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Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals: How Drug Companies Plan to Profit from Female Sexual Dysfunction

by Ray Moynihan and Barbara Mintzes

“It is to be hoped that human sexual inadequacy … will be rendered obsolete in the next decade.” This lofty expectation, from the introduction to Masters and Johnson’s 1970 book Human Sexual Inadequacy, reveals both the optimism and the failings involved in diagnosing and treating sexual dysfunction. Behind the hopeful attitude, which was clearly premature, lies a quandary: exactly who gets to decide what is “inadequate” about our sexual practices?

Four decades later, this pivotal question is addressed by health journalist Ray Moynihan and University of British Columbia assistant professor Barbara Mintzes, who set out to expose a highly lucrative pharmaceutical industry that aims to profit from women’s perceived sexual failings. In doing so, they unmask an industry desperate to find illness where none exists, and to exploit dysfunction in the pursuit of profit.

Based purely on statistics, female sexual dysfunction (or FSD) is a condition that affects up to two thirds of women, but the condition is so vague as to be practically meaningless. Nevertheless, FSD is poised to become the next big thing in pharmacology, much like male sexual dysfunction and attention deficit disorder before it.

Citing the interests of corporate medicine as a driving force behind this burgeoning area of study, the authors argue that female sexual inadequacies spring from a wide variety of personal, interpersonal, psychological, cultural, and historical sources. Big Pharma’s financial interest in co-opting research impedes the ability of the medical establishment to provide women, many of whom are suffering and in real need, with the care they deserve.

Sadly, Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals fails to give women true agency. In both paradigms it describes – medicine and the pharmaceutical industry – women are mere puppets of systems beyond their control. While the book discusses at length the problems with treating low libido in women as a disease, it ignores the broader culture, which views a disinterest in sex as fundamentally wrong and something to be fixed. Moynihan and Mintzes’ argument relies on the assumption that you’re not normal unless you desire sex all the time, which can be an equally tyrannical premise if not analyzed properly.

These flaws aside, the book is a breakthrough in investigative journalism: a decidedly progressive argument against the hegemony of modern medicine and the way it intentionally deprives patients of a holistic approach to health and happiness.