FEMALE PLEASURE MAY BE TRENDING, BUT FEMALE PAIN IS STILL BEING OVERLOOKED
PEOPLE WHO MENSTRUATE HAVE BEEN SUFFERING IN SILENCE FOR CENTURIES. THE PATRIARCHY AND STIGMAS SURROUNDING DYSMENORRHEA HAVE CREATED A GENDER PAIN GAP. WHILE THE SEXUAL WELLNESS REVOLUTION MAY BE CHAMPIONING FEMALE PLEASURE, THERE’S STILL A LOT TO DO IN THE REALM OF PAIN. CAN FEMTECH BRIDGE THE GAP?
[originally commissioned by CANVAS8].
HIGHLIGHTS + DATA
- 61% of people who menstruate say the discomfort disrupts their life in more ways than one (Study Finds, 2022)
- In the US, 6.5 million women, trans, and nonbinary people suffer from endometriosis (OWH, 2019)
- 79% of women admit to not seeking help from a doctor or healthcare professional, despite worrying symptoms (Bodyform, 2020)
- Women, and the conditions that affect them, are often misdiagnosed, mistreated, and misunderstood by medical professionals
- Women are looking for more effective pain-reducing products than are typically offered to treat period pain
- The lack of research and funding into female pain has menstrual brands and femtech companies jumping in to create and circulate educational resources
For centuries, when women complained about pain, they were readily diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ – the alleged mental health condition that explained any behaviors or symptoms men deemed ‘irregular’ or uncomfortable for them to deal with. [Medical News Today (October 2020)] Fast forward to today, and women’s bodies are still terribly misunderstood and under researched by the medical world, which still focuses its attention on the male anatomy – for example, the anatomy of the clitoris was only mapped in 2005. [Well and Good (October 2021)] And for the first time this year – yes, 2022 – a study demonstrated that neurons in the spinal cord process pain signals differently in women compared to men. [Neuroscience News (March 2022)] While it has long been known that women and men experience pain differently, most research only uses male mammals for its experiments. The gender pain gap has gone on for far too long.
While hysteria may have occurred centuries ago, you can liken it to a new phenomenon initially reported by The New York Times this year, which dubbed health disparities occuring to women and people of color as ‘medical gaslighting’. For example, a mom nearly died after doctors repeatedly overlooked her symptoms, saying she was just ‘getting fat’, and a SoulCycle instructor had a stroke at 33, but says doctors dismissed her because they didn’t recognize her symptoms of stomach pains and double vision. [New York Post (April 2022)] [Insider (December 2021)] These kinds of stories are not unique, and many women are taking to Instagram to share their own experiences. What they demonstrate is that women are often diagnosed and treated differently by doctors than men are, and the same is true for women of color, who are treated differently than their White counterparts, with racism affecting Black women’s reproductive health care access, utilization, and experience. [Health Affairs (February 2022)]
The past two years have done wonders in bringing female pleasure into the mainstream: we’ve collectively binge-watched Normal People, Sex Education, and Bridgerton – shows that put inclusive sex positivity front and center. And most notably, we finally have a movie that normalizes periods: Disney’s latest animated film, Turning Red, depicts an adolescent girl going through puberty, dealing with cultural expectations, and her newfound tendency to turn into a giant red panda when overtaken by emotion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the movie is the first from the multinational entertainment and media conglomerate to be written and produced solely by women. Director Domee Shi and co-writer Julia Cho imagined a very apt metaphor “to describe the discombobulating experience of becoming a teenager and the accompanying changes that happen to one’s body. [The New York Times (March 2022)] While Turning Red may be a step in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go.