Jezebel has an article about Orgasm, Inc, Liz Canner’s marvelous documentary about the medicalization of women’s sexual dysfunction.
I’m about to piss a bunch of you off and probably I’ll get angry comments, but that’s fine because those kinds of comments are actually what I want to write about – the angry comments at Jezebel, in fact.
I read them carefully because I’ve been trying for a long time to understand the feminist yet pro-meds/FSD perspective. I still don’t understand it – as far as I can tell it fundamentally doesn’t make sense – but I have at least got a sense of what it is they’re getting wrong. Three mistakes seem to occur over and over:
(1) They discuss dysfunctions that are not the target conditions of the medications in question. “Female sexual dysfunction” isn’t actually a “thing” per se, it’s not actually a diagnosis. See what Harvard Medical School has to say on the subject.
Flibby and all the drugs I know of that constitute an attempt at “pink Viagra” target desire. There have been some efforts to medically treat arousal. There are no drugs, to my knowledge, that have targeted orgasm. [UPDATE: Tefina is a new addition – a testosterone nasal spray that targets orgasm.] Those are the three broad categories of sexual diagnoses. Pain disorders tend to bridge all three, and they too have not been targets for “pink Viagra” type pharmaceutical intervention.
(2) They mistakenly dichotomize “organic” or “biological” and “mental.” Pro-FSD feminists claim that anti-FSD feminists (like me) are saying that sexual dysfunction is “all in your head.” We’re not – or at least I’m certainly not, and I’ve never seen or read or heard anything from any of my fellow anti-Flibbers that suggests anything similar. The reason I never have and never will say such a thing is that I know there’s no such thing as a sexual dysfunction that’s “all in your head.” Neither is there such as a sexual dysfunction that’s “all in your vagina.” There is only the embodied mind. Education and behavioral training *change your physiology,* not just your “mind.” Just because the treatment goes from the mind to the body doesn’t mean it’s “imaginary.”
For the record, and for always, I COMPLETELY GET that women are suffering, and I want there to be effective treatments available. Saying “That’s not how this dysfunction works and this is not how to treat it” is not even a little bit like saying, “That’s not a real problem.” It is a real problem, and I am interested in REAL solutions.
(3) They claim women “already know” about their own sexuality (like where the clitoris is etc). But how could women know? They’ve been taught the wrong information their whole lives. I teach a semester-long class called Women’s Sexuality and it’s not enough time to teach HALF of what I wish all my students knew. A primary reasons for this is that students are not simply ignorant, they’re actually filled with incorrect information, with attitudes that inhibit learning, and with a couple decades’ worth of cultural shaming. Knowledge, attitudes, and behavior all fall short for the vast majority of people in America.
People making these mistakes feel PASSIONATELY about their beliefs and they have the best of intentions, wanting women to have equal access to sexual health and pleasure. Same as me.
Examples. Here are some comments from well-intentioned people, many of whom are genuinely suffering, making these three mistakes:
Tigrrl makes Mistake 1. None of the drugs tested have looked at increasing orgasm intensity. She also seems to imply Mistake 3 – she knows where her clitoris is, but apparently she doesn’t know about the non-concordance of physiology with experience; orgasm intensity is not related to physiological response:
While I don’t doubt that the pharmaceutical company are just out to make money, I am a woman who would benefit from some kind of medication. When I was younger, I had mind-blowing orgasms, 9-10 on a scale of 1-10. As I’ve gotten older, the intensity of orgasm has gone down to about a 3 at the most. This is not because I don’t know about my clitoris, nor because my partner doesn’t know about it. It’s not because I don’t masturbate, or don’t know how to use sex toys. I have talked to my doctors, I have talked to nurse practitioners, and most of them looked at me like I’m crazy and moved on to the next subject.
From the research I’ve done, there is such a thing as FSD. I would say that I am someone who experiences this. So, I would be so glad if someone would at least take this seriously. I would pay a lot of money to have good orgasms again.
nobodyr also makes Mistake 1, very angrily. (Dear nobodyr, consider reading Becoming Orgasmic, by Julia Heiman)..:
Netflix sez: “With humor and a wealth of research, director Liz Canner examines how drug companies promote and profit from the myth of female sexual dysfunction”
Excuse me? The myth of sexual dysfunction?
I know where my goddamn clitoris is, thanks bitch. That doesn’t help me… because I have the “myth” of FSD. Jesus. Christ.
Of COURSE a goddamn vibrator company is going to say that women just need stimulation, tu stulta. What do you expect? Why don’t you ask someone who actually has FSD?
My gynecologist told me women don’t like sex, that’s why I couldn’t orgasm. My doctor told me its okay that I can’t. And you think I just need to buy (another?) vibrator. All the same thing, really- because it doesn’t fucking help me.
Nerdy-nerd-nerd describes the symptoms of 3 different sexual dysfunctions (vaginismus, dyspareunia, and anorgamia), none of which is a target of drugs like Flibanserin, and she seems to be making Mistake 3 as well, suggesting that her knowledge (or lack thereof) about women’s sexuality is not a barrier to sexual health:
Before people begin going on about how this mainly or only affects women who are ignorant of their bodies or the fault of selfish partners I’d just like to mention that there are women who do have sexual dysfunction who are very aware of their anatomy and have decent, caring, compassionate partners. I’d even put that in the majority of women who would even consider medical treatment. TMI: I cannot be penetrated by anything above a centimeter in diameter without extreme pain, arousal itself can be painful as well, and orgasm is nearly impossible to achieve. I have had multiple partners with various degrees of experience and have, let’s say, a very good understanding of my own body. Despite all this there is no real difference in the amount of pain and discomfort I experience. I know where my clitoris is, I know that is is the source of most people’s orgasms, I have had very excellent and patient partners who gave up their sexual needs to adjust to my rather extreme limitations, I even know where my basically inaccessible g-spot is. Does any of that do me any good? No.
As I have not responded to dilator and other kinds of physical and sex therapy the next step would be using botox (too expensive for me right now) to paralyze the painful muscle contractions. I’ve also heard of some other therapies which could deaden the nerves somewhat and decrease pain which are also out of my price and practicality range. As you can see a pill that would help would be a substantial improvement over current methods.
MySandwich makes Mistakes 1 and 2 (again, orgasm isn’t the target for the meds, and it’s not biological without also being mental/attitudinal/behavioral):
what if, for some women, there is a biological basis for anorgasmia, or related conditions? I appreciate that blanket applying such a diagnosis to all women is clumsy and unhelpful, but some people, it offers a removal of responsibility – like when you tell parents their child’s ADD could be the result of genetics as opposed to poor parenting practises. It removes personal guilt and perhaps makes it easier for someone to face the issue.
Atomic B makes Mistakes 2 and 3, without specifying what dysfunction they think the drugs are for, thus avoiding Mistake 1:
Research into the issue being spurred by a drive for profits is hardly a positive thing, but it’s better than suggesting that a woman’s sexual issues are entirely in her head [Mistake 2] or are some kind of myth. If you feel something (or don’t), then you feel it, bottom line. A lot of women have been sexually repressed by their culture and experiences, yes. Still, they control their own bodies, not you, and acting as though they need to be protected from a drug that would presumably have to be FDA approved because you don’t think they really understand their own bodies [Mistake 3] is kind of patronizing. There are ways to fight predatory marketing of drugs that don’t involve acting as though the target market is incapable of making judgments about their own bodies for themselves.
Over and over, the battle cry of the pro-FSD feminists is, “I AM BROKEN DAMN YOU AND DON’T TRY TO TELL ME I’M NOT.”
I feel from them the same angry, starved desperation that I felt from so many people in my class.
My post yesterday illustrated the power of education about the science of women’s sexuality in helping women to feel NORMAL. Not broken.
What would I give to have each of these commenters in my classroom for a semester, so they too can learn to feel normal instead of broken, to feel empowered to deal with their sexuality in the context of their lives, to recognize the complex, unpredictable relationship between their bodies, their mood, their stress, their relationships, and their culture?
What would I give? I’d give hours of my time, clearly, writing a blog, just for a start.
I’ve gotten shit before for saying things like, “I am Pink Viagra,” but really. Knowledge is power, friends. With none of the troublesome side effects of medication.