Restless Vagina Syndrome

Terry J. Allen October 27, 2009

It’s not your fault, ladies (and cer­tain­ly not your partner’s), that you don’t orgasm every time you have inter­course, or that you lack the libido of a 17-year-old boy. You have a dis­ease: female sex­u­al dys­func­tion (FSD), and the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try wants to help.

By promoting the idea that ‘normal’ women have explosive sex all the time, BigPharma helped launch ‘female sexual dysfunction’ (FSD).

You are among the 43 per­cent of Amer­i­can women [who] expe­ri­ence some degree of impaired sex­u­al func­tion,” accord­ing to a Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion arti­cle. The FDA’s evolv­ing def­i­n­i­tion of FSD includes decreased desire or arousal, sex­u­al pain and orgasm dif­fi­cul­ties – but only if the woman feels per­son­al dis­tress” about it.

So, con­vinc­ing women to feel dis­tress is a key com­po­nent of the drug com­pa­ny strat­e­gy to mar­ket a mul­ti-bil­lion-dol­lar pill that will cure bil­lions of women of what may not ail them.

By pro­mot­ing the belief that nor­mal” women have explo­sive sex all the time, Big­Phar­ma helped launch the dis­ease. How­ev­er, the FDA has yet to approve a treat­ment for women who fall short. Until then, they could try the Orgas­ma­tron: a dial-a-delight spinal implant that rarely works – and risks infec­tion and paral­y­sis. Or, for $60/​month, pop Lex­aFem pills – con­tain­ing (how-could-it-not-work) horny goat weed extract” in order to feel like a real woman today.” Its web­site promis­es, You won’t ever feel unhap­py again with Lex­aFem in your arsenal.”

But the big swing­ing dicks of glob­al FSD mar­ket­ing (and off-label mar­ket­ing) are Pfiz­er – whose stop-gap strat­e­gy is sell­ing women Via­gra based on the fact that it works for men, and Proc­ter & Gam­ble (P&G), which, using the same log­ic, has put its mon­ey on testosterone.

Viagra’s fail­ure in tri­al after tri­al to work on women has not stopped doc­tors from writ­ing 1.4 mil­lion off-label pre­scrip­tions. FSD is a clas­sic exam­ple of start­ing with some pre­con­ceived, and non-evi­dence based diag­nos­tic cat­e­go­riza­tion for women’s sex­u­al dys­func­tions, based on the male mod­el,” said John Ban­croft, direc­tor of the Kin­sey Insti­tute, in an inter­view with BMJ (British Med­ical Jour­nal).

No drug fol­lows the male mod­el more lit­er­al­ly than testos­terone. Despite FDA refusal to approve P&G’s testos­terone patch Intrin­sa, U.S. doc­tors wrote 2 mil­lion off-label testos­terone pre­scrip­tions in 2007. Like Pfizer’s lit­tle blue pill, the Intrin­sa patch doesn’t real­ly work for women. No won­der: Researchers don’t even know what con­sti­tutes a nor­mal” female testos­terone lev­el, and women with low lev­els of the hor­mone are as like­ly as those with high lev­els to be hap­py with their sex lives. And as film­mak­er Liz Can­ner shows in her excel­lent new doc­u­men­tary Orgasm, Inc., (www​.orgas​minc​.org), testos­terone is usu­al­ly teamed with estro­gen, which increas­es risks for stroke, can­cers and dementia.

The com­pa­nies and clin­ics that nar­row the range of sex­u­al nor­mal­i­ty to porn indus­try stan­dards suf­fer their own dis­ease. Symp­toms include: a com­pul­sion to con­coct ill­ness­es and then devel­op drugs to treat them, and vice ver­sa. Either way, the syn­drome is typ­i­cal­ly accom­pa­nied by a rash of con­flicts of interest.

A Pfiz­er sur­vey in Malaysia found that Malay women are even more dis­eased than their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, with 69.6 per­cent expe­ri­enc­ing some form of FSD,” accord­ing to the Jour­nal of Sex­u­al Med­i­cine, which also pub­lished an indus­try-sup­port­ed sup­ple­ment on FSD. Jour­nal edi­tor and urol­o­gist Irwin Gold­stein denies a con­flict of inter­est. Sci­ence is sci­ence,” he says. It comes down to the bot­tom line. What the data shows, the data shows.” Actu­al­ly, no. Drug com­pa­ny-fund­ed stud­ies are more like­ly than inde­pen­dent stud­ies to find the new drug supe­ri­or to the old. Per­haps the bot­tom line Dr. Gold­stein refers to is his income as a paid con­sul­tant for drug com­pa­nies, includ­ing P&G and Pfizer. 

Gold­stein estab­lished an FSD clin­ic with Dr. Jen­nifer Berman, who now heads a Bev­er­ly Hills clin­ic and appears on Oprah. As one of the health pro­fes­sion­als on a 1998 pan­el that received finan­cial spon­sor­ship from eight phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, she helped define female sex­u­al dys­func­tion. Some 22 drug com­pa­nies, includ­ing Pfiz­er, had finan­cial ties to 18 of the 19 authors of that panel’s report, the BMJ revealed.

Maybe the best approach is not inef­fec­tive, over-hyped drugs with nasty side effects, but an end to dis­ease mon­ger­ing and a strong dose of com­pre­hen­sive sex edu­ca­tion,” says film­mak­er Can­ner. Her film hits female eroge­nous zones that phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal fix­es can’t find: your brain and your fun­ny bone. 

Ter­ry J. Allen is a vet­er­an inves­tiga­tive reporter/​editor who has cov­ered local and inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics and health and sci­ence issues. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Boston Globe, Times Argus, Harper’s, the Nation​.com, Salon​.com, and New Sci­en­tist . She has been an edi­tor at Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al, In These Times , and Cor​p​watch​.com. She is also a pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Her por­traits of peo­ple sit­ting in some of the 1900 cars lined up out­side a New­port, Vt., food drop can be seen on www​.flickr​.com/​p​h​o​t​o​s​/​t​e​r​r​y​a​l​l​e​n​/​a​lbums. Ter­ry can be con­tact­ed at tallen@​igc.​org or through www​.ter​ry​jallen​.com.
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