Medicalization’s Effect on Care Relationships

“Spouses are central in supporting and coercing one another to obtain healthcare and these dynamics are shaped by gender and couple type”

(Reczek 566)

One of the most striking things about the culture of healthcare and medicine is the overmedicalization of women’s bodies compared to the passive medicalization of men’s bodies. In numerous instances, primarily related to reproductive health, women’s bodies have been a hub of the overextension of medicine. In these cases, medicine can interfere with natural processes of the female body when it’s not necessary and not wanted by the women themselves. On the other hand, this overmedicalization is not seen with men’s bodies. Rather, when a problem arises, men and society have pushed medicine, through passive medicalization, to come up with solutions. When reflecting on this and other course material, I was really curious about the connection that overmedicalization and passive medicalization have with caring for others and the role women play as healthcare advocates in heterosexual relationships. In addition to other factors, it seems that because women’s bodies and health are so medicalized, they are more hyper-aware of medical needs compared to their partners.

Medicalization of Women’s Bodies

The overmedicalization of women’s bodies can be seen most prominently in reproductive health. As we discussed in class, the overmedicalization of childbirth is a prime example of how medicine has interfered with a natural process in a way that is not exactly necessary. Many maternity care experts have acknowledged that medical interventions are not entirely necessary for childbirth and can actually increase risk (CHCF). Not only do these medical interventions, like not being able to walk around and being forced to lay in a supine position make childbirth harder, it can also make it less safe (CHCF). On top of this, medical resources end up being wasted during childbirth on things that are not needed (CHCF). Because medicine has interfered so much with women’s bodies and natural female processes, women have likely become more aware of every part of the health and body. Therefore, I think they may be more inclined to seek medical intervention when necessary because they have been conditioned to believe that everything is a medical process in some way.

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Medicalization of Men’s Bodies

Contrastingly, men’s bodies have not been medicalized in the same way. Because men’s bodies have not been medicalized in the same way as women’s, there is more confusion amongst men and the medical field whether some of the issues that afflict them are truly biological problems. For instance, the creation of Viagra as a treatment for erectile dysfunction came out of what is called passive medicalization, where people pushed for this drug and dysfunction to be considered something in the realm of biomedicine. Men and their partners sought medical intervention in the case of ED because it is a social problem and physicians may have been uninvolved or minimally involved in the past (Carpiano 443). Because of our social and cultural views regarding normal sexual function, a need for Viagra was created and pushed for. Therefore, factors outside of the medical field are responsible for the creation and push for Viagra rather than the medical field intervening in what is likely a largely normal process of aging (Carpiano 447). Evidently, men sought out medical intervention in ED because of cultural norms, thereby demonstrating that men have not been as conditioned like women to automatically view everything as medical problem. Instead, medical intervention was sought because of societal pressures and personal insecurity.

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Potential Effects on Care Relationships

The difference in the way that medical intervention is sought between men and women due to the different medicalization of their bodies I believe manifests itself in the care relationships we see in heterosexual couples. Even though a large number of factors play into women taking on the role of healthcare advocate for both themselves and their male partners, it seems that the overmedicalization of their bodies may be a leading reason why women tend to take on that role. Various studies have shown that “women in both heterosexual and lesbian relationships do more care work for a sick spouse than men in gay or heterosexual relationships” (Reczek 557).  While men still occasionally perform care work, it is not in the same manner as women and is often more instrumental, as Reczek describes (Reczek 564). This lends itself to women often coercing their male partners into seeking medical help for issues. This repeats the similar cycle of ED, where it does not seem like it is the men themselves believing that they have a medical issue but society and their partners telling them that there is something that biological intervention can fix. As Reczek notes, even if men recognize that they are sick, they often don’t take the next step in obtaining medical care. If female partners did not coerce or make their male partners insecure about certain aspects of their health in an effort to get them to see the doctor, then men might not seek medical intervention at all.

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When reflecting on these readings and the culture of healthcare and medicine, t appears that the overmedicalization of women’s bodies has led to their increased care work in some way. There should be more of a split between both men and women caring for their bodies, regardless of societal or medical pressures. While I think it may be too late to completely change the role that women play in being healthcare advocates for both themselves and their male partners, if less focus was put on women’s natural body processes and more focus was put on men being their own healthcare advocates, then perhaps we would see a change in the dynamics of these relationships. However, I do not want to encourage medicine to stay away from women’s bodies completely as much about women’s health has been learned in the last century. Yet, I think that the emphasis can be lessened and there can be an effort to understand women’s bodies without necessarily medicalizing every part of it.

Works Cited

Carpiano, Richard M. “Passive medicalization: The case of viagra and erectile dysfunction.” Sociological spectrum 21.3 (2001): 441-450.

“Infographic: The Overmedicalization of Childbirth.” California Health Care Foundation, 21 Aug. 2019,

Reczek, Corinne, et al. “Healthcare work in marriage: how gay, lesbian, and heterosexual spouses encourage and coerce medical care.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 59.4 (2018): 554-568.

Capitalism’s Overreach In Medicine

“As economic inequality in the USA has deepened, so too has inequality in health”

(Dickman 1431)

As someone who is a firm believer in capitalism, it naturally makes sense to me that the different sectors of our economy, like healthcare, should be able to function properly under a capitalistic model. However, when reflecting on our course, it is clear that our capitalist market has led to some gaps, particularly in regards to medical care. We can see these gaps in the inequalities across different races, wealth groups, and genders and while I still believe that capitalism is the best market structure, I think it struggles to work the way that it should in the case of medicine. Our society has likely overextended capitalism, and we may need to seriously reconsider if it is the best structure for medicine.

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Capitalism in the Current Structure of Healthcare

Currently, the U.S. healthcare system is composed of a mixture of public and private insurers and health care providers, some of which operate for-profit and some nonprofit (Tikkanen). The U.S healthcare system also includes government sponsored programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, that help groups receive medical care. As of 2018, 92 percent of the U.S. population was estimated to have insurance coverage, which leaves “27.5 million people or 8.5 percent of the population uninsured” (Tikkanen). Part of this lack of insurance can be attributed to the rise in healthcare expenses as costs in the U.S. grow between 4.2 percent and 5.8 percent annually (Tikkanen). Because of the capitalist structure, medical care in the U.S. functions almost like a monopoly, instead of perfect competition, where costs can continually rise unopposed as medical providers and insurance companies control the market. 

Negative Effects of Capitalism

As mentioned, the evidence as to why a capitalist market does not work well in regards to medicine is seen when looking at the disparities across racial groups, wealth, and gender. Based on our current model, many people need to work to gain insurance and afford medical care. However, this pressures people to continue working even when they are sick. During the COVID-19 pandemic, certain essential workers were deemed so necessary to our economic function, that they could not stop working. In most of these instances, these essential workers were racial minorities. Our extreme focus on production and economic growth has led to “Latinx food and agriculture workers [experiencing] a nearly 60% increase in deaths compared to prior years” (Maxmen). Because we want to continuously grow, we have let the medical needs of workers shift to the background, which has disproportionately affected people of different races. Thus, the capitalist model has led to a large gap in medical care for certain groups.

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The negative side effects of capitalism in healthcare can again be seen in wealth disparities. The large economic inequality in the U.S. has now bled into health disparities as wealthier Americans have a life expectancy that is now ten to fifteen years longer than poor Americans (Dickman 1431). Geography has played a large role in this as many health care providers work in cities or larger suburbs (Dickman 1434). This follows basic supply and demand functionality in capitalism. The increased demand for healthcare in more densely populated areas, coupled with the higher likelihood of patients being able to afford care or obtain their own private insurance, has led to the greater supply of doctors in these areas. Yet, there is still a large population of people who need medical care in more rural areas, which demonstrates that a capitalist market may not be the most efficient when it comes to healthcare. 

Capitalism in medicine has even extended into the creation of products and marketing campaigns to deal with natural body processes, especially for women. This is evident in the creation of hormone treatments and medications to help women during menopause. Many feminists view this as “a superfluous product designed to keep women sexually available and conventionally attractive” (Dominus). Because we have allowed a capitalist structure to take over medicine and medical treatments, large industries have developed with products claiming to solve all sorts of problems (Dominus). While some of the extension of capitalism has created medications that are truly helpful, like the F.D.A.-approved hormone therapy for women, it has also led to greater inequalities between genders. There are significantly larger pressures on women to maintain physical appearance and be healthy, and yet many female issues are still not well understood. Despite this, the market of medicine has created products and industries to “alleviate” these differences.

Concluding Thoughts

Clearly, by allowing a capitalist market structure to control the medical field, we have allowed gaps in care and inequalities to fester. When reflecting on these issues, it certainly brings a lot to mind for me. Prior to this course, I would firmly stand behind a capitalist structure as the best way for the healthcare system to function. However, now, I am not sure that is true. Nevertheless, changing the current operations of the system would likely take a major overhaul – possibly exacerbating the issues mentioned above. While it is likely best to move towards more universal medical care, it will be extremely difficult in our profit and opportunity seeking society. Even if we cannot make any direct changes to the market structure of medicine right now, at least drawing attention to the issues that the capitalist structure has created will help begin to possibly resolve them. 

Works Cited

Dickman, Samuel L., David U. Himmelstein, and Steffie Woolhandler. “Inequality and the health-care system in the USA.” The Lancet 389.10077 (2017): 1431-1441.

Dominus, Susan. “Women Have Been Misled about Menopause.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Feb. 2023, 

Maxmen, Amy. “Inequality’s Deadly Toll.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 28 Apr. 2021, 

Tikkanen, Roosa, et al. “United States.” International Health Care System Profiles: United States, The Commonwealth Fund, 5 June 2020,