An interview with Orgasm Inc. filmmaker Liz Canner reveals how pointless the search for the "female Viagra" has been. But luckily it's not the only avenue of sex research — and some are a lot more interesting.
Canner, whose documentary includes a woman who got a (failed) spinal implant to help her orgasm, takes a dim view of Western medicine's efforts to turn ladies on. She tells Broadsheet's Tracy Clark-Flory that treatments that simply engorge women's genitals don't work, and that the effects of a new drug called flibanserin on women's sex lives are really very small. And yet, she says,
I don't think that the drug industry is going to give up. They see this as a multibillion-dollar industry. We haven't been very educated about sex. Regular sex education rarely talks about where the clitoris is. If you have a population who isn't very educated about sex, it's easy to take advantage of them. They can advertise and convince everyone that there's something wrong with them.
Canner acknowledges that "a small percentage of women really do suffer from sexual dysfunction," but she cautions "I'm not sure that a pill or patch or nose spray or surgery is going to cure most of women's sexual problems" — particularly when women suffer from sexual violence, social inequality, and a lack of education about their bodies. In other words, the cure for women's sexual ills may not involve actually changing their body chemistry. Perhaps, as is so often the case with sex, we need to try a different angle.
Profiled by Mara Altman of Inside Jersey, Rutgers neuroscientist Barry Komisaruk doesn't study female sexual dysfunction per se. Rather, he's interested in what the brain does during orgasm, and how this information could be used to enhance pleasure and reduce pain. To this end, he asks female volunteers to masturbate inside an MRI machine while he scans their brains. With the aid of her "hot pink dildo," Altman "donates" her orgasm to Komisaruk's research. She's a little embarrassed at first, but manages to get the job done, and raises her hand to signal her climax. Then, she writes,
Komisaruk and Wise run into the room and high-five me.
It's strange at first, but then I start to think that all orgasms should end that way. They can't stop talking about my brain: "Your brain - it's such a good brain!"
It's not clear yet what Altman's — or anyone's — orgasm will show, but Komisaruk has a lot of provocative questions: "What is the difference between pleasure and pain? What makes something feel good? Neurons, little bags of chemicals, create awareness, but how? How does the brain create the mind?" And while these questions will obviously take more than one study to answer, there's something appealing about Komisaruk's holistic approach. Maybe if we paid less attention to finding a "female Viagra," and more to what happens to women when they jack off, we'd all be a lot more satisfied.
The Quest For The Perfect Female Orgasm [Broadsheet]
Rutgers Lab Studies Female Orgasm Through Brain Imaging [Inside Jersey]