The ‘Female Viagra’ is a Flop, and I’m Glad

by | November 27, 2015
filed under Feminism, LGBT, Sex

pills

A few months after the hype surrounding Addyi, the ‘female Viagra’, we are beginning to see that all of that controversy may have been for nothing. The thing’s not selling, even after being approved by the FDA, despite its high-risk, low-gain side effects.

What it has accomplished is leaving feminists divided on the medicalization of female desire – was the delay in Addyi’s approval, as well as the delay in taking our desire seriously in a medical sense at all, the result of institutional sexism? Was the decision to push forward despite the side effects the real sexism here, an attempt to commodifying our sexuality and appease men at the expense of our health? What about queer women, who were blatantly left out of the studies?

When I first heard about Addyi, the part of me that was socialized as a straight cis woman was deeply curious, and I clicked through articles with the same shame I used to carry as I tried over and over to be attracted to cis men. I hadn’t realized how much was still there. After all this time, could Addyi fix me?

Now, I am glad to see that Addyi has flopped. Of course I’m concerned about the state of women’s pleasure under patriarchy, because having once been a straight cis woman, I can tell you that it’s not good. But I’m glad for the underwhelming response because the ‘female Viagra’ conversations largely omitted what were, for me (and I suspect many others), the real reason we thought we might need a pill.

First, the concept of creating a pill to increase female libido is chock full of assumptions about normative sexuality. Absent from this is the voices of asexual and demisexual people, many of whom spend years trying to figure out “what is wrong” before accepting that not wanting sex is okay.

Even in the target market of sexual, straight, cis women the idea of spontaneous, penis-in-vagina sex on a regular basis just doesn’t match up with what we know about sexuality. Conversations around Addyi seem to take for granted that a particular kind of sex life is preferable to all others, and it won’t come as a surprise that it’s the kind that tends to appeal to straight, cis men.

Second, consider that the pill is designed to treat “female sexual interest/arousal disorder” as it’s defined in the DSM. Disorders comes and go out of the DSM all the time, and feminists largely know it to be the hot mess that once led us to be locked up for “hysteria.”

Until a few years ago, being trans was cited as a disorder in the DSM, and homosexuality not long before that. This is to say that where disorders overlap with social stigma can be a slippery area and the DSM is hardly on the cutting edge. The diagnostic criteria for “female sexual interest/arousal disorder” doesn’t even attempt to take into consideration the social factors of desire, or the natural scale between sexuality and asexuality, so neither does the pill designed to treat it.

When I think back to my years spent as a sexual, straight woman, and the complicated feelings and motivations I carried around sex, the thing I remember most is fear. We hear over and over from women that their sex drives are tempered by fear: the thought that going home with a new person might not be safe, or that our partners might push our boundaries if we are sexual with them. It’s hardly an aphrodisiac.

We worry about slut shaming, and ask ourselves if hooking up with someone is worth risking that shame, and we assign more shame to some sexual acts than others. We live inside a narrative that sex is the conquest of men over women.

Given all this, while knowing that there are real medical reasons behind a low libido in some cases, I wager that the problem is less often hormones and more often rape culture.

Sexuality is far more complicated that science has caught up with when you include all the things that get mixed into the equation. Early results place Addyi’s success rate (that is, resulting in more sex that women taking it call positive) somewhere between poor and mediocre, which is no surprise considering that the pill tries to solve a largely social problem by medical means.

Everyone who wants good sex deserves it, but let’s not pretend that the barriers to it will stop at the doctor’s office.

VariousPills” by MorgueFile : see [1]. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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  • Robert Keaney

    All of your points are valid. On the whole I believe you are quite correct in your assumption that its failure was a good thing. However I can’t help but wonder if there is a very very small percentage of the population, maybe in the .01 percentile, who could benefit from this.

    Maybe if we could cut down the side affects or focus more specifically on a specific target group then the medication would have had some sort of value. To be fair viagra doesn’t exactly “solve” problems with male physiology either. But then again there’s nothing cutting edge about giving some one an erection. It’s pretty simple actually. The penis is basically a giant sponge that gets hard when blood goes into it. Get blood in there, boom, your job is done. If the subject experiences an increase in libido then even better.

    The body isn’t that hard to temper with. But the mind, well that’s a whole different kind of animal.

    I think that if this medication was targeted at a smaller audience, if there was more research, and if the marketing was smarter then it could have been viable. But how do you pitch a specialist medication to a pharmaceutical firm? They care about profit. Something that solves a non life threatening problem for a very small group of people, not very viable. A catch all product that solves a general problem for a wide variety of people, now that is an attractive business proposition.

    Now people will argue all day about the moral implications of an medication. No one is perfect, especially not people in the pharmaceutical field. Their are performance trade offs with anything. Medication that alters the chemistry of the body is no exception.

    Forgive me if this sounds sexist or dangerous, or offensive in any way, but I think that if something modifies sexuality then we are going to have to tailor it specifically to effect people of a certain sexuality.

    I agree with you on nearly all fronts Felix. So pardon me if i’m just reiterating your points or mansplaining this.

    What i am trying to argue is that although this attempt failed I believe the over all idea is still a viable one. More research, more education on their proper use, specialized medication, and of course a great deal of care are all needed first.

    To be fair i don’t think we can blame the company behind it for this failure. Our understanding of the chemistry related female sexuality is decades behind that of mens. As sexist as it sounds, we used to believe that the constant flux of hormones in pre menopause women would make accurate readings impossible. Of course now we know that thats not the case.

    It’ll take allot of time to catch up now. Are companies really willing to do the research? Do they really care that much? As sick and fucked up as it sounds are they actually willing to put in the extra resources to make this medication safe?

    Any ways I’m sorry for reiterating your points, mansplaining, and agreeing with you from a different point of view. I appreciate your article and your well thought out oppinion. One day i hope that I will be as well educated and eloquent as you are.

    Thank you very much for this article Felix. It was quite thought provoking. I eagerly await your next one. Have a good one y’all.
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