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The phrase "gender-specific medicine" first brings to mind the differences between the reproductive systems of men and women – men have a penis and testicles while women have a uterus and ovaries. If you carry this thought to the next level, you might think of differences in hormones – men’s primary hormone is testosterone while the main sexual hormone in women is estrogen. In reality, gender-specific medicine is much broader than just a study of reproduction.
What is gender-specific medicine?
While reproductive issues are all a part of gender-specific medicine, this new area of scientific research actually encompasses the full range of medical knowledge about both men and women. Gender-specific medicine is not about women’s health – it is the study of how men and women are different in all aspects of their physical health. Of course, it includes the reproductive system. But it also encompasses cardiovascular health, brain function, digestive processes, and even how differently men’s and women’s bodies react to different medications.
Sex vs. Gender
The difference between sex and gender is the difference between physical body parts and the roles played by men and women in a given society. Sex refers to the physiology that makes someone male or female including the sex organs and differences in chromosomes. Gender refers to the characteristics that are associated with one sex or the other. So a particular culture may define the masculine gender in terms of strength or ability to provide for a family, or other “manly” characteristics. Feminine may mean gentle, nurturing, soft, or any number of other things in a given culture.
Gender roles in a given society can affect all aspects of each person’s life, including health. Men in one culture may be more prone to catching malaria because women are protected from mosquitoes by culturally mandated clothing. In another culture, women may be at higher risk for illness because they wash laundry in a contaminated river. These types of considerations are all important aspects of gender-specific medicine.
Gender and health