You may have heard plenty about the gender pay gap, but are you aware of the gender pain gap? Women in pain have a long history of being disregarded compared to men.
Find out exactly what the pain gap is, how period pain fits into this health inequality, and what can be done to relieve untreated pain, including period discomfort.
Different Genders’ Pain is Acknowledged Differently by Doctors
You would hope that regardless of the gender you identify as that medical professionals would treat intense pain in the same way. The unfortunate reality is that there is increasing evidence of doctors dismissing women’s pain and a great focus on men and the remaining population’s pain.
The gender pain gap refers to the bias against women or menstruators when it comes to the assessment and treatment of pain. Simply put, women in pain are often not taken as seriously as men in pain.
This gender pain gap isn’t just an inconvenience; it has serious and potentially harmful consequences for women and menstruators. When doctors downplay women’s health concerns, it leads to suffering due to untreated pain, misdiagnoses, delayed or inadequate treatment, and incorrect medicine doses…not to mention the frustration of not being believed.
Doctors Have Been Downplaying Menstruator (Women’s) Health Concerns for a Long Time Now
Evidence of doctors dismissing women’s pain is not just anecdotal; a growing body of research highlights the gender pain gap. A recent review highlighted several studies that show women in pain tend to be perceived as hysterical, emotional, or having psychological rather than physical causes for their pain (Samulowitz et al., 2018).
Sexist stereotypes that menstruators are too emotional or tend to exaggerate may be responsible for the tendency of doctors to incorrectly dismiss women in pain. Gender stereotypes result in psychotherapy being more often prescribed for women in pain while medication is prescribed for men in pain (Zhang et al. 2021).
Another possible cause for the gender pain gap is the lack of research funds invested in women’s health. Common issues like period pain and ovarian pain are simply neglected. Until the past few decades, clinical studies have been based largely on men. It should be no surprise then that when it comes to untreated pain, conditions specific to menstruators are poorly understood.
One such neglected issue is endometriosis. Diagnostic delays are very common for this condition, which can lead to physical disability and mental health problems. A search of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Funding Decision Database revealed that only $7.3 million was allocated to endometriosis-related projects over two decades - just $7.30 per person living with this painful condition (Wahl et al. 2021). Another example of the gender disparity in health research is that there are five times more studies about erectile dysfunction than there are on premenstrual syndrome.
Instances Where Doctors Were Found Dismissing Menstruator’s and Women’s Pain
There are several documented examples of doctors dismissing women’s pain. For example, one study found that in the emergency room, women wait an average of 65 minutes before being treated with analgesics, while men wait only 49 minutes, even when presenting an equal severity of acute abdominal pain (Chen et al., 2008). When menstruators do get treatment, they are less likely to receive opiates. This suggests that women’s pain is not deemed to be as severe as men’s pain.
A study comparing the treatment of men and women after a specific type of heart surgery concluded that female patients were significantly more likely to be administered sedatives, while male patients were more likely to receive pain medication (Calderone, 1990). Yet another study showed that women experienced a greater delay in diagnosis after the onset of symptoms for 6 out of 11 types of cancer (Din et al. 2015).
As is the case for many other types of disparities, women and menstruators of colour are particularly likely to suffer because of the gender pain gap. A review of two decades of published research in the US found that black patients were 22% less likely than white patients to be treated with pain medication and 29% less likely to receive opioids (Meghani et al., 2012).
The bottom line is that menstruators have trouble getting equal treatment even when they report more intense pain, more frequent pain, and a greater duration of pain (Hoffman and Tarzian, 2001). Thankfully, there’s a new initiative that aims to close the gender pain gap, starting with period discomfort.
AIMA is Stepping in to Take a Stand for Menstruators’ and Women’s Pain and Period Discomfort
If you’re a menstruator who suffers extremely painful periods or even moderate discomfort in the lower abdomen, you’ve probably tried a variety of ways to deal with it. From hot water bottles to pain medication, most menstruators have tried everything to avoid dealing with intense pain each month.
At AIMA, we are dedicated to bringing you safe, effective solutions that allow you to continue your daily activities with comfort while menstruating. Founded on the values of transparency, accountability, science, and menstruator-centric focus, AIMA is breaking the cycle of unaddressed period pain. Our CBD suppository offers a new, effective form of relief for period discomfort.
Are you a menstruator with a story about untreated pain, period discomfort, or anything else related to the gender pain gap? Email us or tag us in a post and let’s raise awareness together to break the silence (#myperiodstory)!