Documentary explores the influence of Big Pharma on the “science” behind women’s sexual pleasure
Orgasm Inc. is a documentary about the medicalization of women’s common sexual problems and concerns.
Liz Canner, a filmmaker with a track record for making hardcore documentaries about some of the most disturbing human rights violations, is hired by a pharmaceutical company, Vivus, to edit a sexually explicit film to be watched by women during clinical trials.
Vivus, the makers of MUSE, a treatment for erectile dysfunction that predated Viagra about 14 months, was developing a drug (Alista) to treat female sexual dysfunction (FSD).
A filmmaker discovers the pharmaceutical industry’s ugly underbelly
Canner thinks this assignment is going to be a refreshing break as she plans to delve into the science behind women’s sexual pleasure.
But what she discovers is a trend toward disease mongering as she tracks, over a nine-year period, the pharmaceutical industry’s race for the next female blockbuster drug. The film also focused on the increase in surgery centers marketing laser vaginal rejuvenation and labiaplasty – better known as designer vaginas – to uninformed, misinformed or unsuspecting women.
Ultimately, Orgasm Inc. is Canner’s effort to foil the medical industry’s attempt to change our understanding of the meaning of health, illness, desire and that ultimate moment…orgasm.
Film’s message doesn’t match the hype
After all the hype I’ve read about Orgasm Inc., I didn’t think it was the scathing indictment of the pharmaceutical industry it’s touted to be. I happen to be friends and colleagues of both the villains (Drs. Laura and Jennifer Berman personifying the pharmaceutical companies’ greed) and the hero (Dr. Leonore Tiefer representing The New View Campaign and what they think is best for women).
What’s wrong with a little pharmaceutical help?
Too much credit is given to the Drs. Berman for the creation of the FSD disease category; and, IMHO, there’s too much emphasis on the sisters’ role in supporting pharmacological solutions for various women’s sexual dysfunctions. Of course, as a man whose sexual health is supported by both a testosterone gel and Tadalafil (Cialis), I may be biased.
The Bermans’ book, For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, and their subsequent TV and radio shows have filled a void for open discussion and education around women’s sexual health and dysfunction. Likewise, Leonore Tiefer and The New View Campaign challenging the medicalization of sex provide necessary checks and balances against the potential exploitation of women by the pharmaceutical industry acting in their own best interest…or in the best interest of their shareholders, as they have a right to do in capitalistic, market-driven economy. But, as noted in the film, FSD is a case study in a bigger, more complex picture that started with the approval of direct-to-consumer marketing for drugs by pharmaceutical companies.
Orgasm Inc. is educational, thought-provoking and worth a watch
That said, I recommend Orgasm Inc. to women and their advocates who are not already aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that pharmaceutical companies and plastic surgery centers work to create insecurities in the name of disease state awareness and in the goal of developing a market for new drugs and procedures. Indeed, the film helps explain why placebos work upward to 40% of the time in clinical trials of pharmacological solutions for women’s sexual problems.
Orgasm Inc. makes important points that you won’t hear in commercials for treatments for FSD and cosmetic surgeries. Why? Because many of the issues that lead to women’s sexual concerns – including low desire, not experiencing orgasm with intercourse, and dissatisfaction with their bodies – aren’t going to be fixed with a pill or surgery. Rather, stress, fatigue, abuse, relationship problems, anti-depressants, contraceptive pills, hysterectomies, guilt and shame around sexual pleasure, and the lack of appropriate and comprehensive sexuality education are significant contributors to the problems many women face.
And you won’t hear in advertising a list of the potential risks of vaginal rejuvenation surgery or labiaplasty, including potentially developing chronic pain syndromes, scarring, infection, loss of sensation and the inability to have intercourse.
Bottom line: when the pharmaceutical industry is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, consumers beware.
78 minutes, 2009
Photo: Orgasm Inc. press kit