Thursday, June 17, 2010

Women, Sexual Desire, and Medication

So!  Hypoactive sexual desire disorder and Flibanserin!  If you read other feministy blogs, you're probably already heard about it-- but if not, the FDA is currently considering the use of Flibanserin as a way to treat premenopausal women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder.  This is a really interesting thing to discuss, and there are different angles to tackle it from-- the fact that science is paying attention to female sexuality and desire, to the fact that it's a further form of medicalizing sexuality, to a discussion of what normal or desirable or hypoactive even mean when we're talking about sex.

Miriam over at Feministing posted a really good question-- "Who decides what is hypoactive (aka not active enough or under active) sexual desire anyway?"  It's a good question because the way we frame issues and discuss them is important-- so here, what is hypoactive sexual desire?  How low does it have to be?  How much of an effect does it have to have-- on the individual woman, or her partner, or the relationship?  What is it being measured by-- her own perceptions, or a comparison to her partner's desire?

I think one of the most important questions to address is how it gets measured-- because I think it's really interesting that we're discussing the hypoactive sexual desire of women... as opposed to, say, hyperactive sexual desire of men.  It's also interesting because a lot of the social messages that people my age got when we were young were that men were interested in sex-- but that to be a good girl, and later a good woman, you shouldn't be interested in those things.  That's changed already, but instead of getting rid of problematic messages, their direction has just changed.

Still-- in most relationships, there will be some level of mismatch between the desires of the people involved.  most of the people I've discussed this sort of thing with are straight cisgender women, and most of them do mention mismatches, however small, in the ways they want sex.  Some women I know have been in relationships where they want more sex than their partners, but most do fit into the stereotype of wanting less sex.  In most healthy relationships, people compromise-- maybe having less sex than partner A wants, but more than partner B wants-- but when the differences are extreme, a true compromise is less likely to leave either partner satisfied.  I have, though, seen women agonizing over what's wrong with them when they don't want to have a lot of sex-- instead of thinking something is wrong with their partner, or acknowledging that really, nothing might be wrong with either of them.  I think that any level of sexual desire is fine, and not something "wrong", but I do think it's interesting how many women tend to blame themselves for any problem in bed.

It's like a modern of application of treating male sexuality as the norm, and female sexuality as abnormal, or an application of how in science, the male body is treated as the default human, and women are-- exceptions.  Hell, there are plenty of commentaries out there on how female biology was not studied, and as such, women were told to look for the same disease indicators as men, even when the illnesses manifested differently.  And still, women are told "Good girls don't, good girls don't", and that men will want sex, and they have to not put out or he won't respect him, but then once they grow up, they have to magically switch their thoughts around and become sexually giving and good in bed, and really embody that virgin/whore dichotomy.

So, what is hypoactive sexual desire?  The most obvious answer is any level of sexual desire that is lower than an individual's partner.  That is clearly not nuanced enough.  To be a disorder, things typically have to interfere with an individual's life, or cause great distress.  I can easily see a much lower sex drive causing distress-- but the question then is, is it causing distress because the individual misses her previous sexual desire, or really wants to have the experience of sex-- or is it causing distress because she has to turn down her partner, and has been socialized to think that one of her main areas of value in a relationship is the sexual pleasure she can give to her partner?  Doing things to please your partner is not wrong, of course-- it's something both people in a relationship should be doing anyway-- but putting an inordinate amount of your self-worth into your sex life is a problem, and one that should maybe be addressed with talk therapy if its part of the motivation in seeking treatment for hypoactive sexual desire.

However, even if there are a lot of troubling things in the way society views female sexuality, the fact remains that there are women who want a higher sex drive and a greater ability to desire and be aroused.  Sure, it does matter why they want a higher sex drive-- but regardless of the reason, isn't treating something they view as a problem a positive?  The medication doesn't seem like it's guaranteeing more orgasms-- but more desire.  Most partnerships are based on a combination of elements, but sexual desire is usually an important part of them-- especially in younger couples.  While I understand the resentment of at least one asexual woman, the point here is that there are people who are not asexual, but who are not feeling sexual desire.  A lack of sexual desire can be truly troubling-- I've read stories before about women who want to want their partners, and how a growing gap of desire causes problems in relationships.  If this drug does

Thoughts?  Concerns?

10 comments:

Jilly said...

I think if people don't want to have sex very often then as long as there isn't anything medically wrong with them - i.e. it isn't a symptom of a disease which needs to be treated - then it is up to the individual what - if anything - they do about it.

Why should not wanting sex very often be something that needs medical intervention anyway? Who's to say what's normal? What's normal for me may not be normal for someone else.

I don't think anyone - man or woman - should be pressured into thinking there is something wrong with them for which they need to take a pill if they don't want sex very often. Or even if they want sex more often than is considered the norm.

K said...

I thought it was a pretty good post, bu I think your last sentence got cut off!

The other thing is that, I think there's this misunderstanding about low libido vs. not wanting sex. Some of the women I've talked to about living with low libido, make it sound more like... they want to have sex. They want to want to have sex. Mentally the image is there but physically the body isn't responding for one reason or another. Maybe stress... maybe exhaustion... maybe pain. Maybe something else. But I'm starting to re-think whether low libido is the same thing as not wanting sex.

Plus another thing I'm wanting to think about is the single ladies who are not in a relationship and still are disturbed by a low libido. So much of the sexual dysfunction/HSDD posts I'm reading assume that the woman has a partner, and a partner who wants sex more than her to boot. Which may not always be the case. Maybe she just wants to masturbate more.

I'm in a LDR, so that means almost all of the time, if I have low libido, it shouldn't be a problem according to that sort of view on sexuality, because theres no partner to perform with.
But there was this time when, I was dealing with the worst of the vulvodynia. And as a direct result of having to deal with that, my libido crashed. I didn't masturbate for months. Because what's the point.
I could still orgasm... I missed orgasming... but I was too depressed to try because what was the point. At the time I believed that I would never be fulfilled, and could never fulfill my partner's desires... even though he was in another state and I did not need to fulfill anyone's desires other than my own.

And you know what, I missed it. I missed it but I was sad at the same time.

I wanted it.
Don't think for a minute that I didn't want it.
I just wanted it on MY terms.

Lucky for me that libido has bounced back following medical treatment so I'm comfortable okay with my levels of desire right now.
But I dread the day if/when that libido crashes again, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

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Anonymous said...

I guess we women needs a more free educationa bout sexuality,not medication.We need to lean how to enjoy our biodies with self-erotisation,in other words,to masturbate ourselves more.We still have a very opressive sexist sexual education...that´s why so many of us have "low libido problems"

Maria from Rio(Brasil)

Anonymous said...

sorry about the horrorible grammar mistakes...but you people got the idea....

maria

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libido said...

Sexual desire disorder in women is failure to achieve settlement or maintain sexual satisfaction, although with adequate sexual stimulation. The disorder is similar to impotence in men.Sexual arousal disorders in women have physical and psychological causes. These disorders can occur for life or happen after a normal function. The main cause is the psychological factor, which can include marriage disputes, depression and stressful circumstances.

Jackie D said...

Hi there. I thought I would offer this resource... This TED talk directly addresses the issue of Hypo-Active Female Sexuality Desire Disorder. The speaker, Nicole Daedone, redefines it as Pleasure Deficit Disorder, a cultural issue. She also offers a cure, and its not what you think:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9QVq0EM6g4

Muneer Hussian said...
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JAMES DEAN said...
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