Today I saw this article in the Sydney Morning Herald that discusses the race to create a “female viagra”:
There’s a saying that goes … “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.
Therefore it is no-surprise-at-all to me that pharmaceutical companies (who as a matter of course make drugs and sell them to people) would like to have a convenient pill to sell to women to alleviate their “sexual dysfunction”. Hammer/nail.
There are so many things wrong with this conversation about why women don’t want, or don’t enjoy sex that it’s hard to know where to begin. Perhaps the most pertinent place is with “male viagra” and to define what it really is, as opposed to what this article (and popular culture) think it is.
Viagra is the brand name that Pfizer gave the drug sildenafil. Sildenafil is a vasodilator (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasodilation). In short, this means that it increases blood flow, particularly arterial blood flow (that conveniently carries blood to the penis). This is VERY, VERY useful if you are male, older, less fit, have poor circulation etc. It can make getting and sustaining an erection much easier. But it doesn’t create arousal.
So, viagra gets your blood flowing. But it does not create arousal. Let me say that again: viagra does not create arousal in a man. This is a common misconception, and one embodied in the title of this article. No arousal, no erection, no-matter how much viagra you have popped.
As implied by this article, men rarely suffer from a lack of desire and arousal for sex. What some men lack (due to age, and perhaps less than ideal health) is the blood flow to get and keep their penis hard. Women on the other hand often lack the arousal. Therefore it is pointless – in my opinion – to talk about a “female viagra”. Viagra works perfectly well on women as a vasodilator. The obvious problem is that this doesn’t do one damn thing to increase a woman’s level of arousal. It probably won’t hurt, but it’s not going to change a woman’s perception of someone who she don’t feel like having sex with.
What people who talk about female viagra are really talking about is developing a drug that makes women aroused (or some facsimile of). There is at least one very obvious problem here, so lets address it first: this is sounding seriously shady to me. We usually call these sorts of things “date rape” drugs. You know, things like rohipnol (who’s effects include: disinhibition and impaired judgment). If a woman can pop a pill to become aroused, then what is to stop someone else slipping them a pill to do the same?
I am sure that the pharmaceutical companies would be horrified to hear me characterise their work in this way, but at the end of the day making a pill that alters women’s state of mind to increase sexual arousal is a dangerous and very slippery slope. There is of course a common drug that already does this sort of thing. It’s called alcohol. Used in moderation it can be socially beneficial. Used inappropriately it can be disastrous – and people think that a more powerful version would be better?
A second problem is that, if you are trying to develop a drug that creates the physical responses of female arousal (like vaginal lubrication etc) then you are again missing the point. Having the physical indications of being ready for sex in no way guarantee that a woman will actually want to have sex with the man in front of her. Being wet, or having an erection doesn’t always mean that you want to have sex. Just that your body is ready to do so. Granted, for women who have issues with a lack of lubrication (as many women do post menopause for instance), then this could be a good thing. However that’s not really what the article, or the pharmaceutical companies are focusing on.
So, lets stop talking about “female viagra”. Lets instead have an adult discussion about why so many women don’t want sex. Or lose interest sexually in their partners as relationships age. Lets talk about how the concept of the “nuclear family” (and the social and physical isolation that causes) effects women’s libidos. Or about long work hours (for men and women), stress, debt, consumer culture, social dislocation, negative body image messages, hormonal contraceptives, lack of skill and interest from male partners, social pressure for “conventional” relationships, monogamy, and plenty more. All of these things play a part in women having sex lives that are unfulfilled.
And that’s where the answers to the question of how to arouse women lie. Not in pills. Not in miracle cures. The problem of how to make a man’s erection last longer and be harder is trivial by comparison. Answering this question requires a revolution in both our thought and behaviour. It’s little wonder that people and business just want a pill! This stuff is hard, bordering on impossible to address. However, if we look hard at our lives, work out what really matters to us as people, then we can start to work on changing our lives to support those things. It’s not an easy thing to do for most of us, but that’s the reality of life. It is incumbent upon us all to find our own path.