Hey baby, wanna…?
Ah, the American medical-industrial complex. It’s so good at meeting our every need, just as soon as it invents those needs, creates a pill to respond to the need, and then markets that need to consumers and physicians. A perfect system of problem creation and highly profitable solution. So it is with “female sexual dysfunction.” In other words, premenopausal women who have “suppressed libido.”
This week the German drug giant Boehringer got some bad news about its proposed “solution” to women who do not have sex drives that are deemed “healthy.” The solution is called Intrinsa and although Boehringer has been trying to convince American women and their physicians that there is both a problem and a solution with an aggressive marketing campaign, a Congressional committee found that Boehringer had not shown that the pill does what it says it will do.
Boehringer’s aggressive marketing campaign has included
a promotional campaign about women’s low libido, including a Web site, a Twitter feed, aDiscovery Channel documentary and a publicity tour by Lisa Rinna, a soap opera star and former Playboy model, who describes herself as someone who has suffered from a disorder that Boehringer refers to as a form of “female sexual dysfunction.”
According to the New View Campaign, a group that advocates against the pathologizing of ordinary and healthy female bodies by the medical industry, there are a lot of problems with both the drug and the company’s less than honest presentation of its research. Boehringer apparently never released all the data to the public, pooled its data to hide adverse outcomes, and presented data in such a way to look as if the positive outcomes were better than they actually were. For instance, “minimally improved,” “improved” and “much improved” were lumped together. Also, the difference between “placebo effect” and the actual drug was fairly minimal (and in general, placebos seems to improve women’s sexual desire in these sorts of studies).
But before we single out Boehringer for their fairly transparent effort to manipulate American women for profit, it’s worth taking a step or two back to the structural level to see what is wrong with the system as well as this particular company and this particular drug. The system of commercialized medicine is dangerous because its primary purpose is profit, and the only way to keep profits coming is to increase sales. And the only way to increase sales is to increase demand.
The way increased demand gets implanted into consumers is so sophisticated at this point that it is nearly impossible to resist. For instance, on the website for the drug, Sex, Brain, Body: Make the Connection, we learn that most women don’t understand that the brain is the primary sexual organ (um, mine’s elsewhere, but it’s stated with such authority that I begin to doubt my own body). We also learn that there are “neurotransmitters and hormones” in the brain that need the drug to work properly. We are taught that Hypoactive Sexual Dysfunction Disorder (HSDD) is a lack of sexual desire not caused by substances such as medications. This lack of desire is mysterious and not well understood, but
it is thought that some of the neurotransmitters in the brain that play a role in sexual response may be affected in women with HSDD.
It is thought by whom? The distress over HSDD comes from where? The company trying to sell us the pills in the first place? It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that the drug and the disease are humbug and snake oil. No one can say what ‘normal” levels of sexual desire are, but if we allow a drug company to run an infomercial on the Discovery Channel on “female sexual dysfunction” many many women are going to start to worry that their levels of sexual desire are pathological.
Instead of pathologizing women, why aren’t we pathologizing their (presumably) male sexual partners who seem to have “excess” sex drive?
Or why aren’t we looking at why the average heterosexual couple might have varying levels of desire? There are so many reasons that women might not feel like having sex with their male partners, but surely the fact that women experience the “double burden” of performing far more domestic work, childcare and elderly care than their male partners is one of them. Clearly the fact that all Americans are working more hours at work than ever, and women continue to bear the brunt of domestic labor resulting in far fewer hours of leisure time than men MIGHT have more to do with lack of libido than chemical “imbalance” in the brain.
Having giant pharmaceutical companies create standardized sexual desire and then drugging us so we can fall within that standard is not the Sexual Revolution many of us were hoping for. Instead, it is the disciplinary nightmare of docile bodies and standardized subjects imagined in many postmodern critiques of late Modernity.
Being coerced into having sex to prove your “normalcy” or being drugged into being sexual just aren’t that sexy. Pleasure is a complicated and difficult state to achieve. Making women feel as if we’re sick for not achieving it enough is not a patriarchal plot, but a capitalist one. Only when we push drug marketing campaigns aside, will we be able to focus on our own pleasures. And believe me, those pleasures are not to be found in a pill.