article

06.16.10

I Like My Low Sex Drive

On June 17, the FDA will consider approving a drug to boost women’s libido. No thanks, says Joan Sewell. My super-low sex drive suits me just fine.

It wasn’t until I actually got married that I realized that, day in and day out, this man I was now to committed to dating every single day of my life also wanted sex (nearly) every day of his life.

But after talking with my married gal pals and seeing multiple Oprah episodes about women’s achingly paltry libidos and the trouble it caused their men, I began to wonder if I wasn’t being led astray. When I hear sexperts on TV give advice about how to help women with their “dysfunctional sex drives” I get suspicious that we’re all feeding into the convenient male fantasy of the sexually voracious woman.

I want CNN to trumpet a drug that proudly touts that men will have one-third fewer sexual thoughts per month.

Now, two or three times a year there’s a new drug promising to raise my libido; my weak, sand-kicked-in-its-eyes, beat-up-after-the-bell libido. It pricks up its ears just at the thought of a magic muscling-up. And here it comes, the next sex drive-boosting drug for women: it’s called Flibanserin, and on June 17, the FDA will consider whether to allow American pharmacies to sell it to women like me.

Soon, news of this alleged libido-enhancing wonder drug will become a crawl along the bottom of CNN. I can already see the sprinkles of articles sifting down upon my Google homepage. Finally, Madame, for your consideration, a female Viagra.

But Flibanserin is not actually the female correlate to Viagra. Drugs like Viagra work on men who have purely mechanical problems. Men still need to feel sexual desire first before the drug pops into action. Instead, Flibanserin is a drug for helping women overcome low sexual desire.

Joyce C. Tang: Is the Pill Killing Your Sex Drive?According to some estimates, over forty million women have some problem with sexual desire and excitement. But if there are tens of millions of women complaining that their libidos aren’t up to snuff, who are the normal ones? Are women as horny as we’re being portrayed? Are we downing cocktails at the local bar, trolling for a good lay, a la Sex and the City? My answer is no, judging by how many of us hip and happening chicks are firmly planted on our microfiber sectionals, desperately watching the latest sexpert weigh in on how women can raise their libido.

The parade of TV psychologists approach me with those overly sympathetic, simpering smiles, explaining that if a woman has lower desire than her man, there is sadly something wrong with her world: she doesn’t feel emotionally safe enough to have sex, she’s too stressed, she’s too tired, she hasn’t been romanced enough, or she’s a stay-at-home mom, or she’s a working mom, or not a mom, and on and on. In other words, a mythos is posited that women would have equal sexual drives to men if it weren’t for the overly-full, over-extended, livin’-it-to-the-max life we girls have to live.

Teri Hatcher’s much ballyhooed lifestyle site, GetHatched, at family.go.com asked which women would prefer: eight hours of really great sex or eight hours of really great sleep? The subtext reads, boy that’s a toughie, Teri. I love sex, but jeepers, I’m so gosh darn busy with charity work, career, multiple babies, and exploring the effects of gamma rays, I barely have any me time! It’s a tableau straight out of an air freshener commercial. But the answer one woman gave in response to the question was revealing: “Who wants to have sex for eight hours?” Ask a dude. Ask even a tired dude. No contest.

The fact is—and it’s a big one—across every culture and every eon it’s been shown in myriad ways that women are far less sexually driven than men. We have fewer sexual thoughts, less desire for many partners, fewer polymorphously perverse fantasies, less need for frequency of sex, and less desire to pay people to have sex with us. Just a lot less preoccupation with all things sexual. (If that, or any other sentence offends or outrages you, feel free to put “in general” or “for the most part” in front of said statement. All better now?)

And yet, too many folks choke on the fact of innate gender differences in libido. Feminists equate a lower sex drive with inferiority. Feminism equates a vigorous libido with a healthy, even dominant ego. Take our man Sam on Sex and the City. Even though Sex and the City 2 has sent more critics screaming, weeping, and running than when Godzilla first set foot in Tokyo, women want to identify with the idea as using not only shoes but men as consumables. Why? It’s simply childish turnabout. The Samantha fiction gives us political cover, allowing us to hide our desperation behind a false, even shrill, sexual bravado—one that doesn’t let us confront the plain fact that we have undersold the sexual differences between men and women.

Some claim that a pill to boost women’s sex drives is about female empowerment. Right. To claim that women are empowered by demanding medication for low libido is like claiming Botox and breast implants are empowering because they help women get better husbands or better jobs.

The truth is women are a lot more willing to refashion their bodies surgically and pharmaceutically to compliment men rather than vice versa. Why no estrogen therapy for men? Thus, we have two problems: First, the male version of sex drive is what women are unjustly being measured by. Second, women are trying too hard to please men who need more realistic expectations of women’s sexuality.

And there are also a couple of reasons these two problems never go away. For one thing, conservatives want women to keep up with men sexually because sexual fulfillment in a committed relationship is supposed to keep the more promiscuous male sex drive corralled into monogamy. Monogamy can be hot, hot, hot. Let us ponder Beyonce’s anthem “Single Ladies” with its ass-slapping, butt-chugging choreography. It basically says that if men want to keep hitting it, tapping it, or otherwise jumpin’ on it, they’d better put a ring on it. Which is, perversely, a message conservative enough to put a big smile on the Family First Foundation.

Meanwhile, we have the sexperts reinforcing the ideal of the highly sexual woman. Bolstering the feminist position of equating a high sex drive with confidence and socio-political status, for decades sexperts have been trying to ratchet up women’s said low drive through psychoanalysis, encounter groups, sensate focusing, cognitive therapy, aroma therapy, lingerie therapy, role playing, or hang gliding from a giant pink diaphragm that says, Hey, I’m adventurous, but soft and sexy, too.

Seeing that none of these approaches have worked on any kind of significant or sustained basis, it’s no surprise we’re turning toward giving women testosterone or other pharmaceuticals in an effort to shoehorn us into a male model of sexuality that just doesn’t fit. The logic may be that if pharmaceuticals increase sex-seeking behavior, then you must have had a testosterone or neurochemical deficiency to begin with. It’s like supporting professional athletes’ steroid use by saying, “Well, if it makes them perform better, they must have had a steroid deficiency.”

Would I ever consider taking a libido enhancer? Yes—if it were effective and entailed only the discomfort of magnetically receiving the positive quantum energy given off by an accommodating Deepak Chopra. Unfortunately, it appears that getting appreciably beyond our default setting still takes some pretty heavy pharmaceutical lifting. Besides, whether or not to reengineer our chemistry is more than a feminist question, it’s a woman question. Women are not being met halfway. I want CNN to trumpet a drug that proudly touts that men will have one-third fewer sexual thoughts per month. But that won’t happen. Instead, we’re the ones who must change, even radically, to make sure that we get and keep the ring on it. And if that’s what it takes, I’d politely like to offer Harry Winston my middle finger.

Joan Sewell is a writer currently living in the Washington DC area. She holds a master’s in Philosophy and is the author of the controversial book I’d Rather Eat Chocolate, a memoir of love and low libido.