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Middle Eastern Sex Crisis?

October 6th, 2005

Dr Petra

Yesterday I was grumbling about a feature in Newsweek that had managed to get the wrong end of the stick about female sexual dysfunction and as a result written an advertisement for the pharmaceutical industry.

Today there’s a similar issue happening around male sexual dysfunction. Papers across the Middle East are reporting on how 1:10 Middle Eastern men have erectile dysfunction (ED).
This is a usual figure cited by pharmaceutical companies producing drugs for male sexual dysfunction – it comes from research that combined scores from men who reported occasional sexual dissatisfaction with those with a full-blown clinical problem. Meaning the numbers of guys with a ‘dysfunction’ was hyped up. The reason for doing this is obvious; increase numbers of ED reports means an increase of public anxiety and greater drug sales.

Interestingly the ‘1:10 men have ED’ slogan we so often see used by pharmaceutical company PR departments was not based exclusively on men in the Middle East, so we actually don’t know how many Middle Eastern guys have a chronic sexual dysfunction. My guess would be it’s a lot lower than 1:10.

News coverage of this story unfortunately didn’t pick up on this disparity. Instead it talked about the Middle East “entering a new era of sexual health”. Well that’s most certainly true, because Big Pharma are going to ensure it happens.

Within the Middle East there are some amazing sex and relationships educators and therapists. However, depending on country and circumstances, sometimes their work has been difficult. The problems facing those in the Middle East are about a lack of easily available accurate unbiased sex information, problems around gender and communication, attitudes towards homosexuality, and access to contraception. There’s also the concern that as Western influences around sex (e.g. porn, mainstream media sex imagery in film or music, or commercial sex products) are absorbed into the culture there will be an increase in sexual dissatisfaction, uncertainty and worries about gender roles.

The result of problems with existing lack of sex knowledge alongside a threatened Westernisation of sex could lead to many sex problems – an increase in STIs, a problem with gender relations, and convincing guys that not lasting for hours or occasionally not getting it up is a medical crisis requiring drugs.

We’ve already seen it in the West. Once if a guy couldn’t get it up occasionally due to nerves, anxiety, relationship problems or overdoing alcohol, then it was seen as an annoying part of life. Now it’s seen as a clinical crisis with men often self-medicating with drugs from the Internet. Men are made to be terrified of not getting it up, whilst those with a genuine erectile dysfunction that’s due to disease, injury or psychological problems may still not always get the help they need – and the drugs don’t always work.

In the past sex information in the Middle East has been influenced by state control (as in most countries) meaning certain views of sex have been promoted, and many people have been excluded. Poorer people, particularly women, and homosexuals have suffered as a result. This new development with the pharmaceutical industry moving in is exactly the same problem – it’s still biased information – but this time it’s people seeing a marketplace ripe for targeting and a group of people without the confidence or sex knowledge to question it.

You can be sure that this campaign of convincing Middle Easterners that they need to prioritise ED as a major problem facing men is not going to do much to help women, and you can be even more sure that those who’re living in poverty or from minority ethnic or religious groups in the Middle East aren’t going to be included – creating further sexual apartheid.

Of course the newspaper coverage shows the pharmaceutical companies coming to the Middle East as kindly advisors, who imply men who have erectile problems and their partners suffer terribly and need help. It’s all very well meaning on the surface.

But the underlying message is less positive. Westerners are now going to define sex for you. They’re going to make you anxious about sex in ways you weren’t before. And they hope to redirect your attention away from the very real sex and reproductive health needs facing your countries in order for a minority of privileged men and women to believe they have an ‘illness’ that perhaps not all are afflicted by. Some Middle Eastern doctors are going to join them to help promote this message. Who can blame them? After all if you’ve been underfunded and ignored for years and now you’re being offered amazing monetary rewards and status for supporting pharma companies you’re going to be tempted to take the money and tow the party line.

There’s only one reason why ED is going to be hyped up as the main sexual problem facing men in the Middle East. To make money for drug companies.

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