In a few weeks, a new drug is set to go before an FDA panel in search of approval. Â It’s called Flibanserin (Doesn’t that just scream “sex”?) and has designs on becoming the female viagra; designed to treat a condition called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. Unlike the Viagra family of drugs, which work by increasing blood flow to the genitals, Flibanserin is purported to act directly on the chain of chemical reactions in the brain that trigger sexual desire. Karr on Culture takes a quick look on his podcast over at PBS. There is also a documentary film, asserting that the entire idea of female sexual dysfunction has been manufactured by pharmaceutical companies in an effort to create a new market for Viagra-like drugs. I watched the trailer, and without seeing the film, it seems to fall into the “Big Pharma” conspiracy camp, but some of the questions raised are interesting ones.
First, is this really a problem, or is it just a case of the pathologization of a normal range of female sex drives? What’s normal? I guess for me, the question is whether or not the individual feels it is a problem. Obviously, once we start talking about possible “big pharma” seeding of doubts in women, well, it gets a whole lot more complicated. But really, is there anything wrong with the pharmaceutical companies seeking applications for their drugs if those new applications will indeed improve people’s quality of life?
Our own ARealGirl, who was part of the clinical research team involved in the creation of Viagra, had the following to say on the mechanics of the drug and how it affects each sex (and why Viagra type drugs have not been successfully marketed to women):
Viagra increases blood flow by acting as a catalyst in the nitric oxide cycle. in the bloodstream. This process is gender-independent, and therefore should work exactly the same way in either gender.
Published data suggests men are much more visual-input oriented as a gender, and “in-the-moment” measurers of success and enjoyment. If the plumbing works, the event trends toward success.
For women, I wonder if it’s more “ambient.” It’s more about what it means and how the overall experience feels. If women enjoy it more if there is more relationship around the act. (Yes, I know there are outliers, but as a general trend, do men want to fuck and women want to make love?)
If so, the answer seems to be that men like sex more as an individual act. Who wants to market that?
As an aside, and in a totally biased way, I’ll say I’ll take a drug business that cares about the quality of my life and not just the quantity. And the only way they do that? By looking for lifestyle issues that might be treated. It’s how Viagra came to be, that’s true. But it’s also how allergy drugs came to be. And excema drugs came to be.
I think there’s nothing wrong with wanting to provide a happy life in addition to a long life. It’s disingenuous to pretend that QoL drugs are unnecessary. Unless they also want to say alcohol shouldn’t be marketed.
Personally, I wonder how much of this supposed female sexual dysfunction is rooted in lingering social and cultural hang ups around female sexuality itself. I tend to think of myself as one of A’s “outliers”, and I also tend to find myself outside of the norms on many gender metrics. I wonder if it’s a chicken or egg thing; if I’m just an atypical female, or whether by virtue of my various social deficits, I missed out on some of the socialization that shapes the typical female experience.
In other words, hypothetically, if you flipped the gender roles in this conversation utterly (women as the dominant sex, and men as the sex fighting for equality and the recognition of the legitimacy of their sexual needs) what would you see? Would women’s sexuality still seem so mysterious and complicated? We know that psychological factors are a major influence in sexual performance, in both sexes. Isn’t it possible that growing up in a society where your sexuality is portrayed in such conflicted ways can create just such a complicated animal? I mean, there’s just no way to control for the culture we live in. Not unless you raise kids in labs, and that’s just not possible (OK, well, it’s possible, but clearly unethical.)
Ultimately, I think many women are in a confusing place. In many ways, our society still has a major double standard when it comes to female sexuality. This movie poster is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
It’s 2010, and we like to think we’re so advanced, but here we are, clearly portraying a classic post-coital stereotype: A man’s pleasure and a woman’s shame. That poster makes me angry every time I see it.
Efforts to popularize sex positivism and the normalization of women’s sexuality, while being awesome and well intended, may be creating dissonance for women who do not have the underlying knowledge about and comfort with their own bodies to properly move toward more healthy, satisfying sex lives. For many women, it might seem much less daunting to take a pill than to actually sit down and have a discussion with their partner about their sexual satisfaction (or lack thereof). This, of course, does not mean I think these efforts should stop. Quite the contrary.
I’m positing this as an AI because, as you can probably tell by my rambling and inconsistent thoughts, I haven’t made up my mind on it, and I think it is a fascinating topic that you all will have tons of fun dissecting.
Do you buy into the “Big Pharma” marketing of diseases line of thought? If so, is this necessarily a bad thing? What are your thoughts on the whole female sexual dysfunction topic? Is education the answer? Discuss.
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.