The XX Factor

No Orgasms, Please. We’re Women.

Rachael, thank you for the post about the bizarre, deeply disturbing practices of the surgeon doing female genital cutting at Cornell. And speaking of female genitals, I was struck by a comment by Leonore Tiefer, a sexuality researcher at NYU, who is testifying before the FDA against the marketing of the “female Viagra” drug. She says the pharmaceutical industry seeks to medicalize our sexuality, then offers to cure our problems with a pill. In the New York Times , Tiefer, describing the nature of female sexuality, said, “Women’s sex lives are often a struggle, a disappointment, an archipelago of regret.” The drug, flibanserin, may indeed not be worth approving, and Tiefer has a point about medicalization, but “archipelago of regret”? It sounds as if the sex doctor needs a sex doctor.

Looking further into Tiefer’s writing, a distinct theme emerges: Sex is for the birds, and orgasms are for men. In this paper , she takes sexuality researcher William Masters to task for studying female sexual response by using as subjects, “women who could orgasm during masturbation and intercourse - an atypical bunch, considering most female sexual experience.” (Question for Tiefer: How do you know you’re done masturbating if you don’t have an orgasm-and why bother?) And in this essay , she says there’s a “reductionist” view of sexuality that sees “satisfaction as an inherent result of normal function.” I’m trying to understand what’s wrong with the view that, ideally, normal sexual function will result in satisfaction. I hope the FDA is also hearing from experts who don’t seem so invested in the idea that women’s sex lives are a pleasureless slog.