By TM Bernard
After twelve years in the pharmaceutical industry selling drugs for everything from the ticker to the tooter, and I now have to admonish anyone for being so naïve as to think the following is news: “Ray Moynihan, journalist and lecturer at the University of Newcastle in Australia, discovered that drug industry employees have worked with paid key opinion leaders to help develop the disease entity; they have run surveys to portray it as widespread; and they helped design diagnostic tools to persuade women that their sexual difficulties deserve a medical label and treatment.” (source: ScienceDaily)
Um, that’s the industry’s goals: identify health needs, search for solutions and train physicians in the use of those solutions to assist patients who may need them.
When vitamin-V came out in the late 1990s, I recall seeing men of all ages walking out of docs offices with samples in their hands and libidinous grins on their faces. At the time I was selling a drug known as Voltaren XR. A pain pill akin to the Advil drug class, it was known for being the smallest and easiest to swallow. How did I sometimes and playfully initiate a sales discussion with my clients with well-developed funny bones?
“What do Voltaren and Viagra have in common?” I’d ask. “The answer: size matters.” (My calling started long before I began this column). The point is: men were clamoring for ways to pick up their pecker, and pharma responded with a host of options and staying power.
Female sexuality and sexual health are far more complex, and what turns us on one day may not work the next. That we respond to behavioral, hormonal and emotional cues in ways different at times from men complicates the scenario. We may even feel aroused without clear physiological responses (vaginal dryness, for example), struggle to achieve orgasm, suffer pain upon intercourse, or contend with other diseases that impair sexual function to name a few of the sexual bugaboos that women complain about.
Sometimes the cure is emotional, behavioral, psychological and even spiritual. And maybe, for some women, finding a pharmaceutical balm could be a goddess-send.
For the record – I don’t think every woman’s sexual barriers need to be medicated, and I don’t want anyone tinkering with our cooters just for the sake of a buck. I also don’t blame the pharma industry for trying to identify a need and target an audience. They don’t prescribe the drugs, after all; that’s up to the doctors. And I have faith in the medical community to make the decision with the patients no matter how dynamic their local rep may be.
That’s why I agree with Dr. Sandy Goldbeck-Wood, a specialist in psychosexual medicine who contends that despite those protesting the industry’s efforts, they are missing an important consideration. “Faced with a woman in tears whose libido has disappeared and who is terrified of losing her partner, doctors can feel immense pressure to provide an immediate, effective solution.” (Source: ScienceDaily)
Granted, there are conflicts of interest that need to be addressed, including improved understanding of female sexual response, and industry transparency. However, Goldbeck-Wood points out that, “his argument that female sexual dysfunction is an illness constructed by pathologising doctors under the influence of drug companies will fail to convince clinicians who see women with sexual dysfunction, or their patients.”
Why should women’s sexual health needs and the pursuit of another option be shelved because the pharma industry is leading the charge? I didn’t hear or see protest when men were given a new lease with Mr. Happy when the erectile dysfunction drugs came out. No one said, forget about medicating the gherkin that has lost its crunch.
So maybe the subtext of those who argue against finding a Vitamin-P (for p*ssy) has less to do with the big bad drug companies, and more to do with something far ickier: Hypocrisy. Don’t tell women-kind that drugs are fine for the gander, but not the goose. That oversimplifies the problem and fails to reflect the complexity of female sexuality.