and physiological, but also emotional, psychological and even social.

I know what you’re thinking – what about childbirth? Women use men’s pathetic whining when they have a cold as evidence that they could never endure the pain of childbirth. Marchand and Gaumond have an answer for that, and again it’s to do with sex hormones: “Pain threshold is significantly higher during pregnancy, most probably because there are important hormonal changes during this phase”.

Whatever science’s answer is, I was lucky enough to be present at the birth of both our children, and all I’m saying is that I have the greatest respect and undying admiration for my wife’s physical and emotional strength…and pain threshold – anyone who lives with me must have the capacity to deal with a real pain in the ass!

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  1. I call my guy a big baby in those cases.

    It always made sense to me that since men were primarily hunters and fighters that they may be predisposed to take the pain.

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