03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

What's Missing in the Search for Female Viagra

Terry Allen has a short but pointed rant in In These Times
on what she calls "restless vagina syndrome" otherwise known as female
sexual dysfunction, and it's supposed cure, which thanks to an
uncritical media has been constructed as the hunt for a female Viagra.

There's so much to be depressed about the tenor of most public
conversations about what constitutes female sexual dysfunction and how
women who are genuinely distressed by some aspect of their sex lives
can best be helped. There's an equal amount to be depressed about in
the quality of much of the research that gets offered up in defense of
what sex researcher John Bancroft refers to as

a classic example of starting with some preconceived, and
non-evidence based diagnostic categorization for women's sexual
dysfunctions, based on the male model

What's missing for me (and it's missing even in Bancroft's
insightful quote) is any explicit discussion of what most of these
conversations are really about; gender. Biomedical and most
quantitative social science sex research continues to bury its head
deep in the sand, denying what many other disciplines are now
unpacking; that a binary notion of gender is fundamentally flawed and
that the male/female dichotomy is rarely if ever a complicated enough
lens through which to understand any human experience. Instead, to
those searching for a female Viagra there are men, there are women, and
the twain shall only meet when we put them in the proper configuration
and get them hard and wet enough to merge for precisely 2.36 minutes,
1.5 times a week. Actually now that I write it, it does sound a little

So that's one complaint, and it's a personal one to be sure. But
there's something more important missing from the discussion, which is
the lived experience of sexual confusion, frustration, and pain that
many of us do experience. Of course the story that those searching for
drugs tell us is that all they want to do is make our lives better. Too
bad they rarely bother to actually ask us what we want. They define a
sexual problem not by how much it bothers us, they define it by an
number, how many times we have sex, how many times we orgasm, how often
we think about sex.

I get people who are experiencing distress because of some aspect of their sex lives who are frustrated by the
kind of politicizing I'm engaging in here. They just want help, and if
a drug company can offer it, they'll take it. The problem is that the
help being offered isn't going to address the complex experience being

It's a lie that Viagra
improves your sex life. Viagra doesn't improve your sex life. It
doesn't make sex better or make men want to have sex more. It just
gives them erections. Anything else that happens is you.

The lie in the promise of a female Viagra, that a pill can make
someone want sex, is the same lie for male Viagra, it's just that their
marketing campaigns mesh so well with our own fears and ignorance about
sex that we'd rather take the lie than deal with the truth.