Female Sexual Dysfunction is a condition that affects a whopping 43 percent of women—a figure even more shocking when you realize that FSD was more or less invented recently from whole cloth. Riding high off the Viagra phenomenon, the pharmaceutical industry naturally started racing for the female equivalent, essentially creating a disorder to serve the needs of the market. Low sex drive, inability to achieve orgasm, menopause: All these problems could potentially be solved by a pill, a cream, surgical inserts, or some cosmetic nipping and tucking. And in the meantime, perfectly healthy women—tens of millions of them, to go by the numbers—have been made to feel inadequate and diseased where they might not have before, and the industry, in its rush to gets products on the market, hasn’t come close to addressing the complexity of the female body.
Liz Canner’s comprehensive and surprisingly rousing advocacy doc Orgasm Inc. makes all of these points and more, positing FSD as a case study in Big Pharma greed and irresponsibility. Back in 2001, the small pharmaceutical house Vivus hired Canner to edit erotic videos for a vaginal cream it was developing called Alista. The cream failed, but Canner emerged with the inside track on FSD and the many troubling issues surrounding it. Though Canner does care about female pleasure, Orgasm Inc. makes its skepticism clear from the start, and systematically sets about dismantling not only the solutions to the problem, but the false premises of the problem itself. Canner balances an overview of the David-and-Goliath fight between industry giants and women’s groups like The New View with more personal stories, like an affecting thread about a middle-aged woman who takes part in a clinical trial for “Orgasmatron,” a device inserted into her spine. Broadly speaking, Canner hails from the Michael Moore school of first-person editorializing, but Orgasm Inc. isn’t given to vanity or cheap shots, and her point of view isn’t so jaundiced as to cut off discussion of female sexual problems altogether. One thing is certain: The mysteries of life can’t be solved by a little blue pill.