The brilliant headline "Restless Vagina Syndrome" had me primed to giggle at whatever Terry J. Allen wrote underneath it, but instead, I ended up fuming at Big Pharma and the patriarchy. So, you know, must be Tuesday.
In the article, Allen traces the marketing of "Female Sexual Dysfunction" (FSD) — yes, the affliction itself, since you can't start marketing a cure until enough people are convinced they have the disease — which might more accurately (if less amusingly) be described as "Listless Vagina Syndrome". "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."
And even though the FDA has not yet approved a treatment for Listless Vagina Syndrome, the campaign to inform women that our sex lives are inadequate — but treatable! — is already working. Doctors have written 1.4 million off-label prescriptions for Viagra and 2 million off-label prescriptions for testosterone in an effort to alleviate FSD. And they have done this despite absolutely no evidence that either one will help a flagging female libido! Not to mention, "as filmmaker Liz Canner shows in her excellent new documentary Orgasm, Inc., testosterone is usually teamed with estrogen, which increases risks for stroke, cancers and dementia." Fantastic! Not only will your non-existent illness not be cured, but you might get a whole new one!
I should pause here to point out that there are doubtless plenty of women who wish their libidos were more active, or who otherwise suffer from something that could rightly be termed "sexual dysfunction." And as someone whose life was changed very much for the better by an ADHD diagnosis, I am wary of making any "It's all a plot by Big Pharma!" arguments that erase people who have real problems supposedly invented by greedy drug manufacturers. Nevertheless, the genuine existence of a disorder doesn't mean that aggressive marketing can't lead to an epidemic of overprescription and — especially when it comes to female sexuality — self-recrimination. And it's no coincidence that "experts" in FSD often have ties to pharmaceutical giants. Increased awareness of Female Sexual Dysfunction might be helpful to some women, but it's important that we're at least equally aware of a far more widespread sickness. As Allen puts it:
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.
Restless Vagina Syndrome [In These Times]