Just a quick word in reply to a review of Ray Moynihan’s Sex, Lies, and Pharmaceuticals: How Drug Companies Plan to Profit from Female Sexual Dysfunction (co-authored by Barbara Mintzes).
First, the reviewer, British sociologist Linsey McGoey, criticizes the book for continuing its attack on the medicalization of life.
A few pages in, it’s hard not to feel déjà vu. Moynihan came out a few years ago with Selling Sickness, a book tackling the problem of medicalization, the tendency for typical life phases or human behaviour such as shyness to be medicalized – treated as disorders and diseases requiring medical treatment.
IMHO, there can never be enough books educating the public about medicalization.
Next she defends the pharmaceutical industry:
They [the authors] want to condemn [the pharmaceutical] industry for preying on human insecurity and profiting from the oldest adage in the book: Sex sells. The problem is, just as Viagra has been embraced by millions, its pink equivalent would be a sure seller – and not because consumers are dupes, or because industry is inherently malevolent, or because doctors are in the pockets of companies. Sure, some are, but such a thesis always oversimplifies the links between human disease and human desire. Most of them [sic] time, people want to be told that a problem is medical in orientation. It helps to exonerate a sense of personal blame.
Eliminating a sense of blame or shame is exactly the tactic pharmaceutical marketing employs. (See How the pharmas make us sick.) Viagra has been embraced by millions because ED has been medicalized! I was just reading about a “renegade” Canadian doctor who’s quoted on the subject:
Popular drugs such as Viagra or Cialis have helped manufacture the notion of erectile dysfunction when there is no scientific consensus on what a “normal” number of erections would be, says Turcotte. “Illnesses are being created by marketing departments.”
Consumers are duped by drug companies. Many doctors – key opinion leaders, for instance — are in the pocket of drug companies, contrary to the interests of patients. And it’s an open question whether drug companies are inherently malevolent. Maybe not inherently, but definitely malevolent. Just read Wendell Potter’s Deadly Spin.
McGoey cites a study in JAMA as evidence for the legitimacy of treating female sexual dysfunction.
A 1999 study in the Journal of American Medical Association suggested that 43 per cent of women suffered from some sort of sexual dysfunction, a statistic that must have been manna to the ears of manufacturers.
That would be the study “Sexual Dysfunction in the United States,” which found “sexual dysfunction is highly associated with negative experiences in sexual relationships and overall well-being.”
The solution to a poor sexual partner isn’t a pill. Or perhaps for many of us it is. Maybe we should just accept whatever dissatisfactions life brings us by taking an antidepressant, which is exactly what Dr. Ronald Dworkin argues we’re doing in Artificial Happiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class
A neoliberal excuse for medicalization
What really set me off in this review was its passive acceptance of the neoliberal agenda.
Some suggest a problem with the trend toward medicalization is that many things labelled as medical disorders stem from social, and not biological, causes. As the authors write, “labelling a woman with a medical condition when she mightn’t actually have one can mean failing to get the root of the problem – especially if it’s not her problem alone but has risen from her relationship.”
True enough, and yet most people experience times when as much as it’s blindingly obvious a problem is not theirs alone, it’s up to them alone to fix it – and a pill is often the quickest or only means.
That’s exactly what Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan wanted us to believe. “There’s no such thing as society.” Unfortunately, many medical disorders do have social, not biological causes. Like poverty.
The politics behind personal responsibility for health
A doomed and dysfunctional medical culture
How the pharmas make us sick
Should grief be labeled and treated as depression?
Medicalization then and now
Linsey McGoey, In search of a pink Viagra, The Globe and Mail, February 24, 2011
Jonathan Montpetit, Renegade Quebec doctor warns of ‘ethical bankruptcy’ of health-care system, Winnipeg Free Press, February 22, 2011
Edward O. Laumann, et al., Sexual Dysfunction in the United States, The Journal of the American Medical Association, April 28, 1999, 28(16), pp 537-544
Gary Greenberg, Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease