An unsexy look at pharma push for ‘female Viagra’


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Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2010 (4553 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals

By Ray Moynihan and Barbara Mintzes

Greystone, 257 pages, $22

FOR those fighting for a new view of healthy female sexuality, this jam-packed little book will serve as welcome ammunition.

The authors are Ray Moynihan, a prolific Australian health journalist who previously skewered the pharmaceutical industry in 2005’s Selling Sickness, and Barbara Mintzes, a University of British Columbia medical professor specializing in pharmaceutical surveillance.

They leave little doubt about which side they’re on.

After reading this clinical, even dry, exposé of the boiling-pot pressure behind the quest for the “female Viagra” for the elusive condition known as “female sexual dysfunction (FSD), most readers will be on their side, too.

So appealing is the lure of being first to market, that one pharmaceutical giant has reportedly spent $2 billion in its attempts. Thus far, nothing has panned out; in Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals, Moynihan and Mintzes make a strong case as to why.

For starters, there’s the dysfunction itself: aggressively defined with help (and cash) from the pharmaceutical companies themselves, FSD still lacks a firm definition, or much of a known biological cause.

Big Pharma claims that almost half of women suffer from it; but Moynihan and Mintzes shines a light through the fog of that claim.

Medicine and psychology, they argue, has never understood the intricacies of female sexuality. Instead, the world enforces norms of sexual behaviour — vaginal orgasms, libidos that defy crushingly busy schedules — not shared by the majority of women. So what exactly do the would-be purveyors of the “female Viagra” hope to treat?

“What is perhaps most frightening … is the sheer enormity of the global misunderstanding of the nature and size of this purported medical problem,” they write.

“You may not have heard the results of any of these surveys yet, but as the pharmaceutical marketing machinery starts working in your town or city you certainly will.”

Money theme

Though huge chunks of Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals deal directly with the fluid and diverse nature of female sexuality and the culture, relationships and lifestyles that impact it, in other ways this book studiously picks up where Selling Sickness left off.

Money is the biggest theme of the book, not sex: Moynihan, never one for innuendo or salacious prose, titles a chapter “Educating Doctors with Ski Trips and Strip Clubs.”

This isn’t an exaggeration, and there are countless disturbing examples of how pharmaceutical money has lubricated the development of FSD.

Maybe we don’t want what she’s having.

Sex is not a sexy book. The writing is precise and even pedantic. The authors rely on decades’ worth of facts, reports and statistics, rather than unchecked passion, to make their points.

But therein lies their book’s strength. Many writers argue philosophically about the future of sex and sexuality; in this, Moynihan and Mintzes take aim at an industry putting a drug before a disease and throwing women’s health and happiness behind them.

They offer a clarion call that should be heard by psychologists, physicians, men and women alike.


Melissa Martin is a Free Press reporter.

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Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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