Packaging Women’s PleasureJuly 28, 2011 No Comments
Attempts have been made to map out the mysteries of female pleasure, but women’s sexuality continues to evade art and science.
Mind you, art has put in a valiant effort. Films have given us a representation of female pleasure that is so desirable we can’t help but cross our fingers that it’s real. Just as most of us have seen women reach climax in porn, we can all envision the famous “orgasm” scene in When Harry Met Sally.
Female pleasure is packaged and tied tight with a pink bow. Women moan and groan until they reach climax and then they lay back with a sigh of satisfaction. These inaccurate representations may give women hope their bodies can buzz with pleasure, but mostly they wonder what’s wrong with them. In real life, things are not so neat. There’s no plot when it comes to sexual experience. Most women need clitoral stimulation, some don’t. We’re all different.
But this has not stopped pharmaceutical companies from trying to capitalize on women’s insecurities. It no longer matters that 70 percent of women need direct clitoral stimulation in order to achieve orgasm. What matters is that where art and real life fail to give women orgasms, science can save the day.
In Orgasm Inc., Liz Canner, a documentary filmmaker, walks us through the swamp that has become women’s sexuality. Her involvement starts with helping her friend edit erotic videos for the clinical trials of Alista, which was supposed to be the next big medicine created by Vivus to treat female sexual dysfunction (FSD). The orgasm cream was termed the next “female Viagra.” However, we’re left with an important truth at the end of the film: women’s pleasure has been packaged for profit.
We already know this is true in porn, so you probably want to know what pharmaceutical companies are doing to package women’s sexuality. But the better question is: what aren’t they doing? Whether it’s a pill, a testosterone patch or a device like the orgasmatron (which “requires an electrode to be inserted into a woman’s spine to achieve orgasm”), pharmaceutical companies are in a fierce race to get approval from the Federal Drug Association (FDA) first and cash in by “curing” orgasmically-challenged women. Misleading and relentless marketing is at the core of enhancing a woman’s experience in the sac.
Orgasm Inc. exposes the doctors who say their real concern is women’s health when they’re actually deeply invested in the development of pharmaceutical drugs. Laura Berman, sex therapist and founder of the Berman Clinic, was “one of the principal investigators of Viagra in women.” The clinical trials proved Viagra to be ineffective for women, but that was neither here nor there. Berman continued to promote treatments for FSD, even going so far as to prescribe medications “off-label.” She’s now notorious for publicizing FSD drugs, FDA approved or not.
Ray Moynihan, a visiting editor from the British Medical Journal, is one of the film’s many advocates against the existence of FSD and a strong believer in the “corporate sponsored creation of disease.” Like “PMS” and “male menopause,” pharmaceutical industry players are creating a disorder for monetary gain.
The intervention of science means that real women fade further into the background. Charletta was one of ten clinical trial patients for the orgasmatron device. At the beginning of the film, she tells Canner that she’s always had a hard time climaxing through intercourse. After getting over her embarrassment, she agrees to be part of the clinical trial. In the end, nothing comes of it. She still can’t have an orgasm by way of penetration and is led to conclude, “maybe that’s just what the movies tell us is real.”
In other words, sexually, Charletta is the same woman that she was before science stepped in. She may not be able to climax through intercourse, but she can achieve orgasm without it. The outcome of all that time and energy spent on thinking that she was “diseased” and “abnormal” results in her rejoicing that she’s normal and healthy the way she is.
Canner’s film works to educate women like Charletta and to debunk the myths surrounding female sexuality. “If women think that they should feel as libidinous at 60 as they did at 25, a lot of women are going to need medication when they get older,” Susan Bennett, Professor of Medicine at Harvard, tells Canner. So if you feel you suffer from “sexual dysfunction,” it could reflect your age, a high stress level, or simply the natural outcome of being in a long-term relationship that’s not as steamy as it once was. Sexually abused women may also have trouble achieving sexual satisfaction. In these cases, Bennett suggests, you may want to talk to someone instead of popping a pill.
Drug companies are selling FSD as a disease because women are conflicted about sex and their own bodies. With an estimated 80 percent of women having body image issues, women’s sexuality is theirs to define and conquer.
Most young women are learning about sex from their peers rather than educators, who continue to preach abstinence. Orgasm Inc. gives women a much-needed push towards more robust sex education. This way, they’ll have a better understanding of what’s normal.
In reality, sex isn’t always stellar. Despite what pharmaceutical companies and movies might tell us, all women have a different pathway to pleasure.
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