Recently we have seen the launch of what some have hailed as a wonder drug while others rejected it as a positive development – Flibanserin, sold under the brand name Addyi. Dubbed the female Viagra, it promises to reignite a woman’s sex drive by medicating issues relating to desire and arousal. However, its opponents argue that it’s yet another pill to pop while ignoring the roots causes of sexual unhappiness in our society. What counts as a disorder is an issue that is causing the person distress. If you have a low sex drive and are happy with this, then it is not defined as a disorder. The male and female viagra are different- while the male Viagra treats issues of blood flow to the penis, thus allowing a man to maintain an erection in order to have penetrative sex, male products do not treat low sexual desire. Flibanserin is better described as an anti-depressant that researchers also discovered had the side effect of balancing chemicals in the brain and thus increasing sexual desire. However, it is only effective for women suffering from hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), just one of a number of issues that can affect sexual desire in women.
While the user reported one extra sexually satisfying experience a month on average, it has many drawbacks in exchange for this minimal gain. It has serious side effects, including low blood pressure and nausea. Users cannot drink alcohol while taking the drug, which must be taken daily. There is also a worryingly number of copycat blue and pink pills now being advertised on the internet, containing unknown ingredients that may be harmful to the consumer. It seems like it creates a lot more issues while marginally helping with the one existing issue, while not being effective for those suffering other forms of sexual dysfunction. For those who have issues relating to sexual desire and do not have HSDD, we need to ask some questions about why sex and sexuality can be so problematic.
Firstly, we need to look at what constitutes low sexual desire in a woman, especially when we also live in a society where a woman is shamed for daring to explore her sexual desire on her own terms. How are women meant to know what a healthy level of desire even is when we live in a world where the media, the Church and right wing politicians shame women for having sex outside of marriage and paint her as a whore, not as a ‘good’ virgin-esque innocent, submissive wife. Women are judged as either Virgin or Whore, and have been since the establishment of the Catholic Church, and the spread of its doctrine promoting the idealised form of sex as married, heterosexual sex for reproductive reasons only. And as it was strictly penis-in-vagina sex, anal sex was most definitely off the menu- closing off a potent source of pleasure for women. (By the way, if you’re curious about the realities of anal sex and how pleasurable it can be for women, read the bible of anal sex: Tristan Taormino’s The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women.)
When we reduce what we define as sexual activity as solely focused on penetrative sex, we miss out on so many equally satisfying avenues for pleasure. Women are capable of orgasming from so many different places in the body, and we don’t get to explore those sources of pleasure as much as we should. Male Viagra has focused sex to be defined this way, causing unhappiness for women who don’t enjoy sex this way for a multitude of reasons- one major one being the rest of the woman’s erogenous zones being ignored during sexual activity in favour of penis- in- vagina sex. How do we expect women to come solely from this? When the average length of penetrative sex in Ireland is about 6 minutes, that means there’s a lot of women out there not getting near enough stimulation to orgasm, let alone enjoy multiple orgasms. And then we wonder why many women don’t want sex. As sex educator Jenny Block puts it: ‘If every time you went to the ice cream store, you ordered, waited in line, were handed your order and had it taken away before you could taste it, how many times would you keep going back before you would finally lose interest in going out for ice cream?’.
This definition of the correct form of sex that women should be having also has its roots in many sources- from poor sex education, from anti-porn activists, from fundamentalist religious groups who all combine to create fear, shame or stigma that we experience as women when we try to take ownership of our sexuality. Women are called names like slut, whore, skank and so on, by those who are fearful of how powerful female sexuality is, and can be if women are free to explore its potential.
How can we work towards a society that allows all people to explore their desire, regardless of gender identity, race or sexual orientation? We can take several steps- we can educate ourselves about what turns us on, what doesn’t, and explore our curiosity in-between these two standpoints. We can stop defining sex as focused on male penetration of the female vagina, and see that sex cannot be reduced down to the basics if we want full sexual pleasure. We can also find sex positive resources that celebrate all sexualities that involves consenting adults consciously exploring their desire with whom they choose. If we view sex in a positive, happy, light, we can remove shame and stigma from sex. Sex doesn’t have to be dirty, or ‘naughty’, or something to feel bad for wanting, it should be viewed as a healthy, pleasurable activity enjoyed by consenting adults. Check out Amber Rose’s recent YouTube clip ‘Walk of No Shame’ to see what I mean.
Sexuality and gender identity exist on a spectrum, there’s no such thing as a true binary of ‘straight/gay’ ‘male/female/, and the same applies to the ‘virgin/whore’ complex. Let’s stop getting so caught up in labelling our sexuality as good or bad and just enjoy the rainbow of sexual pleasure that’s waiting for us.
By Caroline Ryan
Caroline is a PhD student at Dublin City University studying pornography and feminism. She can be contacted on twitter at
@car_ireland. Her Open Drawer project explores sexuality and how we express this, contact this project at @the_open_drawer“