“We as a society think we should be able to fix everything just by having a pill,” says Susan Bennett, of Massachusetts General Hospital. And “everything” includes women’s sex lives, now being “fixed” by a burgeoning industry. Liz Conner’s entertaining documentary looks at the medicalization of women’s sexuality, beginning with her own employment by the pharmaceutical company Vivus, which hired her to “help with a clinical trial” by making porn videos. The assignment got her thinking about why or how a drug might not only “help” women to achieve normal sexual desire and behavior, but also, how that normal state was being defined. This meant rethinking as well how the disease was being defined. As the film points out, “female sexual dysfunction” (FSD) was advertised as a condition in need of treatment in order to create a market for the treatment—whether by electrodes or therapy or, most often, by drugs. The process is circular and then some. In the United States, drugs need to be approved by the FDA, which demands that a disease exists before such approval. And so the pharmaceutical companies, following the booming success of Viagra and other drugs to treat “erectile dysfunction” during the 1990s, undertook a campaign to define FSD. Canner points out that this campaign, multifaceted and ongoing, “is actually changing how we think about our bodies about our disease and about our health.” Her film—available on DVD from First Run Features on 21 June—means to change that changing.
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