Pain threashhold

Quick question. I’ve heard women have a higher pain threashhold, or can stand more pain than men. I have to say I’m a bit doubtful, how often have we heard women say “ouch, not so hard!” or “hey that REALLY hurts!” to the kind of horseplay that barely provokes any response from men. What are your thoughts, dopers?

maltese chicken

I’m assuming you’re a male, and therefore can’t experience childbirth to see just how painful it is. I would recommend you try couvade, and then get back to me on pain thresholds.

I too have heard this obviously ludicrous statement.

There is no way women have a higher pain threash hold then men. I’ve seen women squeel over near nothingness.

The only logical conclusion I can draw from this is that if women DO have a higher threashold, then men must seem to be able to HANDLE the pain A LOT better.

This reminds me of an amusing anecdote:

My mother was telling my father about a co-worker who remarked on the ease with which she gave birth. She had said of her children, “They came out like turds!”

My father replied, “Well, what do you expect? Look at their mother!”

I have seen some articles that deal with the psychology of pain and it would seem that in absolute terms it is not possible to make any meaningful comparison.

For instance, you may feel the type of pain associated with a sports injury and, though it may hurt a great deal, your experience of past events may lead you not to seek medical help as you feel it is not too serious.

OTOH even a relatively mild but unexpected pain lets asy in the scrotum may cause great concern such that you see your general practitioner soonest.

It is not the actual pain that counts but rather your perception of what it means.

There are good examples for instance a boxer may break a knuckle and continue since his priority is to win the bout but in other circumstances would wince at the pain.

The other classic example, apart from yogic practitioners, is childbirth where extreme pain is countered by the importance of the event.Though I’m sure that those who have undergone this will explain it far better than I can.

It is known that blue eyed people have a better tolerance to pain caused by cold but that may or may not mean better survival rates(compared to brown eyes-something to do with melatonin)

Those whose profession is to extract information are less concerned with inflicting pain and more concerned with pressing the right buttons.

Not only do women have a lower pain threshold than men, they also have a lit less gray matter in the logical part of the brain as evidenced by this statement. Being subjected to extreme pain and having a high pain threshold are two different things. We will never know how well men can handle the pain of childbirth but that is really not the point is it.

Lots and lots of scientific studies have been done on this, some better done than others, looking for gender and ethnic differences in pain perception.

Differences, when any are reported, are minor and these studies often conflict with one another, but there have been some studies that show that given identical painful stimuli in an artificial laboratory environment, women report less pain than men. Outside such a controlled environment, however, these differences are pretty well meaningless.

The major difference in men and women IMO is not in pain threshold or tolerance, but in their interpretation of that pain from social conditioning. Two different viewpoints here:

  1. Pain is Nature’s way of saying stop it stupid. Don’t do that! Find out what this primitive alarm signal means before doing further damage.
  2. No Pain No Gain.

Women tend to ignore pain less often than men do, leading to the belief that women have lower pain tolerance than men.

Eastern Airlines a few years ago ran a commercial that showed a man in tears in a icy cold parking lot and asked “Ever notice how much more stubbing your toe hurts in the winter?” and proposed to fly you to warmer locales to prevent this.

Pain cannot be experienced outside of the brain and the brain has many ways of adjusting the “gain” on the signals coming from the body before you perceive them. Pain medicine is a sub-sub-specialty unto itself, and a truly fascinating area on the boundary between psychology and neurochemistry.

Quoth mavpace:

Bzzzt, out of bounds! It is perfectly acceptable, in this forum, to state that an idea is not logical. This statement, however, goes beyond that to a personal attack on the female gender. This is absolutely not acceptable. We do not level personal insults in General Questions.

> I’m assuming you’re a male, and therefore can’t experience
> childbirth to see just how painful it is. I would recommend
> you try couvade, and then get back to me on pain thresholds.

In asking the question, I knew this little bit of illogic would come up sooner or later. Let’s say I have a friend who underwent, say, the agony of having a limb slowly ripped off. By the above reasoning I’d conclude he must have a higher pain threashhold than I. Pshaw.

maltese chicken

Well, I’ve received several personal attacks for my statement, and been assumed to be a female. I’m not.

Anyway, I’ve yet to see a single shred of evidence that men have a higher pain threshhold then women, other than the fact that “we all know it’s true.” Well, all of us here Klansmen know that them niggahs are stupider than us white folks, so I guess that settles it, no?

My understanding of “pain threshhold” was the maximum amount of pain that can be tolerated before one loses consciousness. I’ve looked it up, and my definition is incorrect. The proper definition is “the least experience of pain which a subject can recognize.”

So, does anyone have any evidence, beyond anecdotal, that there is a certain level of stimulus which can cause pain in women, but not men?

Another Country Heard From has stated that women actually experience less pain then men when subjected to the same stimulus, but that the studies are contradictory.

So, Maltese Chicken, Mavpace, MadHatter, anyone else out there: care to provide all of the clinical studies ever done on pain stimulus and perceptional differences between genders, do a comprehensive review of the literature, and then analyze your results? Until you do so, stop mouthing off about how women have a lower pain threshold then men, just because we all know that it is so.

I think my professional experience entitles me to comment on this subject.

In the ambulance trade, you frequently deal with people in severe pain, hence you also have to know how to go about relieving it. From my experience, perception of pain varies according to factors such as physiology, conscious state, attitude, previous experience of severe pain, pre-exisiting illness etc. It has nothing to do with gender or age.

I managed an elderly lady yesterday with a fractured femur sustained in a fall. Amongst other ailments, she has osteoarthritis, which causes her constant pain. Despite the maintenance dose of a paracetamol/codeine based medication, she has learnt to tolerate an -ever-present level of background pain.

Normally, a fractured femur is a massively agonising event. But this lady was able to tolerate the additional discomfort with relatively little analgesia.

Conversely, I also recently managed a young woman with severe back pain, caused by a past injury. Her heavy reliance on narcotic medication had become a physical and psychological dependance, hence her pain tolerance was extremely low.

I have also seen the same level of variation on male patients, because of similar underlying characteristics.

It is totally unscientific to make gender distinctions on pain tolerance, based on cultural and personal beliefs. To do so in this forum does not fight ignorance, and just gets in the way of those trying to find the correct answers.

Hi Opus1. I never claimed men have a higher threashhold than women. I may have implied it, but I’m really only casting doubt on the claim I often hear (almost always from women) that women have a higher threashhold. Your argument about childbirth was illogical, I pointed that out. It wasn’t a personal attack.

You said:

“Anyway, I’ve yet to see a single shred of evidence that men have a higher pain threshhold then women, other than the fact that “we all know it’s true.” Well, all of us here Klansmen know that them niggahs are stupider than us white folks, so I guess that settles it, no?”

Please spare me. I’m not a racist or a sexist. I’m disputing the idea that women have a higher threashhold than men, period. Don’t read so much into it.

maltese chicken

While there is no question that giving birth is very painful (that big swollen human brain), the mother’s body does release endorphins which help take the edge off a bit. So trying to duplicate the giving birth scenario by stretching/tearing/cramping muscles in guys or somesuch wouldn’t be an accurate mapping

And I’ve heard plenty of men whine like a baby when they have a cold.

Yes, we do… I’ll be one of the first to admit to being a pain in the arse when I’m sick.


Pain is a subjective experience. What is the measure of it? How do you define a unit of pain?

The most sensible approach is to define a set unit of physical damage, and measure the response. There are physiological responses (increase in heart rate and so on) that could be measured, but I would deem this an unreliable method of getting at the meaning of the question. Instead one is left making a statistical analysis of the percieved pain as self-reported by a large group of patients. Does everyone agree?

This makes the question practically impossible to answer, since the social standards to which men and women are held in reporting pain are clearly different. My personal interpretation of what I’ve seen is that it is acceptable for women to report levels of pain that, if men reported them, would be seen as whining. Others may disagree.

A few important variables, however, might include WHO the pain is being reported to. Men are often not open with strangers, even doctors, in reporting physical problems. This is borne out by the much lower rates at which men seek medical help than women (for the same conditions), a well-established pattern that often works to the detriment of men. On the other hand, I have observed some men to be total wimps when it was their wives or girlfriends they were complaining to. Women, too, seem to exagerate pain to their SOs. At any rate, any experiment would have to deal with the greater social pressure men have on them to be tough and downplay pain, at least in front of other men.
So I would make a distinction between pain reported in a medical study and pain reported in a more social setting where the dynamics are more complex (which seems to be part of the OP).

I could find no articles in PubMed that address the topic specifically, but there are some that seek to evaluate various pain treatments, and these often include gender as a variable studied. From my brief examination of abstracts, most of the studies found no particular difference in gender. If there were a male/female difference in pain perception, I would expect the gender with a higher threshhold to generally respond better to most treatments (the pain would not have to come down as far to reach acceptable levels).

On another note, I will say that in non-medical settings, like the family, my own observations can be sweepingly generalized to the following: Women “handle” illness better, men “handle” injury better. (Note that I’m not saying anything about who FEELS more of a particular kind of pain).
I rationalize this by noting that women’s bodies often act up on them (i.e. once a month); it’s a perfectly natural thing and they know it’ll get better. This prepares them mentally for other illnesses, like colds and flus and the like. For men on the other hand, illness has greater psychological impact: our bodies are betraying us, and we’re helpless to do anything about it! This isn’t right! It’s not supposed to be like this! Ahhhhhhhhhh! But when it comes to mechanical injuries - bruises, breaks, cuts, etc., men get a lot more socialization when growing up (especially in high school) to keep it to themselves. THIS we understand. No big deal. It’ll get better. Most women don’t get this lesson pounded into them to the same extent by their and peers (and adults for that matter).

Finally, a couple of biological notes. First, I’m aware of no physiological differences between the pain receptors of men and women. Can anyone correct me on this? (Receptors per skin area, firing potential, etc.) I’d be surprised if there’s any difference; I expect any variation, if there is one, to be thoroughly psychological.
Second, from an evolutionary point of view, if either gender is less responsive to pain it should be the males. They are much more disposable than females.

It’s also a different sort of pain, something which is hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t been there.

I’ve given birth twice, the first time with some laughing gas during transition labor, the second totally unmedicated. I’ve also had a badly impacted wisdom tooth extracted, with four doses of novocaine for the pain. Now, if it were possible to measure pain objectively, I’m sure the pain from the dental work would be substantially less than the pain from the births. I also had a big hit of pain-killers during the dental work, and it only lasted an hour as compared to four and five hours, respectively, for the painful parts of the births. But my reaction to the events doesn’t match the pain. Though I know my family is finished now, the thought of giving birth again doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The prospect of having another tooth removed gives me the screaming meemies; even writing about it is making me uncomfortable.

The best way I can think of to explain the difference is this: when I was having the tooth removed, or when I sprained my ankle, or during any other painful events like that, the pain has been sending my body a clear message: This is bad. Something is wrong. Stop it or get away from it, NOW! That message was completely lacking when my babies were being born. My body had after all been preparing for this for weeks. I won’t claim it was a pleasant experience, but there was nothing wrong.

This is a toughie, for a few reasons, and I think the best points are made by DVious Means. It is tough for a few more reasons:

  1. statistically, any personal experiences people described mean squat; partly since one observation means squat, partly since the overlap between pain thresholds (the bell curves you would get in men and women) is so high

  2. pain, ideally, can be quantified by chemical response (release of bradykinins, histamines, etc.) and their affect on the nervous system. It is difficult to do this based on the physical cause of pain (or “physical units”); though few would argue kidney stones are more painful than listening to Abba

That said, I suspect that women have a higher tolerance for pain due to emotional causes, and men have a higher pain due to physical causes. I see lots of exceptions to this, but I see more women who tolerate remarkable amounts of abuse then men, and I see many more women diagnosed with conditions thought to be due to “pain sensitivity” than women. This may be the best explanation for diagnoses such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndromes, etc. which are found more often in women. That being said, it could easily be argued that medicosocial biases make these “pain sensitivity” conditions more commonly diagnosed in women, that women seek medical treatment for symptoms much more quickly than men, or that these conditions are simply poorly understood.

To clarify, I am talking about medical diagnoses where no biochemical abnormality can be found but the person suffers severe and intractible pain in the abcense of trauma. These poorly understood diseases are often thought to be psychological, but since they do cause lots of suffering there is a lot of presure on doctors to consider them physical to avoid the stigmata of mental disease and make compensation easier. They likely are both physical and psychological, and could easily be explained by a lower pain threshold, or “sensitivity to pain”.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Nyah. Actually, women ARE more resistant to pain cuz giving birth, for a woman, is sumthin’ similar to sitting in a roadblock cone in manly terms.

But women are also a buncha sissies, and they love to complain about everything. But don’t be fooled, my friend: they’re tougher than they look. They can take ANY punishment. Trust me, dude.

I sympathize with the pain women go through, I really do, but how does birthing make women more resistant, doesn’t it just mean they suffer through more?

Also, I won’t soon get that roadblock cone image out of my head… OUCH!

maltese chicken