Gender Differences in Pain

Men or Women: Who is more sensitive to Pain?

Pain is a complex and subjective feeling. Each individual perceives it differently. However, there is a perceptible difference between men's and women's sensitivity to pain. Contrary to all claims, women actually tend to be more sensitive to pain. This is primarily due to sex hormones as well as social and cultural influences.

The Role of the Hormones

Women’s sensitivity to pain is influenced by the hormone estrogen. Estrogens increase the nervous system’s attentiveness and activity and thus the transmission of pain. This makes women more sensitive to pain than men. Because men benefit from the sex hormone testosterone, which reduces their sensitivity to pain.

But how do women make it through childbirth then?

An additional mechanism comes to their aid here: the release of endorphins. Endorphins are morphine-like substances which are produced naturally in the body, serve to reduce pain and are released in great quantities during childbirth. This makes the pain of childbirth easier to bear.

Social and Cultural Influences

Differences in upbringing also affect men’s and women’s perception of pain. Countless movies, books and songs have shown us: “Big boys don't cry!” This isn’t just a saying, but an expression of how a society deals with pain. Boys are usually raised not to show their pain. This is why men try to ignore pain for as long as possible and postpone visiting a doctor. Women, in contrast, have a better approach towards pain. They develop coping strategies and are more likely to follow medical advice.

last update:  23 Jun 2010