July 6, 2005

"Women Suffer More than Men."

That's what it says here:
New research has found that women report more pain throughout their lifetime. Compared to men, women feel pain in more areas of their body and for longer durations.

"The bottom line seems to be that women are suffering more than men," said Ed Keogh, a psychologist from the Pain Management Unit at the University of Bath.

In one study, Keogh and his collaborators interviewed patients in a pain management program. Although the program reduced chronic pain for all the subjects, in follow up exams the women in the group reported pain levels as high as before the treatment -- whereas the improvements in the male group were longer lasting.

In another set of experiments, volunteers were asked to put their arms in an ice water bath. Men were found to have higher pain thresholds (the point where they began to feel pain), as well as higher pain tolerances (the point where the pain became too much)....

"Social and psychological factors cannot be ignored," Keogh said. "We have found that women will focus on the emotional response to stress."

In contrast, men typically think only of the sensation itself, which may explain their higher thresholds and tolerances.

"Women who concentrate on the emotional aspects of their pain may actually experience more pain as a result, possibly because the emotions associated with pain are negative," Keogh said.
This is interesting, because I'd always heard that women have more endurance for pain. That notion may just have formed from witnessing childbirth. Men have been looking on for millennia and thinking, I couldn't do that.

I can't help observing, though, that this study is flawed, because they relied on the subject describing his or her own pain, and men are more likely -- I would think -- to put on a stoical front. Maybe women seem to have more endurance for pain because they are more willing to call a feeling pain or to admit they have pain.

But if it's true and we women do experience heightened physical sensation because of a tendency to merge physical stimuli with emotion, then we ought to have more pleasure too. As Tiresias reported.


neo-neocon said...

It's hard to measure pain since in some ways it always remains a subjective experience. But the experiments in which a subject is timed while holding an extremity in a bucket of ice water are generally considered a relatively objective measure of pain. The water temperature can be controlled fairly well and thus standardized, and the amount of time the limb is held in the ice water is easily measurable, also. So this type of experiment has become the gold standard for pain tests.

Of course, perhaps it doesn't measure pain at all, but rather sensitivity to ice water. But it's the best we've got.

Ann Althouse said...

I think it measures will.

lindsey said...

I'm surprised they didn't measure brain waves or do some sort of brain scan to see whether the men were more stoic or the women just more willing to complain. There seems to be a rather obvious way of figuring this out. What an incomplete study.

Kathleen B. said...

hmmm "women suffer more than men", shouldn't the Law of Althouse dictate that someone should be portraying this suffering as better? how about: the increased pain felt by women serves to increase their empathy and therefore women are more compassionate and understanding.

Ann Althouse said...

Kathleen: Thanks for remembering. If the story is picked up by the Times, we should get that, I think.

Drethelin said...

I think an important factor is conditioning, not just in men pretending to feel less pain or acting more stoic, but in the actual ability to weather pain. If culture conditions you to act stoic and accept pain, through time, that actually becomes a greater ability to deal with pain.

So women may not be physically calibrated to be less resistant to pain from birth, but because of the lives they lead compared to those of men, they end up that way. I'm wondering if this test was done with different age and social groups (ie farmers vs city people etc.) and what the results would be.

Ann Althouse said...

Drethlin: Also different regions. I think people in the north develop hardiness -- at least with respect to harsh weather. I find I get better at dealing with cold just over the course of a single winter.

Goesh said...

I figured birthing and menstration factored into this somehow. I imagine being a man that if I excreted a watermelon through my rectum, about the equivalent of a woman giving birth, I would have lots of aches and pains for a long time afterwards.

neo-neocon said...

Also, I seem to recall that men have better peripheral circulation--blood flow to the extremities--compared to women (that's why the wives always put their icy feet on the husbands' to get warm at night). If true, then the entire test is skewed to favor men reporting less pain, because their extremities will ordinarily stay warmer longer when submerged in the ice water.

Slac said...

That was great Kathleen!

< sarcasm>
Although, it was already pretty clear that women are the superior side of the race since they experience more pleasure. Combine that with this new fact that they experience more pain only means that they experience life more fully and, thus, much closer to a divine level.
< /sarcasm>

Ann, this is mostly unrelated (I think), but did you notice that the last Junior Miss America competition occurred just a few days ago?

LA Times reprint from The Nation

"Somewhere along the way, America lost its enchantment with the wholesome young woman."

I first heard it from an ABC News podcast. They explicitly said they were presenting the story as an unfortunate sign of our culture's decadance. The rest of the media seems to be doing the same.

I'm interested to know what you think!

Pancho said...

Women Suffer More than Men

These researchers have never lived in my house. The pain I endure.......

"Man of the house"

ziemer said...

its self-evident that more men go stoic and say they feel no pain.

but, as alice cooper says, only women bleed.

but kathleen described the whole situation even better than alice.

David Blue said...

Speaking of sex differences in sensation, measuring brain states, pleasure, and indeed cold feet: (link).

A.E. Brain has a lot of other interesting and relevant posts there. Enjoy, ladies. Gloat a little. Or a lot.

Bruce Hayden said...

I kinda like that - Law of Althouse. This may just catch on - just as Godwin's law did a decade or so ago.

Bruce Hayden said...

Possibly one of the downsides for us males of having more peripheral circulation is that in extreme circumstances, we don't survive as well in the cold.

One possible example of this was the infamous Donnor Party. Apparently, those who died were either single males, old, or under two, with one exception, one woman who remained with her husband and another guy left behind because he was a canibal. They were never able to prove that he killed the woman and her husband, but... In any case, a large percentage of the fatalities were adult males.

amba said...

All I can say to the last line of this post is:


michael i said...

Women are more likely than men to expect to be spared discomfort so one would expect women to be habituated to express pain quicker, more frequently, and more insistently than those of the sex raised to "shut up and take it like a man."