A Drug for Desire

Why take a pill for a problem that can be combated with knowledge?

Posted May 30, 2013

This week, The New York Times Magazine ran an article about the testing of a drug to increase female sexual desire. A well-written article, complete with research findings and pithy quotes by experts and women suffering from low sexual desire alike, one critical issue was left unaddressed. This unaddressed issue is what scholars (such as those of The New View Campaign) call the “The Medicalization of Sexuality.” This scholarly phrase was aptly defined by a reader of the NY Times article who talked of “a cure for which there is no disease” and stated that “not everything that happens to us in life is an illness requiring medication.”

The NY Times article explains that there are countless women in long-term relationships that don’t desire sex the way they used to in the hot, early days of their relationship. Yet, what was not made clear in the article is that such waning desire is normative. Also left unaddressed are effective non-medical ways to deal with this issue.

Evidence that waning spontaneous desire is normative among women comes from scientific theory and research, much of it spearheaded by Rosemary Basson of the University of British Columbia. Quoting from a clinical fact sheet, what Dr. Basson’s research tells us is that, “Although many women may experience spontaneous desire and interest while in the throes of a new sexual relationship… most women in long-term relationships do not frequently think of sex or experience spontaneous hunger for sexual activity.” In other words, women in long-term relationships stop feeling spontaneously horny-—with research showing that this occurs as little as one year into a relationship. Sadly, however, most women don’t know this. Quoting Dr. Basson, many women thus “…search in vain for spontaneous desire which may resemble their experience of sexual desire in the first few months of a new relationship…”

Women search in vain due to lack of knowledge. We have been taught the falsely linear model of sexuality, in which physical desire (aka, feeling wet and horny) proceeds sexual activity when in reality, for many women, desire follows sexual activity—with the sexual activity engaged in for a variety of other reasons, such as the simple knowledge it will be good once it gets going. Women search in vain for spontaneous desire because the intense sexual pull of a new relationship is so intoxicating that we wish for it to last. Women search in vain because the media falsely tells us that this intoxicating desire should last and if it doesn’t, there is something wrong with us. Women search in vain because when they lose their desire, they fear they are abnormal. Quoting one of the most widely used sex therapy textbooks, educating women that a decrease in spontaneous desire is to-be-expected would “cause an unknown percentage of women…to perceive their experience as normal."

Knowledge of what is normative could propel women concerned with low sexual desire to employ effective non-medical strategies to enhance desire. These efficacious behaviors including setting aside time for scheduled sex (aka, Trysts) with their partners,

using fantasy and erotica to stimulate desire, employing mindfulness strategies during sexual encounters, spicing up sexual encounters with novelty such as the use of a vibrator, and, of course, good sexual and relationship communication strategies. Each of these strategies have been proven effective alone (e.g. a study by Lori Brotto demonstrating that mindfulness strategies help women increase desire and arousal). Additionally, all of these strategies—and others—are combined into A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex, a self-help book that scientific research has shown increases desire, arousal, and satisfaction among women who read it.

Perhaps because I authored this book, I can be accused of self-promotion for profit. I hope readers will believe me when I earnestly state that I wrote this book—and scientifically studied its’ efficacy—to help women, rather than for profit. And, quite frankly, given that I have yet to earn a penny on this book since I signed the book contract (i.e. no royalties yet), I doubt I will get rich off its profits.

Can Big Pharm say the same? While perhaps the CEOs of these companies are also conducting clinical trials to help women, they have also been accused of preying on women’s anxiety about what is normal and of creating sexual disease for profit (see the movie Orgasm, Inc. and the New View Campaign for more information).

The New York Times article talked about a medicine that women may soon be able to pop to feel horny. I just wish the author had mentioned a simpler strategy or two. I wish he had mentioned methods that don’t alter brain chemicals. Specifically, I wish the author would have informed readers about the point of two of my prior PT blogs, reiterated here: that not all sex has to start with desire and that if it’s fun, it’s not duty sex! I wish the author would have asked the question: Why take a pill for a problem that can be combated with knowledge?