The Still-Dark Continent of Women, Relationships and Sexual Desire

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A new pill for women with low libido? Our love goddess asks: Is it ‘dysfunction’ or simply what makes for women’s desire

 This week saw the introduction of a new pill to increase sexual desire among premenopausal women said to have “a depressed female sex drive” – and the requirement by the Food and Drug Administration’s panel to hold it off until the condition is studied further. I read each article about it – from the push by the drug company (a German firm, Boehringer) to the pull of the F.D.A. a few days later – with amazement.

Not once in any coverage by The New York Times was there a suggestion that women’s sexuality takes place in a context called – sorry, scientists! Sorry, medical profession! – “relationship.” I know how annoying the murky R word must sound to those hoping to throw billions of dollars at “diminished female libidos” instead of ascertaining what is occurring or not occurring between real people, and who may interpret “potency” very differently. But who among us (that is, who among us who is a woman) feels sexual desire in a vacuum? Who among us (who is a woman) feels “normal” sexual desire anyway (a normalcy scientists can’t quantify but which we’re led to think is limitless and constant)? Women’s desire is a stop-and-go phenomenon, not a fountain. The latter image seems to be that which is being held up as normal, despite women’s experience. Pfizer, another drug company who hopes to nail down a woman’s Viagra, said in a news release some years ago that women’s sexual disorders result “from a broad range of medical and psychological conditions.”

Freud lamented in 1933 that “the riddle of femininity” remained unsolved. The erotic life of men had become accessible to research, he noted, yet the erotic life of women “is still veiled in an impenetrable obscurity,” and was, therefore, he concluded, “a dark continent.”

I’ve spoken with women with varying amounts of desire and sometimes scary lapses in feelings of pleasure, but they’re not disembodied “females” with “dysfunctions” – they’re not, alas for researchers, chimps. Among the hundreds of women I’ve spoken with for three books about women’s desire (in my earthly incarnation as Dalma Heyn), never did one suffer from this “broad range of medical and psychological conditions” outside of relationships, the place where they found or didn’t find pleasure. I’m not suggesting dysfunction doesn’t exist, and I don’t doubt that brain chemicals are important in creating a drug that can mimic what a desiring woman feels. But who can dare speak about a woman’s desire without speaking about love? About her life?

If drug companies are going to decide what ails us by omitting relationship from their language, then the “riddle of femininity” will remain a riddle, and most of us, premenopausal, perimenopausal and postmenopausal women alike, will soon be considered deficient enough, disturbed enough, and – isn’t this where it’s heading? – unwomanly enough to warrant daily, long-term doses of their drugs.

I wouldn’t listen to anybody who speaks about “female sexual disorders” anyway. If someone can’t use language that is embodied when talking about intimacy; can’t embrace the language women themselves use when they talk about what they feel and see and need (that is, about Desire); and can’t talk about it all in the context of relationships, where women consistently say they find pleasure – then, dear earth girls, I’m very nervous.

Editor’s Note: Who is the wisest of them all? Who is more dedicated to your pleasure than anyone on earth? Who can help you when you’re going online for the first time to find love; or when your lover’s children hate you; or when you want to strangle your husband? Why, the Love Goddess, of course. She promises nothing less than celestial wisdom, heavenly sex, divine dating. Want more from the Love Goddess?  Like all savvy goddesses, the Love Goddess has her own site, which you can visit by clicking here

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