Too many doctors want to treat sex as if it were an instinctive function like digesting lunch. It’s not. No one has to teach the gastrointestinal system when to squirt its digestive juices or how to process the potatoes just swallowed. Sex, on the other hand, can be a fumbling, painful, embarrassing episode that can improve with practice and instruction. Moving from successful intercourse to pleasurable sex is not an instinct, but depends on multiple factors, none of which are solved by pushing women to adhere to medical norms.
I had the pleasure of attending and speaking on a panel at the New View Capstone Conference. I spoke about the success of our sister organization DES Action USA as a grassroots organization. The “New View Campaign” has been run since 1999 by Leonore Tiefer, PhD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine. Tiefer argues that drugs have very little role to play in women’s satisfaction or orgasms. She warns against the takeover of women’s sexuality by the medical establishment — the medicalization of sexuality.
Dr. Tiefer and the New View Campaign promote the concept that sexual dissatisfaction is unlikely to be cured by a pill and nearly impossible to measure by medical standards because it can have too many causes and almost none have anything to do with what a pill can cure. Some of the reasons for less than perfect sex suggested by the New View Campaign are:
- Unskilled sex partner
- Fatigue or stress from family or work
- Money problems
- Feeling unsafe
- Other problems in the relationship
- Health issues
- Unrealistic expectations
- Not saying what you want from fear or embarrassment
- Past or current harassment or abuse
Instead of respecting the individuality of sexual satisfaction, some doctors and pharmaceutical companies try to define satisfaction by measuring organ responsiveness or with a checkbox to be compared with some mythical “norm.” If the a woman
Creating a medical model for sex leads to expectations that women will experience “normal” amounts of sex, desire and orgasms, or else be labeled with female sexual dysfunction or hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
But what is “normal” sex? What level of passion, sexual drive or orgasms is the “right” amount? Tiefer and the New View Campaign suggest that every individual’s response to sex changes day to day and year to year for many reasons.
Further, these attempts to measure “normal” amounts of desire, etc., ignore sexual individuality, cultural variations. It doesn’t take into account distractions, stressors, skills or, frankly, love.
Women who didn’t find satisfaction with their sexual partners or didn’t express the “right” amounts of desire have been called frigid, lesbian, teases and more. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies going back to before Freud have offered Addyi (the so-called “Female Viagra”), testosterone, antidepressants, and more with stunningly poor outcomes.
I found Tiefer and the (mostly) academics at the conference to be a joy. They are unafraid to challenge medical standards and pharma companies. They unabashedly stand up for women’s rights as feminists. I was proud to stand with them.
And I’m delighted to present Tiefer’s chart, above: Is Sex More Like Dancing or Digestion? Take a look and come to your own conclusions.