Women Feel More Pain Than Men But That Doesn't Mean We're Wimps!

painYou know that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the knight who's bleeding profusely, both his arms having been sliced off in a fight, declares his injuries to be "just a flesh wound"? I think of that scene often when it comes to my husband. The man just doesn't seem to feel pain. It's an ordeal to get him to admit -- no matter what the obvious evidence -- that he's in need of medical attention. I, meanwhile, can howl for days over an infected hangnail or a stubbed toe.

I'd hate to think the disparity in our perception of pain had anything to do with gender rather than simply reflecting a difference in our personalities, but a new study indicates that it just might. New research indicates that women consistently rate their pain higher on that pain scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 ("worst imaginable" pain) than men when suffering from a host of ailments and conditions. Sometimes a full point higher.


Sigh. Even though this is consistent with the way pain thresholds seem to break down in my own household -- and could, in fact, explain a lot -- it still pains me to hear about it (har, har). I worry that these new study results will reawaken and reinforce all those old stereotypes of women as the "weaker" sex. Honestly, I don't feel weaker. I just like to let the world know when I'm suffering. Is that so wrong? It always seems to help when people express sympathy. It might not take away the pain, but it does make me feel better.

It's not yet clear what accounts for the pain-perception disparity: cultural, hormonal, anatomical issues? Who knows? Is it possible that the men in the study were actually unwittingly underreporting their pain in order to appear tough, whereas the women were being honest about their level of pain? Or perhaps the women were unconsciously edging higher on the pain rating just so doctors would take their complaints seriously rather than dismissing them, whereas men were able to feel confident that they'd be taken seriously regardless? Clearly, more research is in order.

What do you think of the study's conclusions, that women may feel more pain than men?


Image via DoctorWho/Flickr

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