Assess the Relationship between Sex, Gender and Health

Because sex and gender operate in most areas of our lives, they have considerable impact on our health and well-being.  Smoking offers an excellent example of how sex and gender intersect to affect health.  Differences in lung anatomy, genetics and physiology between women and men may create different degrees of risk for women and men smokers.  Smaller airways in women may serve to concentrate the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke.  Research also suggests that women metabolize smoke differently than men and may be more susceptible to lung disease and heart disease as well as to breast cancer.  At the same time, women may smoke for different reasons than men, such as creating an image, coping with stress and fitting in.  As a result, women have a harder time quitting smoking. For more information on this issue, read the following studies on heart health and tobacco:

While sex and gender can influence whether or not we get sick, they also affect the kinds of care we need and receive.  For instance, both women living with breast cancer and men living with prostate cancer report that treatment has had a negative impact on their sex lives.  While male sexual dysfunction tends to be measured and diagnosed as erectile dysfunction, sexual dysfunction among women with breast cancer tends to be linked to emotional and relational issues rather than physiological developments.  This way of thinking privileges the influence of sex for men and gender for women.  It also means that men are likely to be medicated for sexual dysfunction while women tend to look for social and psychological support. [1]

Sex and gender also affect access to health care.  Take the case of arthritis.  Women are twice as likely as men to develop arthritis and it tends to be more painful and disabling for them.  We might expect, therefore, that more women than men would be referred for surgery to replace hips or knees.  But research suggests that women are not referred as often as men because standards tests for joint damage don’t work as well for them and because doctors choose less aggressive treatments for women than for men.

[1] Reference: Kiss, A. & Meryn, S. (2001). Effects of sex and gender on psychosocial aspects of prostate and breast cancer. British Medical Journal. 323: 1055-58.

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