I was really excited to see a new study come out saying that a touch from our partners can help relieve pain. It’s one of those obvious things, especially to anyone who knows about how our brains release oxytocin. The hormone has long been known to relieve pain as well as being the ‘love’ hormone.
It increases bonding between people, especially when they’re physically close to each other. For example, it’s released during sexual activity!
I wanted to know more about the study, so I turned to their free journal article on NCBI.
Write-ups don’t tell the whole story
One thing I found interesting was that the study is also heavily focused on empathy. Sure, a loved one hugging you while you’re in pain may help – but it helps more if they care you’re in pain, too.
Additionally, they studied both respiratory and cardiac response in both partners as well. Heart and breathing rates in the non-pain partners tended to try to match those of the pain partners when touch was involved. When pain happened without touch, this didn’t happen.
Anyway, I was excited to see that someone verified something a lot of patients and providers have known for a long time…
Until, you know, I realized this study was only done on cishet couples.
Why are studies always on cishet couples?
From the study write-up:
Dr. Goldstein and colleagues gathered 22 heterosexual couples for their study, who were all aged between 23 and 32.
The researchers asked the couples to participate in a range of tests that replicated the experience of being in a delivery room.
The female participants were assigned the role of “pain receiver,” while the men were “pain observers.”
There’s some good ol’ fashioned sexism in here, too, right?
In their limitations section in the journal article, researchers discuss how only females underwent pain and males were the outside partner. They do suggest that there need to be similar studies on same-sex couples, but neither address any other LGBTQIA+ community nor why they chose only cishet couples to begin with.
It’s 2017. Why is it that LGBTQIA+ people still aren’t being involved in research? How meaningful is research when it leaves out an increasingly sizeable chunk of the population?
We need inclusive research
Karen was in college when she discovered she was a lesbian. As a result of taking sexuality courses, she began wondering why cishet couples were always the ones in research and books. So, like all great innovators, she started doing the research that needed to happen.
Dr. Blair even did a study right after the Pulse massacre to understand how this was affecting the LGBTQIA+ community. Listening to her speak about the Pulse study was incredibly profound. There’s even a follow-up study accepting participants.
What can we do?
We need more people like Karen – and more awareness of the work she and others do on inclusive research.
Demand more representation. When studies come out and don’t include anyone other than white cishet abled middle-class Americans, we have to speak up and share that this is not reality. This is not inclusive research.