Seeking the Solution for Women’s Pain
I recently hosted a dinner party for myself and a group of friends. Among the chatter, summer heat and grilled entrees, the night pivoted into a territory that many dinner parties these days tend to venture into. Once stomachs were full and a few drinks were poured, the conversation swayed toward politics and society. With a balanced group of men and women, the conversation lingered on gender for a little while.
“It’s crazy that so much of what we grow up with is a lie,” one of my friends sighed. She was so right. We talked about the gender constructs that we’ve all grown up with and how much they can have an effect on our adult lives though we’ve learned to understand how ridiculous they are. The idea that women are strictly delicate and men are the strong ones; that it’s an insult when boys “throw like a girl” or when someone needs to “grow a pair.”
“When people tell you to grow a pair, they really should be referring to ovaries,” another friend quipped. We all chuckled at the joke, but the statement stuck with me. Why are men the default “tougher sex” when women tend to put up with a lot more? Not only in terms of life, but even when dealing with physical pain.
Some studies show that women may actually experience pain more intensely than men, and we usually experience it more often (monthly period cramps, childbirth, hormones, waxes, plucking, and the list goes on). What’s more is that our pain is usually ignored, causing many women to deal with chronic issues that go untreated. Though you’d think the “delicate” stereotype for women means doctors are jumping to make us the most comfortable, it’s usually the opposite. Women are less likely to receive prescriptions for painkillers than men and have to undergo longer wait times on average for an analgesic at the doctor’s office. What’s happening at the doctor’s office is a type of gaslighting, where women aren’t always believed when they express their pain, and they’re told it might just be happening in their heads.
Unfortunately, the gendered problems with pain management are deeply entrenched in our medical system. Implicit biases in favor of men have taken the lead when it comes to research into pain management, either leaving women out altogether or lumping data into one set. In both situations, women’s pain is ignored or analyzed as though it is the same as men’s.
This neglect has also carried over to the pharmaceutical industry, where new drugs undergo clinical research with men in mind as the standard patient. This is evident through a variety of common diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. It’s currently the number one cause of death for women in the U.S., yet only one-third of cardiovascular clinical trial patients are women. The outcome means that some drugs may not be as effective for women, or could possibly cause more harm than good.
This phenomenon is happening to women of all ages and stages of life, including young adults, pregnant women, middle-aged women, and seniors. The problem is even worse for women of color, who tend to hold even less of a priority within the medical and research world. Think back to tennis star Serena Williams’ pregnancy that made headlines in 2017. Even though she is a wealthy celebrity, her doctors still hesitated to give her a CT scan when she was in post-partum pain and knew she had developed an embolism. The CT scan that did end up saving her life was because of her own prior health knowledge and continued requests to her doctors.
While more women continue to speak up about their medical experiences, more awareness is beginning to grow. Activists and medical providers are beginning to push for more individualized medicine and complete, unbiased clinical studies for all types of pharmaceuticals. It’s hopeful that the medical community will progress to meet all women’s needs. In the meantime, however, women are beginning to take matters into their own hands to find solutions for their pain.
The market for women’s health was worth $29 billion in 2015 and continues to grow at an estimated rate of 3.9% each year. When you understand the lack of help and information that women are experiencing at the doctor’s office, it makes sense that we’re turning to other avenues. The wellness industry overall is experiencing surges from the growing segment of Generation X and Baby Boomers with more disposable income than younger generations. These women are finding their answers through health specialists like nutritionists or the internet. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, a company that focuses on alternative medicine and wellness, has grown to a $250 billion company in only ten years. Most doctors will tell you that Google and WebMD are the enemy, and this is true when people are self-diagnosing serious conditions. But where else is there to turn when the system that’s supposed to help you has failed you?
Trendy products might seem like a passing phase at your local store, but the reality is that women are turning out in droves to use these products for their health. Some of this includes food and beverage innovations like dairy-free milks, MCT oil, and collagen peptides, but women are also looking to dietary supplements, vitamins and CBD products to help manage their pain and symptoms.
CBD oil in particular is a relatively new addition to the health and wellness market that’s experiencing a boom of success. Since it’s a compound from the cannabis plant, it’s been illegal for quite some time. With the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp, however, CBD sourced from hemp plants with less than 0.3% THC was made federally legal. That’s why you’ve only just been starting to see CBD oils, lotions, and salves pop up in stores and markets around you. Though there is still much research to be done with the compound to determine its true effectiveness and long-term symptoms, early research and users have reported benefits for a variety of conditions.
Women are turning to CBD to treat period pain, migraines, insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety and more. Though middle-aged and older women are starting to take up one of the biggest CBD market shares, young-adults and women as young as 18 are also seeing benefits. For millennials, the compound helps treat common anxiety problems that are felt throughout the generation (the effects of Instagram, perhaps?). On the other hand, Generation X and Baby Boomers are prioritizing pain relief and sleep improvement through CBD products. Even without substantial research to back it up, these women are overall satisfied with the relief they’re getting through store-bought CBD. In fact, a recent study showed that only small segments between 2%-10% of each generation (Gen X’ers, Millennials, and Baby Boomers) were dissatisfied with CBD at all, while the rest ranged from slightly to extremely satisfied.
In fact, a recent study showed that only small segments between 2%-10% of each generation were dissatisfied with CBD at all, while the rest ranged from slightly to extremely satisfied.
At my dinner party alone, I could have counted a handful of women trying new diets or even using products like CBD to treat different symptoms. The reality is that modern lifestyles create a host of problems for men and women alike. While your doctor should always be the best place to turn to for a solution, women are unfortunately being let down in every aspect; from routine visits to major surgery and more. In seeking the solution for women’s pain, I hope that research moving forward can place a focus on both bettering the medical system as well as the wellness industry. Women are tough, but we shouldn’t have to keep toughing it out.