Sunday, November 16, 2003

The pharmaceutical moment.

On Thursday, we went to hear Leonore Tiefer speak on "The McDonaldization of Sex." The idea of "McDonaldization" isn't really new, and probably doesn't need to be explained, and the tenets of fast food production--conformity, control, accountability, etc.--have been applied to so many industries that people are probably more surprised when they're missing from a business than when they're present.

At any rate, Dr. Tiefer's talk was really about sexual health care, and how its streamlining is affecting women. At the base of this standardized medicine--bring the patient in, diagnose her in ten seconds, hand her a perscription--is, of course, the pharmaceutical industry. The producers of pharmaceutical products have a lot invested in keeping people interested in their medications. Dr. Tiefer talked a bit about the Viagra trend, how men are being taught that "occasional erectile difficulties" must be medicated (as if not being able to get it up on demand 100% of the time is some sort of disease), and how dangerous it is to just hand out Viagra for a problem that could be caused by other illnesses (diabetes, for example). Tiefer explored some of the social anxieties dealing with sex, and how the drug companies can play off those to make a buck.

Anyway, the main point of her talk was that since the Viagra market was so strong, the drug industry got the bright idea of exploiting the female market with a similar kind of drug. The problem was, there was no "erectile disease" to treat, so the industry is essentially making up a disease, "female sexual dysfunction" and offering up drugs to cure it. Dr. Tiefer has started an activist group, FSD Alert to try and counteract this movement to make women think their bodies and sex lives are inadequate and in need of medical treatment. The press page alone is worth a visit.

Dr. Tiefer's theory is that we're on the cusp of a pharmaceutical "revolution," that medical treatment for sexual "problems" is about to take a huge turn for the worse, and it's time to stop watching and start preventing.

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