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Lady Viagra
What a surprise, the birth of "Female Sexual Dysfunction" coincided with the birth of the "little blue pill." It's a hot topic in an article by Anne Marie O'Connor about the Berman sisters (mainly the urologist sister Berman) in the LA Times:

John Bancroft, a senior research fellow at Indiana University and former director of the Kinsey Institute there, says marketers for pharmaceutical companies have played too great a role in dictating the direction of female sexual research. He believes the Berman sisters, in particular, have contributed to the "medicalization" of benign sexual behaviors by healthy women who are too tired or stressed to enjoy sex.

"It's crazy," Bancroft says. "To call anything that 43% of the population experiences a 'dysfunction' is questionable. There's been very vigorous research in this field, almost all of it funded by the pharmaceutical industry, and I think it has ended up with having a bias toward medicalizing these problems. The Berman sisters have been quite successful in getting into the media and bringing attention to themselves. I don't have a lot of respect for them scientifically…. They haven't let any scientific evidence get in their way."

Even sociologist Ed Laumann, coauthor of the article that stated that 43% of women had recently reported a female sexual dysfunction, and a Pfizer consultant since 1998, agrees that women's so-called dysfunctions often stem from everyday life, relationship troubles and, in some cases, harsh taboos about female sexuality. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out they're not interested in sex when they're exhausted taking care of a kid," Laumann says. "I would see it as part of the normal human condition." He now says his findings were appropriated for other purposes. "Obviously the pharmaceutical industry was taken aback by the remarkable success of Viagra, and that's where it goes over the line. There's a process of medicalization."

But the most dogged critic of FSD is respected sex therapist Leonore Tiefer, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, who in July convened a scientific conference in Montreal on "Female Sexual Dysfunction: A New Medical Myth," where clinicians, researchers and activists decried "the hidden hand of big Pharma" in shaping perceptions of sexual health.

"The minute it was clear that Viagra was going to sell a billion dollars' worth, the industry needed [a condition] for women that they could market Viagra for," Tiefer says. "There is a constant effort to manufacture new diagnoses so people will label parts of their personalities in need of drugs."

When Berman started her Pfizer-funded research in Boston, Tiefer says, "Jennifer had some interesting scientific plans." Then "this whole PR thing exploded. As soon as [the Bermans] got [to Los Angeles], I saw much more commercialization than research. It's a shame…. "

In Jennifer Berman's view, though, "there is no such thing as too much funding for research, wherever it's coming from." She says her critics, specifically Bancroft and Tiefer, shortchange women with their narrow approach to sexual health issues. "They say we're medicalizing sex and in bed with the pharmaceutical companies," she says. "For these people to say … that all women need are happier emotional lives is doing women a disservice. I'm incorporating mental health in my practice. These people should be incorporating medical solutions."

Here's an article on the testosterone patch, and a more cautious take on it, and a recent column of mine that touches on testosterone and desire. What might side effects from testosterone over-supplementation be?

Many of the unwanted side effects of testosterone and anabolic steroids come from their androgenic properties. These drugs can raise blood levels of testosterone, causing side effects which vary from person to person.

The most common side effects in both men and women include increased facial and body hair, oily skin or acne, male pattern baldness, water retention, joint stiffness, and soreness at the injection site. Lab tests may show increased levels of liver enzymes. A deepened or hoarsened voice, growth of the clitoris, and menstrual irregularities have been reported in women. The masculinizing side effects may be irreversible in women, even with short term use.

At higher doses over longer periods, increased or decreased sex drive, mood swings, aggressive behaviour, persistent painful erections, shrinking testicles, and breast growth have been reported in men. Long term use of high dose anabolics can damage the liver, causing jaundice, hepatitis, bleeding, or, possibly, cancer.'ll be a woman who wants to get it on all the time, but nobody will have sex with you because you have a big, black full beard...and then you'll die of loneliness and liver failure? Mmm, sounds peachy.

Posted by aalkon at October 1, 2005 9:28 AM

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Testosterone in and of itself isn't bad; it's doctor (and patients) who have no clue about the hormone than end up manipulating it to justify their means.

Fr'example female (and male) bodybuilders take HUGE doses of test. That will result in the side effects you listed above - extra hair growth, growth of the clitoris, etc. etc.

But everyone - female included - have tesosterone in their bodies. As a woman ages, her test levels drop, which can haev the effect of thinning of the vaginal skin, as well as low sex drive. Small levels of testosterone - applied through cream form - will restore their test levels.

The problem is that people automatically think "testosterone in women" = Chyna of the WWF. It's not true. Pro bodybuilders take ungodly amounts of drugs, and test. is just the tip of the iceberg. You can compare it to clinical levels being administered to women, but that would be like comparing a spring shower to Hurrricane Katrina.

Posted by: hte slackmistress at September 30, 2005 11:58 PM

If you read the link to my column, you'll see that I understand testosterone is a naturally-occurring hormone in men and women. Nevertheless, it shouldn't be given out like condoms at high schools. Oh, I forgot, we don't give condoms out at high schools. We just tell kids not to do it. That'll work.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 1, 2005 12:25 AM

now i will be the first to admit that i know absolutly nothing on this subject, but maybe there is a reason nature built in a time clock to slow the production of homones once we reach a certain age

Posted by: john at October 1, 2005 2:37 AM

Probably "alloparenting" for one -- needing grandma to take care of the babies. Also, fertility (and possibility of producing a healthy baby) are at their peak much younger. Also, older women don't run after babies and all the rest as well as younger ones.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 1, 2005 7:23 AM

Some companies are pursuing novel non-steroidal compounds with testosterone-like properties in hopes of finding ones that mimic testosterone's positive effects without all the problematic side effects.

As you can imagine, most of these started out as programs aimed at meeting men's health needs. It was only after research that showed the positive effects of androgens on women's health that pharmaceutical companies started to look in that direction.

A few years ago there were complaints that too much medical research was directed towards men's healthcare needs. Now that the pharmaceutical companies are starting to show a little equality, they're being blasted again as mysoginists.

Posted by: nash at October 1, 2005 7:42 AM

"Show a little equality"? Are you nuts?

The legal drug companies in this country make the heroin, cocaine, etc., dealers look like paupers.

Please notice that sex is a recreational activity in this country. In no way is Viagra a "health necessity".

Posted by: Radwaste at October 1, 2005 7:59 PM

Well, a healthy sex life is very good for mental health, although depression often leads to a drop off in sex. I don't think it's a bad thing -- quite the contrary -- to do research to improve people's sex lives, and to encourage openness about real sexuality rather than stand off from it and pretend that commercialization of sex is some substitute. (ie, there are girls going around with "sex kitten" tshirts who don't know how to use a condom.) There's a site about this -- I have to find it and link to it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 1, 2005 9:02 PM

While I cringe when I see the Bermans (Bermens?)all perky and girlish about sex, I had an equally strong non-PC reaction to today's LAT story about the cute little sex boutique Freddy and Eddy in Venice. When the hubby started going on about how hot his wife is, my first thought was "Dude--that's totally gay. Shut up!". My inner child is Cartman.
The Bermans are too quick to go for pills as a sledge-hammer solution that a backrub and a martini might cure. And from my old-crone perch as having been married 20+ years--the earth doesn't need to move every time. Use your hand, not a vibrator--orgasm is a learned response. Don't worry about morning breath, do it anyway. The worst sex I ever had was still pretty good.

Posted by: KateCoe at October 1, 2005 10:08 PM

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