The orgasm. Slow building. All-encompassing. Mind shattering. It’s everything we strive for. But what happens when you cannot reach your climax? Is it disheartening? Annoying? Frustrating? What if there was a way to regain your orgasm? Would you invest in products to achieve this? Would they actually work?
The documentary, Orgasm, Inc., explores the many ways in which female sexual dysfunction has become an industry wherein several pharmaceutical companies not so coincidentally stand to receive considerable financial gain. Through exhibiting different companies and their varied methods of getting women to achieve orgasm, Orgasm, Inc. displays just how are far these companies are willing to go to sell their products. Such tactics include, but are not limited to, falsifying statistics and reframing trial results in order to make products seem as if they were more successful than they actually were. The documentary ends with none of the featured products being approved in the United States, but each company continuing research in order to be the first to administer a product to successfully treat female sexual dysfunction.
While the interest in treating female sexual dysfunction is a noble effort that should be explored and researched, Orgasm, Inc. demonstrates that today’s pharmaceutical companies are more interested in the financial gains that this industry can provide, rather than the wellbeing of women. This brings up many ethical concerns. Although the search for this product to treat female sexual dysfunction is completely phallocentric and heteronormative, what is more concerning is the fact that the pharmaceutical companies that make these products are also the ones that get to define the dysfunctions that they are treating, research the dysfunctions, and report the statistics regarding them. Even more, this documentary does nothing to explore how women and different types of women are being affected by pharmaceutical companies’ fabrication of facts in order to obtain financial gain.
The nature of all of these products that purport to treat female sexual dysfunction is phallocentric, and thus heteronormative. While some women are in fact heterosexual and or have sexual intercourse with people wielding penises, the focus on achieving orgasm solely through penetrative penile-vaginal intercourse stands to leave out a host of other women who, according to the pharmaceutical companies documented, could be within the 43% of women who suffer from female sexual dysfunction. This exclusion of queer women not only makes their identities invisible, but also normalizes heterosexuality in the eyes of both those who watch the documentary and those who come into contact with these products. What is more, is that queer women who may or may not suffer from the supposed female sexual dysfunction – maybe a different form of it – are not being provided with the help that they may require.
What this documentary also brings to light is the fact that pharmaceutical companies have a lot of power regarding the research that they do and how much money they can receive as a result of it. Pharmaceutical companies are able to define the dysfunctions that they propose to treat; this means that they are free to make their definitions a broad as they want, in order to reach as many people as they can, so that they can sell their products to as many people as possible. This can be seen in the fabricated statistic that 43% of all women suffer from female sexual dysfunction. What is wrong with the power that pharmaceutical companies wield is that it is falsely advertising to a multitude of women who most likely do not even need these products. These companies are unethically creating a false sense of sexual insecurity in these women for financial gain.
Although Orgasm, Inc. does skillfully demonstrate that pharmaceutical companies are mostly only interested in financial success, the documentary does not take into consideration how this affects different types of women. Throughout this documentary, the majority of the women presented were heterosexual and white, with the exception of one woman at the very end of the documentary. This is completely unacceptable, especially regarding a topic as nearly universal as sex and achieving orgasm. Because sex affects almost everyone, it is necessary to show the different types of people who are affected by these supposed dysfunctions. This representation has many negative effects. First, it further normalizes whiteness in our society by mainly displaying white people in the whole of the documentary. Another negative effect is that it seems as though only white women experience female sexual dysfunction and stand to gain from these products; therefore, women of color who could be experiencing female sexual dysfunction dismiss their symptoms because they’ve never had the representation that it could happen to someone in their identity group.
The documentary Orgasm, Inc. was a great insight into the medicalization of female sexual dysfunction. It wonderfully documented the massive amount of power that pharmaceutical companies have when it comes to defining, researching, and producing products for different dysfunctions and conditions. While this is a very important topic to highlight, it is unfortunate that the documentary did not explore how this affects different demographics of women.
Does the race of the clients documented actually have an effect on how women of color will evaluate their potential sexual dysfunction? Is there merit in only including heterosexual women in the search for something to treat female sexual dysfunction? Do you feel that the power that pharmaceutical companies wield is beneficial or detrimental to the search for products and medicines to aid female sexual dysfunction? What becomes the system of checks and balances if pharmaceutical companies relinquish some of their power?