WHO DESIRES FEMALE DESIRE? Cultural assumptions underlying female sexual interest disorder

Department of Anthropology; Программа «Гендерные исследования»

After the great success of Viagra, pharmaceutical companies have set a new goal: the "female Viagra", i.e. a pill for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), the most commonly diagnosed female sexual dysfunction. Each subsequent proposal for the treatment of low desire showed the process of disease mongering in all its glory and simultaneous attempts to strengthen the hypotheses about its biological basis: depending of the drug manufacturer HSDD was supposed to be due to androgen deficiency, disordered pelvic blood circulation, or neurotransmitters imbalance. These various concepts of the genesis of HSDD showed the first problem with the female Viagra: the highly problematic definition of HSDD and the promotion of reductionist hypotheses, despite strong empirical evidence of their inadequacy to describe female sexual desire. The second problem arose with empirical data on female sexual motivations: lack of spontaneous desire affects up to 64% of female population. Such a high prevalence justifies posing the question if it is a pathology or rather various manifestations of normalcy. Furthermore, even women with presumed lack of spontaneous desire often have satisfactory sexual life and engage in sexual activity from different motivation. So why these women are eager to take drugs enhancing spontaneous desire? During the talk I will highlight cultural assumptions that promote medicalization of female sexual desire: the norm of long-term monogamous relationships and gender inequality – visible in the process of establishing a sexual norm of (high) desire, in gendered motivation to regulate the level of desire and in sexual expectations in heterosexual relationships.

Katarzyna Grunt-Mejer, PhD, is a psychologist, sexologist and bioethicist. She is an assistant professor and head of postgraduate studies in sexology at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Poznań, Poland.