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Women, orgasms and accuracy

July 8th, 2005

Dr Petra

Over the past year there’s been a lot of hype and hot air about women and orgasm. From the media coverage you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a pandemic of low desire in females. Various studies, many of dubious scientific quality, have suggested that this outbreak of desire disorders is largely down to either genetics or hormonal imbalances.

Along with the poor science comes the opportunity for suggesting ‘cures’ (after all if you can define a problem and hype it up enough, you have to suggest a solution). These have included hormonal patches, surgical interventions, and brain or spinal implants.

Fortunately for us, despite the massive media attention these studies have received, none of these ‘treatments’ are currently approved for public use.

And thank goodness for that since new evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week suggests that despite all the media hysteria and Big Pharma research, there’s not sufficient evidence to prove low female sexual desire is caused by low blood testosterone levels.

The research of over 1400 randomly selected healthy Australian women aged 18-75 required participants to give blood samples (that were subsequently tested for hormone level) and complete a sexual functioning questionnaire. The results suggested that low testosterone levels are not a predictor of low female sexual desire as other studies have claimed. Many participants in this current study had low blood testosterone levels but didn’t report a lack of sexual desire.

Interestingly whilst a number of newspapers have covered this story, it hasn’t reached the frenetic press coverage other ‘research’ has received. A piece of accurate and groundbreaking science that isn’t promising a ‘new breakthrough’ in female sexual desire doesn’t make as snappy a story as one that hasn’t been published in a reputable scientific journal, but has been circulated by a pharmaceutical company and covered by uncritical journalists.

Luckily some of this is changing. As well as the excellent JAMA study, this week the Seattle Times have run a fantastic expose on how pharmaceutical companies are attempting to alter diagnoses to increase profits. This isn’t just the case within sex drugs, it’s happening across a number of health conditions as outlined in the Seattle Times piece.

However many medical organisations, academics, sexologists, therapists and responsible investigative and health journalists are all expressing concern that the medicalisation of female sexual functioning is a growing crisis we need to challenge.

This weekend a major scientific conference run by the FSD-Alert Campaign is meeting in Montreal, Quebec to hear how the manipulation of female sexual dysfunction is causing women harm. The conference, entitled ‘Women and the new sexual politics: profits and pleasures’ will feature a range of leading experts on female sexuality and is backed by an array of respected health organisations.

The message is simple. Don’t believe the hype. Women do have problems with desire, but most are not indicated by hormonal levels, nor cured by ‘quick fix’ pills or patches.

Visit the campaign website FSD-Alert to find out more – and discover ways you can help women enjoy the sex life they deserve without imposing unnecessary and inaccurate medical labels upon them.

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