Orgasm, Inc.

Posted in Editorials on October 4th, 2011
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Although I missed it in theaters, I was able to watch Orgasm, Inc. on DVD this weekend. It’s a documentary about the quest to find a drug that can increase sexual function in women, a “female Viagra.” What I learned was compelling.

As you might have guessed, the quest for a “female Viagra” began immediately after the original hit the shelves, drug companies were heady with success and had dollar signs in their eyes. The filmmaker, Liz Canner, follows one company racing to be the first to stake a claim and win FDA approval and also the New View Campaign, a group of activists led by several feminist academics who claim that drugs are not the answer to Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD).

For a drug to be approved by the FDA, it must treat a specific medical condition. New View claims that FSD was made up by the drug companies who are looking to sell more drugs to women. I have always been skeptical of the claim that 40% of women are sexually dysfunctional. It sounds like whatever traits these women have in common would be within the range of normal human sexuality, which varies wildly. However, I was curious, perhaps it was like nearsightedness or flat feet – an incredibly common ailment but one that was also harmful and could be easily treated.

The opposite point of view argues that if women are having trouble with sex, the culprit may be that women’s expectations of sex are much too high or that they are simply uneducated. One of the women in the movie who claimed to have FSD was capable of orgasm, but could not do so during intercourse! I was aghast. Most women cannot orgasm during intercourse. Research indicates that the ability to orgasm during intercourse might be related to a physical characteristic – the distance between the clitoris and the vaginal opening – not a medical problem.

Dr. Leonore Tiefer from New View repeatedly states that an orgasm does not come from a bottle. She talks about how sexual desire is something created by the people having sex. It seemed like a call to women who prefer to view sex as something that “just happens.” In a culture that views women as sexually passive and objects to be acted upon, this is a challenge. It is a radical shift to see oneself not only as a person who is sexually desired by others but as a person who has sexual desires and can act to pursue them.

Orgasm Inc. explores other topics related products and services related to women’ sexuality, pornography and sex toys, labiaplasty and even media personalities who have made a name for themselves advising women about sex. A storyline about a sex educator who crashes an FSD conference, and a suspenseful FDA hearing create the climax (!!) of the film. This documentary  updated my sex education – there were several stories I had heard about briefly in the news, like the orgasmatron – a spinal implant that can dispense bliss with the push of a button that I had never followed up with.

In our increasingly sex negative culture, it was refreshing to spend some time thinking about efforts being made to improve the sexual happiness of women – even if many of the people doing it have agendas that are entirely profit motivated. In exposing the marketing blitz of Female Sexual Dysfunction, Orgasm Inc. encourages us to think critically about our sexuality – something that can be a little bit scary, but can lead to great beauty and joy.

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