“Orgasm, Inc” Review
Perhaps you’ve heard of it: Female Sexual Dysfunction, or FSD. It afflicts, according to some estimates, more than 40% of women in the United States. FSD is a loosely defined condition – it applies to any woman who doesn’t enjoy sex as much, or as often, as she wishes she did.
According to Liz Canner, and her new documentary “Orgasm, Inc,” FSD is a product of pharmaceutical imaginations – and a lucrative one at that. Her film follows the race to the cure of a made-up disease. Canner gets remarkable access to several pharmaceutical companies, particularly Vivus. (Before making the film, Canner edited pornography for Vivus’s clinical trials.) She speaks to the inventor of the Orgasmatron – exclamation point implied – an electric device that is inserted into the spine. The product’s results are mixed, at best. One of the patients in the Orgasmatron’s clinical trial, a married woman in her mid-fifties, feels a mild vibration in her right thigh whenever she turns it on.
Canner speaks to FSD detractors, most prominently Ray Moynihan, the author of “Selling Sickness” and Leonore Tiefer, a sex therapist and professor at NYU. She also interviews women, like the woman experiencing thigh-gasms, who have become convinced that they are ill. But in fact, 70% of women don’t achieve orgasm without direct clitoral stimulation, meaning that intercourse might not as earthshaking as it is in the movies.
Canner’s investigation of FSD leads her towards other questions. What other conditions have been invented? When did shyness become Social Anxiety Disorder, pins and needles become Restless Leg Syndrome? And when did feeling blue when the weather gets lousy, become not just sad, but SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)? She also looks at the frightening lack of sexual education in the United States. “How are those women who can’t find the parts of their body that might help them feel the best supposed to function sexually? Is a drug going to help them? Maybe if it has a map of the clitoris on the box,” says the founder of the Antique Vibrator Museum located –of course – in San Francisco. There’s also a larger psychological and gender issues here – you can’t blame the pharmaceutical for the popularity of “vaginal rejuvenation” surgery.
But what of real female sexual dysfunction? The film makes no mention of Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome, which accounts for 10% of all visits to gynecologists. (An interesting piece about that, here.) Even if FSD is a myth, for many women, sexual discomfort is not.
But this is just a minor oversight for a film that is otherwise an impressive piece of journalism. Filmed over 9 years, “Orgasm, Inc” is biting, but humorous, filled with twee animations and a catchy, original soundtrack. I laughed, I learned, I shuttered in disgust (vaginal rejuvenation surgery! Gross!). I recommend it heartily.
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