If you’re in the mood for an intelligent documentary revealing the absurdity and greed of the medical-pharmaceutical complex, add Orgasm Inc. to your Netflix queue. The film manages to be both witty and informative while exposing how Big Pharma and medical device-makers ignore the complexities of female sexuality and endanger patients in order to make money.
How Big Pharma invents diseases
Filmmaker Liz Canner gained a unique glimpse into the behind-the-scenes workings of the pharmaceutical industry after being hired by California drug company Vivus to edit erotic videos. Vivus planned to have drug testing subjects view these films after applying a topical cream drug designed to treat the newly discovered condition, “Female Sexual Dysfunction.” Canner gained permission from Vivus to interview and film company personnel for her own project.
To give context to the issue of medicalizing everyday life, the film includes remarks from experts who have studied Big Pharma’s increasing control of disease definitions. Ray Moynihan, author of “Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients” observes “there’s a lot of money to be made by telling healthy people they’re sick.” New York University professor of psychiatry Dr. Leonore Tiefer calls Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) “a manufactured term to create a market.” Tiefer has founded the New View campaign to combat the medicalization of sex.
As the film points out, the physicians who defend the diagnosis of FSD and prescription drugs used to treat it, have undisclosed ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Doctors who ran clinical trials for Vivus’ drug were treated by the pharmaceutical firm to a ski vacation. The film shows Vivus executives bonding with physicians over drinks in a bar as while singing the praises of the company’s drug. Canner reveals that her camera was banned from a meeting the next day discussing the results of the clinical trial, which did not meet the company’s expectations.
Beyond quick fixes
Using animated figures to depict the race between different companies to gain FDA approval for different forms of FDS treatment, the documentary shows how most of the drugs and devices drop out after failing to outperform placebos in clinical trials. These creams, pills and devices do not deliver “the quick fix that the industry had been hoping for” the film notes, perhaps “because most of women’s sexual problems are not purely physiological.” The film lists other factors such as stress, relationship problems, past experience of sexual assault, prescription anti-depressants and body image issues which can decrease libido.
The film also notes another serious flaw in the diagnosis and treatment of FDA: failure to acknowledge the variety and complexity of women’s sexual experience. Many women may have orgasms but still view themselves as non-orgasmic or sexually dysfunctional because they do not experience the type of orgasms portrayed in movies. Lack of comprehensive education about their own sexuality, and even their own anatomy, can lead women to buy an image of themselves as “sick” and in need of drugs or medical devices or even vaginal surgery. The film contrasts these side-effect laden industry solutions with a presentation given by the owner of a sex toy store to attendees at a medical conference on “pleasure-based solutions” to female sexual difficulties.
As an examination of the methods the pharmaceutical industry uses to convert people’s insecurities and lack of knowledge into corporate profit, the film succeeds admirably. The documentary also provides an historical review of the medical profession’s attitudes toward female sexuality. For anyone interested in an uncensored look at the intersection of health care, sexuality and culture, this film offers humor, intelligence and valuable information. Orgasm Inc. recently became available on Netflix. You can also purchase the DVD or rent the film for community educational screenings through its website (http://orgasminc.org/).