Viagra for Girls
Medical Light Bulbs Can't Switch off Relationship Woes
by Barbara Sumner Burstyn
I have a confession. When Viagra first came out, I gave it a go. Purely in the interests of research, you understand.
It was an unnerving experience. The blood accelerating through my veins to a single destination. Once there, it was as though I had a massive migraine down below. There was a distressing intensity that gave me a new respect for the forces that men must grapple with regularly.
It was like being inside that old anti-male joke: if I could have a penis for a day, I'd stay home and wait for it to go away. But seriously, if that was male sexual desire then no wonder men are from Mars.
But, of course, it's not. While Viagra's success may have been based on a simplified answer to impotence: the if-you-build-it-they'll-come theory, sexual relationships turn out to be more complex.
Dr Abraham Morgentaler, a urologist at Harvard Medical School, says in his book The Viagra Myth that the drug has left a trail of broken relationships and shattered expectations. He estimates that sales of Viagra are down by 50 per cent and says many of his patients have come to realise that achieving a great erection does not solve their relationship problems. In fact, it has often made them worse.
Another light-bulb moment in the history of medical science. Sadly it isn't illuminating enough to halt the race to replace the lost sales of Viagra.
Now female sexuality is about to receive a makeover. Ten pharmaceutical companies are thought to be racing to create a feminine Viagra bonanza. But, for now, the way is being paved by herbal supplements. First out of the gates is Avlimil.
US print and television advertisements claim that 50 million women suffer from sexual dysfunction. "Reclaim Your Sensuality", their ads shriek. "They have Viagra. Now we have Avlimil."
While men were duped (although realistically, they didn't take a lot of convincing) into believing that erectile function was the basis of relationship success, the new products are attempting to be a little more sophisticated. They claim to address the whole issue of female sexual dysfunction.
Packaged like contraceptives pills and, like the Pill, designed to be taken every day, it's as though the implication of a daily dosage designed to keep you sexually available has passed the makers by. As if they're intent on reinventing the sexual dynamic in relationships, thereby reducing it to a series of treatable external impediments to the holy grail of orgasm.
Avlimil's website states that things such as stress, depression, childbirth, medications and hormonal fluctuations all effect sexual arousal. Reading their blurb is like listening to your former husband's point of view. It makes sense only if you close one eye and half your mind in an attempt to understand the left-brain logic of it.
None of these things creates sexual dysfunction. Instead, a reduction in sexual desire following childbirth, a bout of depression or the hormonal fluctuations of maturing are not symptoms - they're signposts, flashing neon's to the complexity of each of us.
We are not purely sexual and we do not exist to satisfy sexual desire, ours or theirs.
And that's the crux of this issue. As the advertising inevitably increases, so will the expectations of our sexual response. As we compare ourselves against a pharmaceutically defined norm, so will men.
In many ways this move towards creating the entirely sexually available woman is the logical step that began with the contraceptive pill.
Aside from the huge gains women experienced by being able to control conception, there was, and is, a downside to the Pill that is rarely talked about: the subtle attitude change that men had to women when their sexual availability opened up. This new pill will take that underlying attitude and ratchet it up more than a few notches.
Controlled by medication, desire becomes a commodity, something you buy, not something you own. By entering the realm of women's sexual response and defining it by diagnosis and dosage, the chemists are plunging into privacy and changing what it means to think and feel, the very position of sex in a relationship altered by advertising.
This is not medical science; it's a cruel vaudeville, a bastardization of the promise of medicine to resolve the world's ills.
In reality, 20 per cent of women are thought to suffer from medically treatable sexual dysfunction. The rest of us, the ones the marketing is aimed at, are no more dysfunctional than my neutered cat. Sexual desire ebbs and flows, sometimes it's seasonal, sometimes lack of desire is the mind's way of inducing rest from the melee.
And sometimes it's simply an inner voice telling you that enough is enough.
While the makers of Viagra say their female sexual dysfunction drug is still a couple of years away, let's hope for a new kind of sexual revolution. One where we see ourselves holistically, as sensual not sexual, as creatures capable of rare intimacy, the type of closeness that overrides the shallow pharmaceutical definition of desire.
Barbara Sumner Burstyn is a freelance writer who commutes between Montreal, Quebec and The Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. She writes a weekly column for the New Zealand Herald (www.nzherald.co.nz), and has contributed to a wide range of media. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website to read more of her work: http://www.sumnerburstyn.com/.