What Is Female Sexual Dysfunction? “Orgasm Inc.” Documentary Finds Out

When the pharmaceutical company for whom she was working granted filmmaker Liz Canner permission to film behind the scenes, she thought she would make a movie about women, sexuality and pleasure. Instead, Canner’s documentary, “Orgasm Inc.” turned into a story about the cold hard cash that can be made from making women come. Or trying, anyway.According to an article in Seven Days, Vermont’s indie newspaper, nine years ago Canner had just completed an artist’s residency at Dartmouth when she accepted a job creating erotic films for clinical trials of a drug that hoped to be like a Viagra for women. And lucky for her, the company, Vivus, also let Canner wear her documentary filmmaker hat.

The quest for a pill that could be like Viagra for women captivated Canner, but she was pretty dismayed at what she saw the pharmaceutical company doing in order to make it happen. In your Grandma’s era, it was called “being frigid.” But pharmaceutical companies named it “female sexual dysfunction” and the statistic floated around that 43 percent—almost half!—of women had it. Employees of Vivus were apparently still game to help Canner with her film, even though it appears to have become sort of an exposé. Seven Days said they spoke openly, if awkwardly, on camera about the new ailment they were working to “cure.”

So, what exactly is FSD? That’s less clear, considering even the National Institutes of Health concede that many sexual problems women suffer from, like lack of desire or inability to orgasm, can be caused by past sexual abuse, depression, stress, hormones, nerve disorders, or medications. But regardless of the many possible causes of bad sex, doctors can still diagnose women with having this dysfunction and, perhaps, needing a pill for it.

Seven Days said “Orgasm Inc.” acknowledges that some women don’t become aroused under any circumstances ever. But the filmmaker spoke with medical professionals who called a diagnosis like FSD a medicalization of sexuality and “disease-mongering.” In the film, Dr. Leonore Tiefer, a psychiatry professor at New York University School of Medicine and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said she thinks a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with women having bad sex is misguided and fears that it’ll be misapplied. Instead, she hopes medical professionals will use a new classification system that is more contextual to each individual woman’s life, the profit margins of Big Pharma be damned. [Seven Days]

Definitely adding this film to my Netflix queue right now! It’s good to be reminded that pills can help our problems, but they never address the root causes of problems that might be psychologically based. Just reading a little bit about this film, it sounds like “female sexual dysfunction” is très dodgy.

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