Medicating Women’s Desire

992868_518515601535760_832971821_nA post from OSCLG member Molly McKinney. Molly holds a master’s degree in public health, works in the healthcare system, and does research in gender and women’s health. She lives in Montana and when she isn’t crushing the patriarchy, she is outside on adventures with her dog, Lucy.
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     Patriarchy is raping us through a little pink pill.  Medicating our desire and slipping roofies into our bathroom cabinets to make us more willing to have sex.  The FDA has approved a new drug.
      I am deeply disturbed by the National Organization of Women’s decision to publicly lobby and support the new drug, Flibanserin (trade name, Addyi), which is used to treat screen_shot_2015-09-01_at_3.01.54_pmHypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder in women.  There is a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach like something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.  NOW has always been a feminist organization dedicated to the health, wellness, and rights of all women.  They have expanded their mission and goals to include the basic human rights for a great many people who are tied to feminism, such as black Americans, the poor and marginalized, immigrants, LGBTQ, and more.  In fact, the official stance on this new drug, from the President of NOW, is that everyone has a right to a satisfying sexual experience in their lives.  But this is not the actual point of the drug.
     Medicalization of women’s experiences, health issues, and bodies has a long history.  A long history.  Without becoming too academic and throwing references everywhere, suffice it to say that beginning with the burning of witches and suppressing women’s voices in healthcare and culture, patriarchy has used “medicine” to torture, oppress, and invalidate women through their bodies.  It has told us that the experiences we have are not real because they are not happening in men’s bodies, it has constantly questioned our own knowledge of ourselves, and it has successfully restrained us from having full agency in own reproductive choices.  By positioning itself as the entity with the knowledge, power, and better common sense, patriarchy and the men and women it has employed has cut us off from our bodies and kept us from true embodiment of ourselves.  By trusting that “doctor knows best,” we are perpetuating the system that controls and suppresses us through our bodies.  By not questioning the structures that have held sway for thousands of years, we are complicit in our own enslavement.
      We do not need a drug that promises to alter our brains so that we desire to have more sex.  Problem one: the implicit target consumer for this drug is heterosexual women who feel that they are not “normal” for not wanting to have sex very much.  Basically, HSDD has been invented out of thin air to describe a woman who isn’t in the mood, or is possibly even asexual.  Is the problem actually coming from women who wish they desired sex more (to make their partner happy?) or from their pflibanserin model shutterstock pensive womanartner who wishes they desired sex
more?  Problem two: there is no reason a woman should have sex if she doesn’t feel like it.  Problem three: a woman’s partner should understand this and if they do not agree, perhaps it’s not the relationship they should be in.  Problem four: altering desire has a long history in feminist research as extreme patriarchal control of women.  See Breanne Fahs, among others.  Problem five: can you imagine the rape lawsuit from this?  “You were on the drug to make you have more desire; therefore you wanted it; therefore, you couldn’t have been raped.”  Problem six: what about all of the horrific side effects reported?  And the extremely low frequency of actual increase in desire?  Problem seven: what about other ways to increase your desire if you are feeling like you don’t want to have sex very often?  Maybe you’re depressed or unhealthy or with the wrong person.  Problem eight: the way we talk about sex in society is enough to make any woman feel isolated for the way she feels about her body and her desire.  There is an increasingly narrow mold of acceptable and no public conversation about individual experiences.  There is no validation for the range of desires and fluctuations and directions and variability of sexuality in general.  Our culture is silent except to tell women that they are wrong.
     These problems are not new.  So you can understand why I feel like I’m on a deserted island by myself screaming into thin air while the rest of the world touts the pill as “sex positive” and “evening the score” for women.  This is a horrible blow to feminism and women.  The only thing that will turn around this decision is when women start dying from complications of taking this pill.  Then maybe, just maybe, NOW will actually listen to the science instead of a utopia where women can pop a pill and magically feel happy and willing to have lots of sex.  That’s not the answer to the problem.  If a woman doesn’t want to have sex 1) DON’T MAKE HER, and 2) maybe it’s not her.  Maybe it’s you.



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