Written by Greg Barbrick
As Michael Moore showed us with Sicko (2007) the pharmaceutical industry is ruthless in their pursuit of profits. Since there has never been a drug as successful as Viagra, there was an immediate push to come up with a form of Viagra for women. Director Liz Canner’s Orgasm Inc. is a documentary about the drug companies’ race to get FDA approval to treat the newly-minted medical syndrome “female sexual dysfunction.”
Canner’s film has been nine years in the making, and exposes a number of shady deals between doctors and the drug companies. The most blatant is the creation of FSD in the first place. This is a brand new condition, very conveniently discovered shortly after Viagra hit the market. Tellingly, nobody can really define what FSD is. With males the situation is pretty straightforward. It is a blood flow issue, which Viagra and drugs like it effectively address. When it comes to female sexuality however, there are no clear cut reasons for not achieving orgasm.
With billions of dollars at stake, this fact is little more than an inconvenience. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer won the prize with Viagra, and was first out of the gate with a female version of the drug. It was a little pink pill, shaped exactly like the well-known male counterpart. The claim was that it increased blood flow to feminine genitalia, resulting in an increased libido. This was basically a marketing fabrication. Viagra for women was an complete failure. Pfizer eventually abandoned the project, after spending millions of dollars in development.
The idea of FSD had caught on as a potential gold-mine though, and Canner shows us a number of others intent on tapping into the market. One way of skirting FDA approval is a little-known practice called “off label use.” When a drug is cleared for one condition, doctors have the discretion to prescribe it for other reasons as well. The media blitz about FSD in the early 2000s prodded some women to seek help from their doctors for it. Pharmaceutical reps met with physicians to convince them that some medicines were effective in treating the disorder, FDA approval notwithstanding.
A more disturbing trend is the recent craze for female sexual surgery. The mania for plastic surgery has now reached the private parts. Canner takes us to a symposium in Montreal called the “World Congress Of Sexology.” Here we see banners heralding such techniques as “Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation,” and “Designer Laser Vaginoplasty.” As the director notes after seeing before and after pictures of these procedures, “They look like little girls.”
By the end of Orgasm Inc., one feels as if they had been to a nineteenth-century medicine show. Only this time it is multi-billion dollar corporations such as Pfizer and Proctor & Gamble who are hustling us.
The upcoming DVD release of Orgasm Inc. by First Run Features contains some intriguing extras. These include bonus scenes, a biography of the director, and “Take Action: A Resource Guide.” While the topic of the film is obviously oriented to women, it is also a witty and scathing indictment of the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. Liz Canner’s nine years of effort have resulted in a very enjoyable, and thought-provoking documentary which should appeal to everyone, regardless of gender.