Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Follow the money

I just came across this film that hasn't had a cinema release yet, called Orgasm Inc, directed by Liz Canner - she took a job as an editor for a pharmaceutical company, editing erotic movies for test trials of versions of 'female Viagra' - like the drug I talked about in the last post. She investigated from the inside the billion dollar industry built around finding a cure for what is labelled 'female sexual dysfunction.' She discovered there has been a race on for a long time to come up with a marketable drug of this kind.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the pharmaceutical industry. I found out last week that Bayer Schering Pharma want to contact me, well the company's 'local drug compliance officer' wants to contact me. To me, that title sounds like something out of Minority Report. Is the suggestion that I need investigating because I am not complying with their drug? Or that they want to improve compliance by talking to me? How can a person be compliant to a drug? It's a bit like 'loyalty' cards for supermarkets - can a person be loyal to a company? Compliance seems to mean that you take the drug, and keep taking it no matter what, and like it.

Anyway, so, yes, thinking about the pharmaceutical industry lately - that 45% of the female-orientated side of the industry springs from oral contraceptives is quite amazing. The mood side effects of the pill I am discussing here - the anxiety, the depression, the fatigue, the panic attacks, the fearfulness that many women experience - could actually be seen as bolstering other areas too - such as the sales of anti depressants and mood stabilizers, and the invention of a 'female Viagra.' In a sense, it is useful for women to have 'female sexual dysfunction' - which basically means low libido and depression - and to not link that to the pill. I know I am going over old ground. Keeping women feeling sickly must be a booster for all sorts of other areas of money-making. I watched Sicko again the other day, and Tony Benn said something similar about how a sick, anxious public is an easily controlled, easily influenced, passive public.

I wonder if there are any statistics out there on the number of women on anti-depressants and on the pill. I know they hand them out to everyone these days, but that would be interesting. There's a doctor, Irwin Goldstein, who believes the pill has much to do with this 'sexual dysfunction' idea. It's not enough to convince healthy people they are sick - with social anxiety disorder and all that - it must be even better to make sure that half of them are sick, and sick because of a drug they don't even notice they're taking.

I had a a bit of an altercation on the comments section of my guest blog for the Society of Menstrual Cycle Research - someone, I thought perhaps this drug compliance officer - took issue with my lack of 'rational' research. I have contacted most of the research scientists who have looked into the impact of the pill on mood and well being. There isn't an awful lot of research on this to read. But whilst I was addressing the criticism I thought how most of my discussion of late has come from the very factual, rational understanding that the pill suppresses and stops the natural ovulation cycle.

Laura Werschler, executive director of Sexual Health Access in Alberta, contributed to the comments section also. She insightfully pointed out that there is research available into the benefits of the natural ovulation cycle for women's bodies - for their immune system, hearts, bones and general wellness. In a letter to Ms magazine she commented that we should not just be asking what the pill is doing to our bodies, but what natural cycles can do for us.

I have tried to point this out here, but it bears clarification. Side effects of the pill are experienced by many women, but not all in the same way, and not all at the same point. However, all women taking the pill are suppressing their natural cycle, and this does have an effect on general health. If we don't have scientific back-up for the side effects we are discussing - not that this undermines their existence in any way, or means they should not be taken very seriously - but we do have scientific back-up for the function of the ovulation cycle. Although, as Laura pointed out, many doctors, and much of the medical profession, still thinks the natural cycle is useless until a woman wants to get pregnant.

There was an article on the Macleans website yesterday entitled Ditching The Pill For Good which said that due on young women in their twenties reconsidering the pill, prescriptions for oral contraceptives have not risen in the last year. That's women like me, and perhaps you, then. The 26 year-old Teresa Lambert is the main subject of the piece. She took the pill for ten years and just came off it. She is 'watching her body change' and says, 'I always had really clear skin, and now my skin’s breaking out. It’s not awesome being 26 and having acne, and trying to figure out your periods. But I’m glad I’m doing it.' Sounds familiar. A friend pointed out to me that coming off the pill is like having a second adolescence, or even a first adolescence, if the first - and the acne, the periods - was controlled by the pill from the start. So, like a teenager, you get bad skin and bad hair and you feel very volatile, super emotional and sensitive. Your emotions are overwhelming, and kind of frightening. It's like the pill creates arrested development.

The scientific director of the Center For Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research - someone I interviewed back when writing the Easy Living piece - Dr Jerilynn Prior is quoted as saying, 'There’s an emotional identity attached to achieving your own menstrual cycle, and being able to read your body. When you’re on the pill, it’s the doctor who’s controlling your cycle. You don’t own it.' She talks about the importance of ovulation, about how at that time the hormones peak and this has all sorts of positive effects.

As is the way with the internet, the comments underneath the article are just as interesting as the article itself. Many people wrote to advocate the fertility awareness method of contraception, which I was talking about last time. One man even went as far as to say that his wife being connected to her cycle, and his understanding of it, made for better sex, apparently 'sex on the pill was a mere shadow of the real thing.' So, I guess that's a good answer to people who criticise condoms too.

I don't think I've mentioned before that I ordered and read that book, The Optimized Woman. It's all about how women can make the most of their natural cycle - in a life-coach, self improving, achieving more, feeling better way. Oddly, Miranda Gray sort of says that the book should be good for women on what she calls 'medically managed' cycles, although she doesn't say how or why. I suppose that's marketing for you, needing to appeal to everyone and all that. Doesn't make any sense though.

She has some very interesting points to make that overturn conventional attitudes towards menstruation which were, and are, crucial in promoting and pushing the pill on women. I have said before that I think the pill was enthusiastically received as a necessity for women wanting to get into the workplace, and work alongside men - they could choose when to have children with other methods, but menstruation, and the changes of the natural cycle were seen as making women weak, frail and irrational (and therefore not able to work alongside men) and menstruation in particular was thought to be a threat to productivity and work output. The natural cycle was understood as a handicap that held women back and could not be tolerated by the economy, the world of business, or just by men in the office.

Gray argues from within the system as we know it, using business-y language and turning the assumptions around. She says that the economy ignores the 'truth' about women. The cyclical nature of women's lives could be an asset. We have overriden our cycles to fit into a world that perceives us as inconsistent and unreliable - when the changing states women go through are actually anything but, and can be utilised by us, and by the economy, for success and achievement.

We accept the way the business world wants us to be - static, unchanging, regimented, passive - as the 'way it should be' and struggle to fit this structure rather than accepting and understanding how we are. Gray argues that the social focus on menstruation suggests to women they are 'abnormal' once a month, and 'normal' the rest of the month, which lets us lose sight of the cycle completely. If women were free to be female, and not have to fight themselves - with the pill, as I would see it - then they would be better off all round. Not only that, society would be better off too.

She splits the cycle into four sections - pre-ovulation, ovulation, pre-menstrual, menstrual - and gives them labels like 'dynamic' and 'creative.' I've posted a link to Gray's site before. It's funny to see Cosmopolitan magazine has picked up on her work with a piece on the four kinds of sex drive, of course. But it's actually pretty intriguing, and she doesn't even try to impose her own system as a replacement - admitting instead it is flexible and adaptable in itself. Shame she doesn't quite get it about 'medically managed' cycles, though.


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  2. How interesting that automated marketing programs now have names like Daniel. Yet more interesting that the pharmaceutical companies have started acting like opportunistic drug dealers hanging around on the street corners of the internet

  3. I'm not familiar with the work, but perhaps she thinks that once women with "medically managed cycles" have read her book, they will realize what they're missing out on and benefit when they decide to stop...