Think your husband is a wimp when it comes to pain? It turns out that men feel pain more intensely than women if the pain is caused by a similar method experienced before.
A team of researchers from Canada discovered that men are more sensitive and stressed if they know they are about to undergo a painful experience that's happened to them before. For the study, 41 men and 38 women were placed in a room where they were exposed to low levels of pain from heat on their forearm. After the initial low-level pain test, the subjects were exposed to higher levels of pain. They also wore a tightly-bound blood pressure cuff and asked to perform arm exercises for 20 minutes.
To determine if memory plays a role in pain tolerance, the same participants were asked to return the next day to the same room. They underwent the same tests, and men reported higher levels of pain than they did the previous day compared to women who did not.
"This is an important finding because increasing evidence suggests that chronic pain is a problem to the extent that you remember it," explained Loren Martin, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. "If remembered pain is a driving force for chronic pain and we understand how pain is remembered, we may be able help some sufferers by treating the mechanisms behind the memories directly."
However, there are some instances when women are more sensitive to pain than men.
Major operation vs. minor surgery pain
A 2014 Austrian study found that men experience more pain after major surgery, while women feel more pain following minor procedures.
For the four-year study, researchers interviewed 10,000 men and women within 24 hours after surgery. Of the patients surveyed, 42 percent were men and 58 percent were women. The participants answered questions about their operation, the anesthesia they received and their level of pain.
Researchers found that men were 27 percent more likely to have more moderate pain after major vascular and orthopedic surgery, while women were 34 percent more likely to report higher levels of pain after minor procedures, such as biopsies.
"The gender differences on pain perception are still heavily disputed, both in experimental and clinical fields. Our data do not definitely clarify this issue; however, based on our findings it can be presumed that the type (and severity) of surgery may play a pivotal role," wrote the study's authors.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in June 2014.