Sex, gender, and pain: The psychosocial context of pain relief

  • Samantha Wratten

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Pain is a fundamental aspect of the human experience, but there is great variability in experiences of pain. Notably, there is variability based on sex category (male or female, based on biological differences in chromosomes, hormones, and sex organs; Unger, 1979), with women reporting pain more frequently, in more bodily locations, and of longer duration than men (Melchior, Poisbeau, Gaumond, & Marchand, 2016). Gender is a psychosocial construct which may help to explain sex differences, referring to the psychological and sociocultural attributes typically associated with being male or female, such as masculinity and femininity. Whilst gender has received some attention in relation to pain expression, few investigations have explored gender in relation to pain coping. Due to the complexities of studying coping, I decided to focus on one aspect of coping: attempts to relieve pain, rather than to tolerate or endure pain.My primary research aim was to explore the challenges that gender roles, norms, and stereotypes might pose to men and women seeking pain relief. Throughout this thesis I present a literature review and six empirical studies designed to achieve this aim. Collectively, my findings show that gender is indeed relevant to pain relief contexts, potentially more so than sex. In particular, it seems that masculinity poses more barriers to ‘effective’ pain relief than femininity does. Masculinity favours ignoring the pain, and discourages consulting a healthcare professional, however the relationship between masculinity and analgesic consumption seems less clear. Whilst femininity seems less connected to how women are expected to relieve pain, there was some evidence that femininity encourages analgesic consumption, but at times can pose barriers to healthcare utilisation. My results describe the gendered context in which men and women experience pain and the associated norms and expectations, thus having implications for pain research and management.
Date of Award1 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorEdmund Keogh (Supervisor) & Chris Eccleston (Supervisor)


  • sex
  • gender
  • pain relief
  • pain

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