Pain affects people differently, and there are many, many factors, including age, hormones, the exact cause of the pain, as well as mental, emotional and cultural factors. Even parenting styles can determine how a child grows up to experience different kinds of pain.
For example, a child who was excessively comforted by a parent following a minor injury will develop a different view of pain than a child whose parent encouraged the child to be less concerned about a scratch or scrape.
But what role does gender play in pain? Do men and women feel pain differently?
Yes: Scientists and other medical professionals have found reasons to believe that men and women feel pain differently — although this may or may not be due to purely biological differences. Men and women’s pain experiences could still be affected by individual psychology and cultures.
Psychological and cultural factors were possibly illustrated in clinical studies by the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine in which men and women participants were directed to submerge their hands in ice-cold water. If they could keep their hands underwater, the participants were told, they would receive payment. The men were found to have higher pain thresholds (the point at which a person begins to feel pain) and higher pain tolerances (the maximum level of pain a person is able to tolerate).
With regard to the results of the ice water study it was suggested that “men are more motivated to tolerate and suppress expressions of pain because of the masculine sex role, whereas the feminine sex role encourages pain expression and produces lower motivation to tolerate pain among women.”
On the other hand, it’s been reported in the medical field that women tend to seek help more quickly for pain, and recover more quickly for pain. This may be connected to the fact that women are also much more likely than men are to seek multiple methods or resources for dealing with their pain.
From a biological standpoint, there’s no denying men and women feel pain differently because the sexes have different hormones at work, namely estrogen in females and testosterone in men. In lab studies in which male mice were injected with estrogen, the mice exhibited a lowered pain tolerance. When the opposite was conducted — female mice injected with testosterone — the mice exhibited a raised pain tolerance.
So while the simple answer is yes, men and women feel pain differently, you can see there are many factors, including biology, and beyond.
Image by callison-burch via Flickr