(2009)2.5Tracie CooperAn old but memorable ad for a popular antidepressant features an animated, sad-faced deflated ball that is able to become the happy-faced, bouncing ball it was meant to be with just a little bit of help from the friendly neighborhood pharmaceutical industry. Over the years, the maladies that qualify one for drug intervention have grown exponentially, while the criteria needed to diagnose such conditions have become increasingly vague. Dissatisfied with any element of the human condition? Don't want to be the sad-sack cartoon ball? There's a pill for that.
When filmmaker Liz Canner was contacted to edit erotic videos for female participants in a drug trial testing the efficacy of a cream designed to promote enhanced sexual arousal in women, she was able to get a rare and extremely intimate look at the process involved in the treatment (and creation) of such maladies, including a relatively new player on the scene: Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). While the demand for a "female Viagra" is nothing new, a pharmaceutical executive glibly points out that sexual dysfunction is much easier to diagnose in men, given the lack of a certain "vertical indicator." As women have no such indicator, justifying medical treatment for a set of symptoms meant inventing a condition; thus, the one-size-fits-all classification of FSD, which encompasses everything from low libido to pain during intercourse.
As Canner points out, perhaps the most poignantly in her documentation of the struggles of an FSD-study participant who's unable to achieve orgasm with her husband of many years, this approach not only ignores the complexities of female sexuality, but implies women suffering from what the vast majority of doctors consider commonplace medical occurrences (such as a decrease in libido as the result of aging) are experiencing something that is fundamentally abnormal. Canner also makes it abundantly clear that the pursuit of "female Viagra" is, at its core, a monetary one. As illustrated by a drug-company employee who speaks excitedly of a colleague who was able to retire at the age of 34 after cashing in on a then-popular treatment for erectile dysfunction, as well as a well-known doctor who is paid handsomely to promote certain drugs in the treatment of FSD despite a lack of clinical evidence to back her claims, improved female sexual health is merely a means to a cash cow waiting to be discovered.
Unfortunately, the film does miss the boat, in that none of these lotions and potions is intended to produce instantaneous sexual climax, or create a physical attraction where one is absent. As with Viagra, they are merely meant to make the process easier. Relatively few drugs cure illnesses (real or invented) by themselves. Ibuprofen may help with tension headaches, but it does not, nor does it claim to, take away the cause of tension. Clinical depression is often treated with a combination of medication, therapy, and positive lifestyle changes. Similarly, if medication can be used as a tool in improving overall sexual satisfaction, then there's nothing particularly insidious about its use.
However, Orgasm Inc. does offer a riveting, unprecedented look at the inner workings of the pharmaceutical industry, and provides a startling reminder of how ignorant many remain in regard to female sexuality. As an unapologetic message movie, the message is certainly worth listening to.
When independent filmmaker Liz Canner landed an unusual assignment -- editing a stack of porn films into a "highlight reel" for a pharmaceutical company -- she found the inspiration for this project, a documentary on "female sexual dysfunction" and the business that has sprung up behind it. "Female sexual dysfunction" is roughly defined as a woman's lack of desire for sexual contact and/or her inability to have an orgasm, and after Viagra made treating male impotence into a growth industry, a number of pharmaceutical firms are working to formulate a similar drug for women. But is "female sexual dysfunction" a real medical condition? Research has determined that 70 percent of women don't regularly reach orgasm through intercourse (usually due to inattention by their partners), and a lack of enthusiasm for lovemaking can stem from anything from a bad day at work to a husband's bad breath. Are drug companies attempting to convince women they need treatment for a malady that doesn't actually exist? Orgasm, Inc. takes a look at the disinformation that has been spread about female sexuality through the ages up to the present day, including a woman who collects antique vibrators and turn-of-the-century literature on "female hysteria," as well as behind-the-scenes footage of researchers attempting to formulate a female orgasm in pill form. Orgasm, Inc. was an official selection at the 2009 Hot Docs International Film Festival.