The study, published in the European Journal of Pain and led by Dr Osama Tashani and PhD student Oras Alabas, evaluated existing experimental studies published between 1950 and 2011, relating a person's gender role and their pain responses to tests such as pressure pain and electric shocks. Gender role is defined in the study as "the culturally and socially constructed meanings that describe how women and men should behave in certain situations according to feminine and masculine roles learned throughout life."
The research team, also including Professor Mark Johnson, is based at the University's Institute for Health and Wellbeing, reported that there is strong evidence to suggest that several painful conditions are more common in women than men including migraine, tension headaches, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. Additionally, women report clinical pain as being more intense and with a greater frequency. These sex and gender differences in pain sensitivity response may be due to factors such as blood pressure, hormones and body size but psychological factors including the social gender role were found to affect response to pain.
Dr Tashani commented: "Our findings support claims that learned masculinity encourages stoicism and encourages displays of withstanding pain. We found that femininity was associated with greater sensitivity to painful stimuli and this may be one of the factors contributing to a greater proportion of women rating their pain more severely than men."
This work builds on the team's extensive research into gender and pain, which is currently examining the different responses to pain in women according to stages in their menstrual cycle and comparisons between the developed world and the developing world of the presence of chronic pain in the population, focusing on Libyans and white British healthy volunteers.