It's almost enough to make you pity Big Pharma: here it is, on the verge of a major new breakthrough--a Viagra-type drug for women--and feminists are in a major snit. One faction is muttering that the drug companies are sexist for taking so long to find a cure for female sexual dysfunction (FSD) while the fix for its male counterpart, erectile dysfunction, has been available for over five years. Others, like sex expert Shere Hite, are already denouncing the drug companies for "cynical money grabbing"--i.e., creating a disease in order to market a pill or a patch.
On the Viagra-envying side of the debate are plenty of women who find their libidos drained by surgery, menopause, crying infants or overwork. Plus, there is a significant minority still seeking the zipless interaction popularized by Erica Jong in Fear of Flying: skip the relationship, the candlelight and the wine, and cut to the chase. I know at least one respectable grandma who is preparing for the advent of a female Viagra by stocking up on batteries for her vibrator.
Of all the sex issues covered in this special issue of TIME, this one may be the most controversial: Is there really a need for an orgasm-promoting drug for women? The drug companies like to cite a study suggesting that 43% of American women suffer from FSD, which would make the disorder more than 10 times as prevalent as breast cancer or AIDS, though surely a bit more bearable. But critics point out that in the study, women were judged to have FSD for answering yes to any one of seven questions, such as whether they had experienced difficulty with lubrication or sometimes lacked desire. Perhaps the more amazing conclusion is that 57% of American women seemed to be ready to party at the drop of a hat.
You might also wonder, if FSD is so widespread, why Viagra is now about as popular as vitamin C among all those male sex partners. To judge from the billion-dollar market for Viagra, no man can count on slipping peacefully into impotence. Who's behind the massive use of Viagra, if not an army of FSD-free girlfriends and wives? And thanks to the influence of Sex and the City, even reliably potent men are now indulging, says the New York Times, because of "the Samantha complex, a fear of wilting in the face of a new wave of sexually empowered women." Or are the drug companies trying to promote an arms race between pumped up Viagra poppers and chemically Samantha-ized women?
This wouldn't be the first time that the medical profession was caught inventing a disease to go with the cure in hand. In the 1990s plastic surgeons discovered "micromastia," a syndrome characterized solely by small breasts and conveniently curable with silicone implants. A century and some years ago, doctors detected an epidemic of "hysteria" among affluent women, manifested by hundreds of unrelated symptoms and requiring constant medical attention. Or we may reflect on the case of hormone-replacement therapy, which doctors promoted as a cure for the "disease" of menopause, only to discover, after millions of women had been snookered into taking them, that the pills increased the risk of far nastier diseases like breast cancer.