Colbert’s “Cheating Death” segment usually contains some quality snark. This particular piece opens with a satire on hormones being pushed to women throughout the lifecycle.
Then, starting at 2:10:
Stephen Colbert: “Next up: Heart Health. Folks: Drugs called “statins” are effective in lowering cholesterol. That’s why I crush statins on my bacon chilli corndogs. But a study unveiled Sunday shows that when taken preventively, the statin drug Crestor dramatically reduces the risk of heart attack, even in people with normal cholesterol. This is a great breakthrough in the battle to find things to prescribe to people who don’t need them.
But, of course, some Hippocratic oafs don’t wanna prescribe it.
Random Dr: “If we’re talking about lifelong therapy for health people, I think we need a cautious approach, to do this.”
Colbert: “Sounds like someone hasn’t gotten enough free Crestor pens. Now, true, the drug costs a hundred dollars a month, but that’s a small price to pay to not have the heart attack that there’s no way of knowing if you would have had. But if you’re still hesitant to medicate yourself when you’re healthy, Prescott introduces – VAXACREST! Vaxacrest eliminates your concerns about taking Crestor for no reason by dramatically increasing your cholesterol count until your heart is pumping liquid nacho cheese. Side effects of Vaxacrest may include fallopian tapeworm, runaway gums, and Mind of Mencia.”
Statins can be a useful drug in those with heart disease or at high risk for it. However, as Colbert notes, the pharmaceutical industry has a deep interest in developing large, lifetime markets. Healthy young people who will live for many years and who are worried about their health are the ideal market – they can afford their drugs, and they’ll be taking them for a long time.
The false binary of “invented” and “real” disorders is blurry enough*; aren’t we all worried about our health? Is anyone actually in 100% perfect health? Doesn’t everyone want to live forever? Don’t we all want to “fulfil our potential”, to live the same way we think our idols do, to not feel like we’re missing out on something?
There are a lot of possible responses to not being quite where you’d like to be in life – or not quite where you “should” be. But the pharmaceutical industry would like you to turn to drugs, not just as first-line treatment, but as “prevention”. And the best way to sell drugs to well people is to convince them that they’re sick.
Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder
News sites have been abuzz this year with “Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder” in women. Because it’s new? Nope! Because it’s increasing? Nope! Because there’s a drug trial in process? Yup!
Selling testosterone to women for HSSD never quite got off the ground. A few take it, but the spectre of hairiness and a deeper voice is rather off-putting to a lot of women (and/or their male partners) – not surprising, when these things are so deprecated by those who enforce rigid gender binaries and ideas of “femininity”. What’s the point of boosting your desire if the treatment makes you “unfuckable”? Now that there are non-androgenic drugs in the pipeline, pharm companies are rubbing their giant paws together, dollar signs throbbing.
The Washington Post (among many others) a few weeks ago reported the results of a study of the prevalence of HSDD in women.
In a double whammy for the female gender, new research shows that 40 percent of women report sexual problems, but only 12 percent are distressed about it. […] But 12 percent of 83 million U.S. women aged 20 to 65 is nothing to scoff at, noted a related editorial in the November issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology. […]
Overall, 43.1 percent of those surveyed reported some kind of sexual problem: 39 percent reported diminished desire, 26 percent reported problems with arousal, and 21 percent problems with achieving orgasm.
Only 12 percent, however, reported significant personal distress associated with this problem.
Here’s a clue, folks – if there’s no distress, it’s not a “sexual problem”. It’s the way things are. Asexual is a fine way to be. Not wanting as much sex as a partner does is a fine way to be. Not wanting as much sex as the folks in romantic comedies or porn flicks is a fine way to be. Not wanting as much sex as your doctor tells you you should be wanting is a fine way to be.
Desire that’s less than average but that doesn’t bother the desirer isn’t “diminished”; it’s the amount of desire a person has, no less, no more. Not getting aroused when you don’t want to isn’t a “problem”, it’s a perfectly ok state of being. Not orgasming, if you don’t want to orgasm, is what it is – you living your life. Defining women’s lack of constant availability of sex as a “problem” when it’s not a problem for the woman is rape culture at its finest – women’s bodies as vessels for men’s pleasure, problematic only when they say “No.”
And the “double whammy”? I guess that’s because women are just not distressed enough about the fact that some of them have things on their minds other than lying down and spreading ’em. If you’re going to be frigid, you could at least be dismayed, ladies. Defective on two counts!
Diagnostic Criteria for HSDD
There’s a big knot in the clinical definition of HSDD, and it’s an ugly one. The official criteria can be found here, and they are:
1. Persistently or recurrently deficient (or absent) sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity. The judgment of deficiency or absence is made by the clinician, taking into account factors that affect sexual functioning, such as age and the context of the person’s life.
2. The disturbance causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.
3. The sexual dysfunction is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (except another sexual dysfunction) and is not due exclusively to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition.
“Or interpersonal difficulty”. In other words, if your sexual desire is at a statistically low level that you’re perfectly comfortable with, and your partner yells at you and throws things because he can’t get his end off, you have a disease.
One that needs drugs, according to the pharmaceutical industry, just as soon as they have a drug you might be willing to take.
This is where the drugs come in.
Drugs made by Boehringer Ingelheim, who funded this study, and who are funding ongoing clinical trials into flibanserin, a drug that fiddles with neurotransmitters. The funding is the bit we know about. Who knows whether this study, or any other, was written by the scientists and clinicians whose names are on it? Wyeth has been ghost-writing “scientific” journal articles on hormone replacement therapy for years, according to the New York Times, even after it was shown to be causing breast cancer. The pharmaceutical industry has no scruples when it comes to hoodwinking doctors and damaging or killing women for a profit.
And so, we will continue to receive press releases from Boehringer Ingelheim, uncritically regurgitated by the mass media. They will continue their “Bouquet” trials, whose acronyms coincidentally resemble a series of flowers, which chicks lurrve – ROSE (Researching Outcomes on Sustained Efficacy), DAHLIA, VIOLET, DAISY, ORCHID, SUNFLOWER and MAGNOLIA. The Bouquet studies aim not to investigate HSDD and flibanserin, but explicitly to “demonstrate the efficacy and safety of flibanserin to support regulatory approval of flibanserin to treat this common and distressing condition.”
The ROSE study is now completed, though it’s not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal. Did it even attempt to measure satisfaction with treatment, or happiness? No. But the women in the study apparently reported an increase in mean desire score and in “satisfying” sexual events, and in Female Sexual Function Index score. And an increase in urinary tract infections. W00t.
The Real Double Whammy
In other news, the company has also applied for a patent for the Use of flibanserin in the treatment of obesity. A drug that advertises that it will make women skinny and gagging for it? Can you imagine a bigger pharmaceutical gold mine?
* A closing note: There are traps and pitfalls to critiquing and debunking Big Pharma’s drive to pathologisation, and I face those pitfalls full-on. Pathologisation is but one side of the coin; the other side is the denial of real problems both by the medical industry and by wider culture. Both of those issues are huge, and they’re interlinked, and I’ve posted about both of them. There are a number of Hoydenizens whose illness have been denied, dismissed, and ridiculed – and who ourselves have been pathologised, sometimes in derogatory and threatening ways, for feeling the symptoms of our illnesses. I’m one of them. When the reality of our problems is institutionally acknowledged, it tends only to be acknowledged in contexts and in ways that benefit the medical industries, not in ways that benefit us. Our illnesses are accepted when there’s a drug available, and not before. If there is no drug available, we are misdiagnosed with a disorder that doctors do feel comfortable attempting to treat. We are shoehorned into boxes into which we do not fit.
Please don’t read this post, or any of this series, as denying the reality of stigmatised disorders. Just as some people very much benefit from statin drugs, for example, there may be people who might benefit from the other treatments I’m going to discuss. This series is intended to critique the motives and behaviour of the megapharmamedicopatriarchoindustrial complex in aggressively expanding their markets, and the ways in which bigotry and capitalism intertwine in that process. If it’s not yours – don’t pick it up.