Is female sexual dysfunction fact or fiction?

Lack of libido is a common problem amongst women aged 18-59. (Shutterstock.com)

Lack of libido is a common problem amongst women aged 18-59. (Shutterstock.com)

Sexytypewriter, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:32 PM ET

We've become very accustomed to popping pills to cure everything that ails us. And it seems like there's always something that requires fixing.

Have a headache? Pop a pill. Can't sleep? Take another one. Ho-hum sex life? This one is blue.

When Pfizer released erectile dysfunction drug Viagra in 1998, male sexual dysfunction became a billion dollar market.

In February of 1999, an article entitled "Sexual dysfunction in the United States: prevalence and predictors" was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It stated that "total prevalence of sexual dysfunction" for women aged 18-59 was a staggering 43%. Oprah and other mainstream media latched onto this figure as gospel.

Women began to worry, hungering for a pill or gel or cream that would make them more sexually responsive. After all - if they weren't as enthusiastic as porn star Traci Lords 24/7, surely there must be something fundamentally wrong with them.

But certain experts denounce the studies behind the JAMA article as extremely problematic. It was later revealed that two of the paper's three authors had ties to Pfizer; a hidden agenda if ever there was one.

According to the documentary Orgasm Inc., pharmaceutical companies have been racing to create an effective Viagra equivalent for women for years. While there have been numerous contenders, FDA approval has been elusive on account of some very serious potential side-effects, including a higher incidence of heart attacks or stroke.

BioSante Pharmaceuticals hope to release their female-libido booster, LibiGel®, at some time next year. On their website, they state that LibiGel® is "a gel formulation of testosterone, designed to be quickly absorbed through the skin after a once-daily application on the upper arm." They claim that it is a safe and effective way of countering Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), a condition defined as "persistent or recurrent extreme aversion to, absence of, and avoidance of all, or almost all, genital sexual contact with a sexual partner."

Such extreme aversion to sex strikes me as something more psychological than physiological, such as having a history of sexual abuse. So are HSDD and female sexual dysfunction in general verifiable physical ailments?

"It's tricky," says Orgasm Inc. filmmaker Liz Canner. "There are a number of real medical conditions that can cause sexual problems, such as radical hysterectomies and diabetes. Taking anti-depressants and even birth control pills can have an effect on libido. So the reality is that there are some real physiological problems that can cause sexual issues, but the majority of women that have sexual problems are perfectly healthy."

Ottawa-based psychologist Dr. Eva Fisher believes that most problems in the bedroom tend to stem more from cracks in the foundations of a relationship than from any actual physical malady.

"Orgasm is triggered in the brain - not simply at the genital level," says Dr. Fisher.  "These (cures) promote increased blood flow to the clitoral/vaginal area, but orgasm taps many neural networks and most of them are not yet understood fully. Emotions are the missing link for pleasurable sex."

So here comes the million-dollar question: just how much sex is normal?

"I think what constitutes a normal sex life is whatever you are happy with," says Canner. "The reality is that sexuality is like art, like dancing. It's not something that you can just sort of say there's a normal to. It's a very individual experience. Satisfaction is really based on what you're satisfied with."

Orgasm Inc. made its international debut at Hot Docs in Toronto and was recently screened in Ottawa. Visit Orgasminc.org to see when it's playing in a city near you.

Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures - online and otherwise - at Sexytypewriter.com.


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