Women's Pain is Not Pain

Samphire Team
April 11, 2022

Picture a quiet evening after a long day of work. You’re cleaning up after dinner when you begin to experience pain in your abdomen. It becomes progressively more severe until you cannot continue to complete your tasks and find yourself curled up on the couch due to pain. 

Under most circumstances, sudden pain of this severity would send you to the ER. But in this situation, you had noticed blood when you went to the bathroom earlier in the day. This means that you do not go to the ER. Instead, you have no choice but to take OTC medications and wait it out. 

If this experience feels familiar because your pain has been dismissed—because your account isn’t taken seriously, or because, like the above scenario, it’s considered a normal part of uterus ownership—you’re not alone. Many, many people throughout history have been told that their menstrual pain is not important. We often think about pain as a warning sign: if you are in pain, something is wrong. A broken leg hurts to tell you not to put weight on it. If you have an autoimmune condition, your body is trying to eat itself! Menstruation, however, is normal. This means that dysmenorrhea, menstrual pain, is often considered normal. Women are told that a true woman wouldn’t complain about such a situation—everyone else is able to handle it. Womanhood is pain, or, in the words of the television show Fleabag, “Women are born with pain built in.” 

But it doesn’t have to be, and isn’t supposed to be. Pain is bad! It lowers quality of life, puts the nervous system on alert, and has adverse effects in all areas of society, from school absenteeism to lowered work productivity. If we don’t think of dysmenorrhea as a warning sign, we tend to dismiss it easily. Sufferers of chronic pain conditions (who are disproportionately women) have long fought to have their conditions acknowledged, studied, and treated—but dysmenorrhea has rarely been part of this conversation, because it’s just a normal female thing. Study participants often remark that menstrual pain is just “part of life” or of “being a woman” and are unfamiliar with medical terminology or treatments, reinforcing this idea that dysmenorrhea is not a “legitimate health issue”. 

Because of this lack of attention, medical treatments for menstrual symptoms are far behind what they could be. Medical professionals and websites will recommend solutions such as exercise, a hot water bottle, or cutting down on dairy intake, even though any sufferer knows that these barely scratch the surface. When these are the only recommendations, they start to feel hollow, or even mocking. They could just as well apply to a mild cold. They do not acknowledge that a medical issue is at play. While lifestyle modifications can help a variety of health conditions, dramatic pain often requires dramatic intervention. If we start thinking about dysmenorrhea as a serious condition with serious adverse effects, perhaps we can start to think about serious treatments.

To get to this point, we must change the way we think about pain. If pain is a warning sign, then the menstrual process is defective—people with uteruses are defective. This is an ancient fallacy that haunts the medical establishment to this day! No normal human biological process should be thought of as defective. Instead, we need to take pain at face value: all pain deserves medical intervention. Severe pain should not be a normal part of a healthy human experience, and we must not continue to normalise suffering.

Here at Samphire, we're building neurotechnology-based solutions that recognise women's experiences and pain, and provide easy relief from them. Is Samphire right for you? Join our Fellowship to find out.

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