Yesterday I talked about how our culture labels male erectile dysfunction and female low libido as pathological. The reverse, that men might have low libido or women might have trouble with physical arousal – both of which are real problems – goes totally unconsidered. Framing sexual problems (chronic or one-off) in this way is not just problematic because it is wrong, but because it causes a cascade of problems when pharma companies try to develop drugs to solve the problems.
Given our busy lives and our complicated relationships, it’s unsurprising that in the small window available for hanky-panky occasionally one person or the other has a physical or mental hang-up that prohibits sexy-time. But here’s the rub: if it isn’t a disease or disorder, it’s hard to argue for a reason to develop a drug to treat it. Not commercially, of course, but to the FDA. Our legal system and general culture has made it so that if a company wants to develop a product that enhances or enables a person’s physical sexual ability or libido, they have to find (or “discover”) a pathology to justify research and FDA approval. Companies cannot simply make a chemical that makes our life better: they have to find a disease to cure first. Low libido and physical problems associated with sex are problems, and we should be able to take drugs to control those if we choose without the need to describe either as a disease state requiring a doctor’s prescription.
The result of their being available only by prescription creates a frustrating cycle. One who wants a beneficial drug must either lie to their doctor or must begin to see his or her natural hiccups as pathological. This cycle is one of the core reasons we should begin to advocate a health system in which prevention and enhancement are as valued as therapeutic and restorative medicine. A child who has trouble focusing in a boring class is not pathological, she or he simply might lack the coping methods other students have – for example, I doodled to cope with calculus. Drugs like Ritalin or modanifil should be readily available along with simple instructions on how to use them for cognitive enhancement. Most people don’t take fistfuls of ibuprofen because they are aware if two pills don’t do the job, five more aren’t going to help. Overdoses are prevented by information and education, not prohibition. Furthermore, in many cases cognitive enhancing drugs can make a frustrating class more tolerable and survivable, which brings up the quality of life and of education for the student using the drugs. Voluntarily taking the drug makes the student an active part of their education (instead of being compelled to both go to school and take a drug).
The logic of inventing a pathology to facilitate a drug has spilled into modern sexuality. Our absurd condition, where in any sexual problem is either a personal failing or a chronic illness, leads to an irrational cultural and personal nervousness and silence around how we could improve our sex lives with drugs. I drink coffee when I want to be more awake, I take pain-killers when I have a headache, drink alcohol when I want to relax and/or have fun. And I don’t even do recreational drugs. That’s a-whole-nother category of mood alteration. People take drugs to control their emotions all the time.
The same logic can be applied to sexual function drugs. Why can’t I have access to a pill that makes me aroused and a pill that lets me not think about sex? If men are constantly thinking about sex, which is an obvious distraction, why don’t we have a pill to liberate us from our own annoying biology? There is no reason an advanced society should not have the ability to control base urges.
Knee-jerk reactionaries will, of course, say that this takes the “magic” out of romance because it chemicalizes and “controls” the situation. False. The first time you meet someone, that random spark or connection that draws two people together, a great night where everything clicks: those are where the “magic” comes from in a relationship. Sexual drugs like the one’s I’m talking about aren’t designed to create false highs, but to prevent unnecessary lows. A pill that encourages arousal when taken intentionally and with purpose is no more ruinous to sex than drinking coffee is to have the energy to read a favorite book after a hard day at work. People’s bodily cycles are weird.
An example: Tom might get horny right before the end of work, but Jane might be horny first thing in the morning. Sadly, the only time the two have for sex is after 7pm, when they’re both home from work, and neither is all that interested. Now imagine if they could reduce their arousal during the day and boost it at night. Sexual frustrations resulting both from being aroused with no outlet and from having an available partner with low desire, would be largely eliminated. No pill is going to make Tom and Jane more compatible intellectually or personality-wise, but the right pills could help make their love life a lot easier and a lot better.
There are lots and lots of other potential uses of libido altering drugs, but the example above is far and away the most common problem. Like most mood altering drugs, they in no way have a totalizing effect. They aren’t love potions or hypnotic devises. Drinking a cup of coffee does not make a person love making excel sheets, but it does give him or her enough concentration and energy to get them over with more quickly. Another concern with sex enhancing drugs is that people might feel compelled to take them to improve a relationship or to mask a current problem. This problem is a real one, but is in no way unique to or exacerbated by sex enhancing drugs.
There are so many benefits available, it is baffling and infuriating that our culture cannot simply allow us to work on making little problems in our lives go away so that we can have more of what we enjoy just because it needs the help of a little pill.
Bioethics is controversial.
No one endorses the ideas or concepts explored here, not even me.
You will develop a strong opinion about something you find here. I want to hear it. Philosophy is a conversation.
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