The Quest for the Perfect Orgasm

In Orgasm Inc., the narrator was asked to create a sexually stimulating/erotic video to use during the clinical testing of a new drug (a cream) to remedy Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). She spent nine years documenting the industry’s attempts to get FDA approval for this and similar drugs. What she found was alarming.

To understand how and why this cream was being developed, they go into the history of FSD. Female Sexual Dysfunction or FSD is a term medicalized by western medical industry to describe a lack of desire, lack of pleasure, and/or painful intercourse in women. But this “disease” has its roots in a survey produced in the 1990’s which asked respondents to rate their satisfactions with sex – not in medical research. The reported statistics from this survey suggest that 43% of women respondents had some level of sexual dysfunction. Despite the fact that the author of that study later stated that many of the 43% identifying with some level of sexual dissatisfaction were completely normal. The medical journal printed a correction but the concept had already taken on a life of its own.

Because the FDA requires that a drug seeking approval must treat an actual disorder, drug companies need diseases. Ray Moynihan from the British Medical Journal calls this “corporate sponsored creation of disease.” Most professionals (medical, research, and sales) interviewed for this documentary felt strongly that Female Sexual Dysfunction was not a disease and that you don’t need a pill (or surgery or invasive technologies) to fix it. The exception to this was Dr. Laura Berman, a pseudo celebrity sex doctor with her own talk show and clinic. She continued to support many of the pharmaceutical options targeted at women despite inconclusive research and FDA recommendations. The documentary exposed that Dr. Berman had been paid by the pharmaceutical industry to support their products. She was being paid extravagant amounts of money to go on shows and talk about FSD, making it known to the public even though it is not even fully understood. Why continue to seek medical solutions for a problem that isn’t really there?

Even the representative from Vivus, the same company that hired the narrator to create an erotic video for her medical trials, said that the research and development into a female version of Viagra was in response to the markets. They did not even know what they were exactly trying to fix inside a woman’s body but they know they can sell it. Proctor & Gamble spent $100 million in advertising on their “sex patch” before it received FDA approval (which never even happened). New Zealand is the only other country that allows for the advertising of pharmaceuticals. Are their laws progressive and forward thinking or is there some another explanation?

The idea of something being medically wrong with you due to fact you do not fit the norm is also brought up in (A)sexual. In this case “normal” is classified as achieving an orgasm. This is talked about in “Sexual Intercourse” Kaye says that society usually classifies “any performance which fails to meet this standards- which comes up limp, so to speak- can be taken as an instance of male failure”, FSD causes women to believe it is instead their fault (NSSp. 117). When men can’t perform they feel emasculated, now women experience a similar experience when it happens to them because FSD declares that they are diseased due to inabilty to perform in the “normal” way. The general public does not completely understand so they choose to blame the way they are on outside factors. In this case, the pharmaceutical business is taking over this “issue” and has decided to find a cure for it. Many of the other problems that are attributed to what people believe to be as FSD are emotional and relationship issues, lack of confidence and past experiences. The connection between women’s psychological issues with sex from abuse is also brought up as one of the arguments in Buying Sex. People who are sexually assaulted, especially earlier in life have a harder time valuing their bodies and leading a “normal” sexual life.

The fact that FSD is a medical condition changes normalcy in society. All women want to be normal, to fit into the mold. All the ladies interviewed for this documentary wanted to be normal, to have sex and reach orgasm because that’s what they believed was normal and expected. Society perpetually bombards women with ideas about perfection and makes women feel self-conscious about who they are. According to this documentary, 80% of women have body issues. By classifying FSD as a disorder, the pharmaceutical companies are capitalizing on these body issues and adding a stigma to women who can’t reach orgasm though penetration. The connotations of disease are that a person is not sane and is somehow damaged. It adds to women’s insecurities and makes them feel inferior in everyway. A pharmaceutical company should not be able to have that much control over a women’s image of her body. The video even touches on how women are willing to change their bodies in extraordinary ways in order to make their bodies the best and the most normal they can. Why are women willing to take such huge risks (side effects of pills, creams, sprays or surgical risks) for unknown benefits? Why alter your physical appearance (in a location where you can’t even see) because society expects something different, smaller, and more symmetric?

Luckily organizations like New Views, led by sex therapist Dr. Leonore Tiefer from New York University, are working against the pharmaceutical industry to stop the approval of many of the drugs trying to get FDA approval for FSD. She is exposing the risks and the flaws of the drugs meant to treat FSD. She worked incredibly hard to stop recent FSD drugs from gaining approval but unfortunately some of these drugs were approved overseas. With the power over the economy and society that pharmaceutical companies have, is approval from the FDA for a FSD drug inevitable?

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