Not Every “Disorder” is Created Equal

Not Every “Disorder” is Created Equal

HSDD, Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder; FSD, Female Sexual Disorder – how many acronyms do we need before we understand that maybe the problem isn’t with women, but something large enough to leave 43% of women with this “disorder?” In our society, there is always a one-stop-shop, a little pill, cream, or treatment that will fix any disorder. But what if this “disorder” isn’t a disorder to begin with?


In the film, “Orgasm, Inc.,” the specific problem addressed is the medicalization of desire – specifically, women’s desire – in our society. Medicalization of desire is a concept describing the way bodies are diagnosed by the medical community according to quantitative means (such as how many orgasms one can achieve per month) rather than addressing the influences of different forms of sexual socialization. We’ve learned throughout this course that many aspects of society have unseen influences on our everyday lives – yet when a woman can’t achieve orgasm, it’s because something is fundamentally wrong with her body? Medicalizing desire means that, suddenly, bodies can be diagnosed and labelled with an acronym – an identification of a problem. If there is a problem, then there is a solution, and that solution happens to be just a pill away from changing your life! Medicalization of desire creates a black and white, problem-solution response to what is truly a gray area composed of many different issues and influences. This system run by large pharmaceutical companies ignores the grayness of sexual socialization, societal pressures, and the influences of these processes upon individuals within our culture.

If we take a look back at our study of adolescent girls’ sexuality in Deborah Tolman’s article, we see that young girls are taught by society to incite rather than experience desire. Women socialized in this way are taught not to use their bodies for their own pleasure, but to give pleasure to others. Yet, when these young girls grow up and simply continue to reflect a desired societal expectation of the “good girl,” they become women who can’t achieve orgasm because they never learned to experience and enjoy their own desire. Women who have simply reflected the dominant discourse of society for their entire lives are now being diagnosed with FSD or HSDD, but why? These women’s inability to achieve orgasm is derived from the way they are socialized into being. Shouldn’t the solution, then, address this socialization or at least be qualitative in some way? Instead of taking this approach, pharmaceutical companies have approached the situation from a monetary perspective. Instead of creating a medicine to treat a medical problem, they instead seek to transform one of society’s shortcomings to women into a disorder, which can then be treated with the likely expensive “cure” they manufacture.

The film “Orgasm, Inc.,” addresses the copious issues with drug companies’ mission to treat “Female Sexual Dysfunction,” but draws its scope very narrowly to heterosexual, female-bodied individuals’ experiences with the medicalization of desire. Intersexed individuals have experienced medicalization of desire by the medical community in much more insidious and harmful ways, yet no parallels are drawn between the experiences of these two communities. Where intersexed individuals are assigned an often unwanted sex at birth so that they may fit the social norms of our society, women who have adhered to the social norms of society are diagnosed with medical disorders so that they may continue to fit into dominant discourses of sexuality. Both groups deal heavily with the medicalization of desire and physical sex in response to dominant social discourses. Yet, this film fails to draw attention to intersected individuals, instead focusing solely on the narratives of straight heterosexual female-bodied women. By spending even a few minutes of the film addressing the issues of intersexed persons, the filmmakers could have drawn a stronger argument that the medicalization of desire is another institution of society that seeks to normalize behavior and enforce harmful frameworks of normality. The justification behind the “need” to address lack of female orgasm by pill and the “need” to assign an intersexed individual a sex at birth are essentially the same – both a function of our society which seeks to normalize behavior and enforce dominant discourses in the process.

In the popular Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black, a transgendered female, Sophia, teaches other women about the anatomy of the vagina. She is met with incredulous stares and funny comments, but this scene reflects a troubling reality that many women face every day – they are simply not aware of their anatomy enough to receive pleasure even from themselves. A society which teaches us to incite rather than experience desire is one we are all aware of, so this situation does not seem incredulous or made-up. If grown women don’t even know their own anatomy, it’s no wonder they are unable to achieve orgasm or communicate with their partners properly in order to do so.

The film “Orgasm, Inc.,” in discordance with the articles I had previously read, reflects the ability of large pharmaceutical companies to influence discourses of the media and portrayal of a drug within society. Additionally, this film made me especially aware of the gullibility of individuals (namely, me) to believe the medical community about things which play into existing social discourses.

If we were to take steps as a society to address the medicalization of desire, how would it have to begin? Could it be banned?

If the solution to this problem isn’t found in pharmaceutical companies, how can we approach a problem so large as sexual socialization of women?

Would we take steps first to limit the medical community by way of big pharmaceutical companies, or try to address troubling discourses which lead to female arousal issues at their very core?

Does the solution simply begin with better sex education for young girls, or does it entail a much more comprehensive, society-minded approach?

One thought on “Not Every “Disorder” is Created Equal

  1. Wow! This post is so impressive! I think that society’s impulse to medicalize desire is a product of laziness. It is much easier to take a pill or apply a cream to orgasm, rather than identify the core reason why some women have difficulty reaching orgasm. Contextual issues, such as stress, anxiety, one’s relationship with his or her sex partner, insufficient sex education, and one’s body image, could be contributing to why some women find it hard to climax. Medicalizing female desire may even contribute to not being able to orgasm because the stress of having a disease could be detrimental to a person’s ability to relax and release sexual tension. I don’t think that having difficulty reaching orgasm is a medical illness, but rather a social problem. I feel that addressing contextual issues should be the first step in helping someone orgasm, and that the medicalization of desire should be the absolute last resort.


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