“Female Viagra” and the different faces of violence against women

Rita Alcaire*

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved flibanserin, a new drug for the treatment of low sexual desire in women (commercial name is Addyi, Sprout Pharmaceuticals). The “female Viagra” or “pink pill”, as it is commonly referred to, was approved after strong lobbying from researchers, clinicians, and sex therapists in an unprecedented campaign that accused the FDA of gender bias for ignoring the sexual needs of women. In reality, there is no similarity between Viagra and Addyi. Flibanserin is a daily use antidepressant that acts on the central nervous system with serious side effects such as nausea, fainting, low blood pressure, dizziness and drowsiness, presents high risks if combined with alcohol and has a meagre 30% success rate in increasing libido.
Cartoon by Joel Pett, source.
 
The inception of this drug has been severely contested by members of the asexual, grey-a and demisexual community who raised concerns about the “disease” that this drug seeks to treat in the first place. They launched a global petition to strongly encourage the FDA not to endorse the drug and to consider that: 1) distress caused by low sexual desire is too complex to medicate; 2) many therapeutic options exist, besides medicalization; 3) the marketing of flibanserin to the general public will cause more distress than it mitigates; 4) marketing of flibanserin to clinicians will encourage misdiagnosis and mistreatment of people on the asexual spectrum.

In accordance to the content of this petition, reports written by sexologists point out that low desire issues in women are multifaceted, and that it is very difficult (if not impossible) to design a drug that can actually work the way pharmaceuticals claim this one does. Also, that therapy already exists for women who are unaffectedly disturbed about their libido, conducted with open communication in a way that does not shame them or make them feel like they are required to provide sex on demand, while their male partners make absolutely no efforts or compromises. Furthermore, by stigmatizing no/low sexual desire, the medical community risks amplifying the distress surrounding it, with arguments that closely resemble those used to defend sexual orientation conversion therapy.

Flibanserin has actually been on the radar for several years and the asexual community (latu sensu) is not alone in criticizing the corrupt science and the unethical conduct attached to its approval and large scale marketing. Asexual people are not the only ones which are harmed by the existence of this drug. The truth is that it harms women as a whole.

Its incredibly aggressive marketing campaign is aimed at convincing women that low sexual desire suggests chemical imbalances in the brain, exclusively. It contributes to the undermining and concealing of social and cultural issues that lead to women's issues regarding sexual desire. As a result, it pathologises sexual diversity by thinning the cultural ideal around female sexuality. It represents a classic case of the pursuit of profit rather than of women's sexual pleasure, well-being or of scientific knowledge. Women’s sexual pleasure, under this perspective, ceases to be a right, and turns into a health obligation. Potentially abusive allosexual partners will now be further helped by this rhetoric in pressuring partners of the asexual spectrum into (coerced) sexual activity and into having them seek (unwanted) medical attention.

The asexual community being vocal about the harms of the ‘female Viagra’ was extremely important in reporting these issues. What this protest brings to surface is the misogynistic discourse surrounding flibanserin and Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) in general. It is important to take notice that most HSDD diagnoses (if not all of them) are of cis women involved in relationships with cis heterosexual men. The fact that this situation is almost universally perceived as being a failure on the part of women - rather than their male partners or the connection between the two, along with a number of other contextual variables -, makes it even harder for women to recognize this dynamic as toxic.

The greater patriarchal context cannot be ignored and the line of reasoning behind this drug is completely distorted and harmful. This is well evidenced by the flimsy study upon which the existence of HSDD hinges on, as well as by a widely-researched history of the medical management of women’s desires, which never fails to use the masculinity du jour to serve as a universal standard.

There is no need to make it easier for abusers by pretending that the answer for libido mismatch in heterosexual relationships is for the lower-libido partner to be medicalized into “normalcy” for the other person’s (and society’s) satisfaction.

Shame of failing to fulfil externally imposed expectations and standards is beyond the boundaries of medical sciences and pharmaceutical treatments. And medicine should not be used to “correct” disparities between partners, nor should it be the touchstone to impose social standards.         



The author wishes to acknowledge the contribution of researcher and activist Daniel Cardoso, who provided constructive comments and criticism that have profoundly enriched this text.


Rita Alcaire is an anthropologist and her main interests are sexualities, identities and popular culture (film, television and music). She has co-directed several documentaries, including Filhos do Tédio (2006), Breve História do Rock de Coimbra (2010), O Pessoal do Pico Toma Conta Disso (2010), Um Quarto no Éter (2011), Filarmónicas da Ilha Preta (2011), and Das 9 às 5 (2011), and is currently working on a doctoral project about asexuality in Portugal.


Readers are encouraged to quote, reproduce and share this content for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HR&D team.

0 comments:

Post a Comment

 

Tags

#niunamenos 16 days academic activism Adam Shapiro Afghanistan Africa apartheid Argentina art asexual asexuality asylum seekers Aung San Suu Kyi Australia Bahrain Bangladesh beauty Brazil Brexit Bulgaria business call for contributions call for papers call for submissions cartoon censorship cfp child labour children Chile cinema civil disobedience civil rights Colombia conference cultural rights democracy detention development discrimination displacement domestic violence ECtHR Ecuador Editors’ notes education Egypt elections empowerment environment equality equity euro crisis Europe events facebook family life fashion fatphobia feminism FGM food for thought freedom of belief freedom of expression freedom of speech gay rights gender gender bias gender violence Google graffiti hate speech health human rights human rights defenders human rights law ICC India indigenous rights infographics internet intimacy Iran Islamophobia Jafar Panahi Kabul Kenya labour rights land rights language language rights law Lesotho LGBTI Liberia Malawi Martin Luther King Maryam Al-khawaja masculinity media men mental health migration minority rights Nauru non-violent resistance offshore processing opinion piece opportunities Papua New Guinea peace Philippines photography poetry politics poverty protest public opinion queer quotes racism Rana Plaza refugee law refugees right to private life right to seek asylum Russia Senegal sexual rights sexuality Singapore social exclusion social inequality South Africa state responsibility stereotype street art Syria terrorism thin privilege trans trans rights transgender translation tribalism Turkey twitter Uganda UK UK referendum UN UNESCO UNHCR US video violence war water women women‘s rights women’s rights youth Zimbabwe

Twitter Updates

Like Us!