Hating Big Pharma and Flibanserin

Christine Ottery, in the Guardian’s pinnacle of participatory media, Comment is Free, published a short piece today reviewing the recent arrival of Flibanserin, a new drug on the sexual-cure-all market. You’ve probably read the hype, but try this if you haven’t.

Anyway, this is what I said on CIF and as I’ve been soaking quietly in the corner of the Bathhouse recently, I thought I’d post it here too. Probably read Ottery’s original piece of writing first for some background.


I’m really pleased to see this article has been written. There is huge need for discussion and debate on this.

We are, as is suggested, in a newer era of the medicalisation of sexuality/womens’ bodies, another chapter in the relationship between medicine and personhood. We see medicine, with its lab coated authority and magic pill-stocked pharmacy, as deciding what is appropriate and normal for a person to experience, and as the largest and strongest stakeholder in defining just how people should live. In this particular episode, we learn about the statistical parameters which define a woman’s ‘normal’ sexuality. We learn that 43% of women ‘suffer’ from Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. We learn that a branded drug can return us to our ‘natural’, ‘normal’ state where nothing can come between us and our ability to orgasm.

I find it disgusting that profit is to be made by exploiting sexual insecurity and sexual identity, and kid yourselves not, this is exactly what is going on here.

Why is it abnormal for a woman (or man) to experience a lack of libido? The interference of stress in one’s desire to have sex? A loss of confidence in sexual identity? Why is it normal to refrain from confronting the aggressive marketisation of sexuality, the exhaustion of the daily commute, the sexist bullying at work, the lads mags and women-focused lifestyle magazines, the thousand small mundane ways in which women are consistently sold the idea of a healthy sexual lifestyle, when it is made in such narrow and profitable parameters, and instead accept that there must be something fundamentally wrong if you find you’re feeling just a little turned off. That there must be some biological/psychological/genetic reason why you’re sexually ‘underperforming’ and can’t be moved to experiment with that triumph of heterosexual bed-standards, More!’s latest Position Of The Month. Dig out your wallet and pop a pill. Embrace the sole responsibility for your own body, mind and heart wanting to say ‘no, I don’t feel like it’ sometimes. Because according to Boehringer Ingelheim, that just doesn’t constitute a normal way of feeling about sex.

What a devastating diagnosis.

How dare it be a community of pharmacological experts and company managers and business associates and shareholders, earning thousands from a branded lifestyle drug, who get to define the parameters of what a woman understands to be a ‘normal’ sexuality and sexual identity?

We should not accept this aggressively belittling remedy. If a woman doesn’t feel like having sex, she should never have to feel the obligation to take a drug to ‘solve’ it. There is no fundamental problem in a woman not being turned on. There is no failure. There is no ‘thing’ wrong with her to be solved. All women and men have complex relationships with themselves and others, assume multiple identities amongst all the people in their lives, and will all experience a lack of libido at varing moments. Boehringer Ingelheim and all the godparents of Flibanserin should be held to account for contributing to the demeaning market in standards for sexual identity.


8 thoughts on “Hating Big Pharma and Flibanserin

  1. This is an excellent post and I think highlights the problems, on a more general scale, we face when we try to turn social science into positivism. In order to measure objectively and consistently, and therefore explain, you by definition have to reduce complexity.

    This means that theory ends up masking phenomena in order to explain it.

    A good example is this popular story about ovulating lap-dancers and the tips they receive. It says women at the peak of their fertility cycle get more tips, because they are ‘naturally’ more flirty. Wink wink, women, like baboons, can’t resist a potential baby maker.

    Rather than this sort of shite, theory should be about revealing and understanding. How can we think about a topic in order to understand more about it?

  2. Sorry, I forgot to add… With the kind of positivist social science that has begun to rule (particularly in the US and UK), the opportunity for medicinal ‘behaviour-fixing cures’ opens up.

    So people with who act in a certain way, which could be attributed to the situations they’re in, instead become clinically unhealthy – an individual’s technical health problem, rather than a social problem. This not only depoliticises the issue but allows big pharma to step in with a money-making ‘cure’.

  3. Hello! Hello, I totally agree, Rebecca, I am really glad you posted that comment, both here and there.

    Obviously the emphasis on having to be interested in sex to some specific degree is a horrific and imposing (rapey) idea. Women who don’t want to have sex at any given time or at all should be left alone to not have sex, by strangers, partners, acquaintances, the medical profession/industry, psychologists, advertising, politicians and the lot. To try and alter/heighten a woman’s desire for sex is inherently rapey and it’s horrid seeing this big legitimised way of doing it gather strength, as if there wasn’t enough of it.

    About the only thing I have to add is that the article in Comment is Free mentions how hormone levels and depression and anxiety can all make women less interested in sex than they would be otherwise (not that it specifies what this implied “otherwise” might be based on). I am concerned that it did not mention that fear, abuse, having a horrible partner and not being attracted to your partner can all make you not want sex with them, and these things happen a lot, and it is SO regularly done that women’s feelings are pathologised rather than addressed as legitimate. I can see this drug being used and marketed in a way that lets controlling partners make women have sex with them more and make women feel mad for not wanting sex. I can see women thinking they are ill rather than abused to an even greater degree with the authority of the medical industry giving these ideas further weight and legitimacy.

    Ultimately the development of this drug seems to be a blatant attempt to get more sex and money out of women, an age old pursuit of patriarchy.

  4. Great post! even without considering the murky applications of such a drug, the idea that a normal state exists that we all should obtain is clearly wrong. Not just morally either, if 42% of have something it’s about as normal as can be.

    I think there may be instances when people benefit from changing something chemically in their bodies, but no one should be under any illusions that there’s anything natural about that. If you make an informed choice to change yourself chemically that’s fine but taking pills to make you want sex more is no more natural than dropping e get to a natural state of enjoying loud music and bright colours.

    This also made me think about medicine and pharma so I wrote a longer article and posted it separately.

  5. Rebecca, your post is brilliant. It’s so completely right. I need to do some more soaking in this here Bath House. I’ll be back with a new post soon. A few ideas are floating together… pharmaceutical company priorities in directing research and development, the not often enough challenged, ever more controlling role of the big philanthropists, and why we can’t break out beyond the status quo which is obviously not working for the sick or the worried well….

  6. I don’t really have anything constructive to say other than I really enjoyed reading this. To me, anyhow, it succinctly sums up the cynicism behind pharmaceutical marketing. I was told in a jokey manner to ‘lie back and think of England’ in school. So anyway, class post. Thanks.

  7. It’s really exiting to learn that a medicine called flibanserin can enhance women libido thus solving many problems in married lives. If this works (and its a big if) this will have an enormous positive impact on marraige. Its an open secret that a good percentage of women, after they marry (ironically), lose interest in sex. That loss of interest is often the catalyst for marital problems. We can stop pretending this isn’t the case, its not like we don’t all know. We can also stop pretending that if men did more house work, women would put out more. If all it took to motivate married women to have sex was for men to do house work; no married women in the western hemisphere would have touched a plate or pile of laundry for the past few decades.

  8. Oddly, I just found the above in the comments list. I thought I’d approve it because it’s completely ridiculous.

    Without wanting to sound completely self-satisfied, this post demonstrates the kind of rationale we could assume underlies the creation of many lifestyle drugs (which both target and perpetuate insecurities), and the kind of pharmaceutical marketisation which, quite frankly, has no other interest but the accumulation of profit at the centre of its concerns. It’s not that I think there aren’t serious issues for many people that take place in the context of sexual relationships and marriage, but to suggest that taking a drug to ‘solve’ relationship strife (marital relationships at that), because the women’s lack of libido is the very cause to be remedied, is abhorrent nonsense.

    The final sentence equating marriage with a ‘norm’ of female sexual disinterest and a common lifestyle of domestic servitude is awful. That Flibanserin have arrived on the scene to dispense the ‘correct’ remedy (more drugs! less washing up!) to unhappiness is also awful.

    Flibanserin, it’s really exciting to learn that your company is populated by a team of sexist idiots.

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