Gender expression, sexual orientation and pain sensitivity in women

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BACKGROUND: Despite a growing body of literature investigating sex differences with regard to pain, surprisingly little research has been conducted on the influence of various aspects of self-identity, including gender expression and sexual orientation, on pain sensitivity within each sex, particularly among women. In men, dispositional femininity is linked to greater clinical pain and trait masculinity is associated with higher pain thresholds. OBJECTIVES: To examine whether gender expression and sexual orientation are associated with within-sex differences in ischemic pain sensitivity in healthy young women. METHODS: A convenience sample of 172 females (mean age 21.4 years; range 18 to 30 years of age; 56.0% white, 89% heterosexual) performed an ischemic pain task in counterbalanced order. Desired levels of dispositional femininity for a preferred romantic partner and self-described levels of personal dispositional femininity were measured. RESULTS: Compared with heterosexual women, lesbian and bisexual women reported lower pain intensity ratings early in the discomfort task. Irrespective of sexual orientation, attraction to more feminine romantic partners and dispositional masculinity were correlated with lower pain intensity, and with higher pain thresholds and tolerance levels. DISCUSSION: These preliminary findings suggest that within-sex differences in sexual orientation and other aspects of identity, irrespective of biological sex, may be important to consider when examining experimental pain performance and clinical pain experiences. CONCLUSION: Larger investigations of the psychophysiological relationships among sexual orientation, gender expression and pain sensitivity are warranted. These findings may have implications for differences in clinical pain sensitivity of lesbian and bisexual women compared with heterosexual women. ©2014 Pulsus Group Inc. All rights reserved.




Vigil, J. M., Rowell, L. N., & Lutz, C. (2014). Gender expression, sexual orientation and pain sensitivity in women. Pain Research and Management, 19(2), 87–92.

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