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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