Pain in Women's Health: A Multi-Faceted Approach Toward Understanding


  • William F. McCool CNM, PhD,

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    • 1William F. McCool, CNM, PhD, FACNM, received his midwifery education at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC, and his doctoral education at Penn State University in State College, PA.

  • Tara Smith SNM, BA,

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    • 2Tara Smith, SNM, BA, received her BA in English and Theatre at the University of Delaware in Newark, DE. She has since received her certification in Massage Therapy at the Arizona School of Integrative Studies in Camp Verde, AZ, and has studied Ayurvedic Medicine in Kerala, India.

  • Christy Aberg SNM, BA

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    • 3Christy Aberg, SNM, BA, received her BA in psychology at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. She has worked as a doula and maternal/infant health educator in Providence, RI, as a member of AmeriCorps.

Midwifery Graduate Program, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, 420 Guardian Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19104. E-mail:


Pain has always been a part of women's health experiences, inherent to such physiologic processes as menstrual cramping, labor contractions, and uniquely female illnesses, such as cervical or ovarian cancer. However, the understanding of pain—its nature, its purpose, and its sometimes debatable need for removal—remains elusive. Pain's origins are in the physical realm, but it is manifested through an array of psychological, social, and cultural factors. The concept of pain is explored using an evolutionary approach to understanding the mechanisms associated with the physiologic, psychological, developmental, and sociocultural aspects of this phenomenon. The relevance of this exploratory look at pain as it relates to offering health care to women is discussed. The manner in which pain affects individuals and the methods with which it can be treated are critical elements in the provision of quality health care.