Working through sex in marriage problems: Review of ‘Orgasm, Inc.”

For this special post on sex in marriage I watched one of the highest rated movies of this year (Rotten Tomatoes score of 86%): ‘Orgasm, Inc’. This is a funny, moving, and profound documentary by filmmaker Liz Cannon. It tells the story of pharmaceutical industry’s is race to invent the pill, spray, or cream to treat Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD), and the secret behind it all: Female Sexual Dysfunction may not really exist.

FSD is loosely defined as difficulty with arousal, orgasm, or sexual desire. The term emerged in the early 2000s when drug companies began to explore the idea of marketing the incredibly successful erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra to women. Orgasm Inc. claims that medical professionals with interest in the pharmaceutical industry promoted FSD as part of a trend in “medicalizing more and more of ordinary life” because “there’s a lot of money being made in telling healthy people they’re sick.” In other words, doctors were redefining difficulty as dysfunction in order to sell a product.

While there are certainly women who have physical difficulties with arousal in the same way that men do, the film argues that FSD is problematic because it preys on women’s insecurities and misunderstandings about women’s sexuality. For example, it is relatively easy to gauge when men reach orgasm. With women, it’s much more complicated. Enjoyable sex doesn’t always end in orgasm and arousal involves emotions and situation more than just visuals or stimulation (of course, both these things can hold true for men, too). Unfortunately, the “average” male interpretation of sexual satisfaction is often held up as the norm for both partners. This can leave women feeling inadequate or “dysfunctional” for not enjoying sex in marriage and achieving orgasm in the same way as their male partners. The truth is, the vast majority of sexually healthy women cannot achieve orgasm through regular intercourse alone. It’s just our biology.

Most of women’s sex in marriage problems cannot be solved with a pill, patch, or cream. There are some exceptions: hormonal imbalances caused by endocrine system problems or medications (such as the birth control pill) cause lapsed sexual desire; women who have had a hysterectomy; women with other diseases that decrease energy levels. For these women, certain medications and other treatments can be helpful in rebalancing the body’s  sexual systems and bring tremendous comfort and pleasure back in to their lives.

At the same time, many more women suffer from problematic sex in marriage because of psychological and contextual (social, cultural) causes. One in six women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime, leading to a complicated and difficult relationship with sexual intimacy. 80% of women have body image issues and may feel too self-conscious to feel and enjoy any pleasure. And lastly, while sex in marriage is a blessed and celebrated act in all religions, negative messages about sexuality presented during youth can leave husbands and wives with complicated feelings of guilt and shame for enjoying sex. Not to mention that many women are never educated on the anatomy of their sexual organs.

Lastly, the problem can be pure exhaustion. Many women are holding down jobs while taking care of several children and a household. Women do on average three times more housework than men. After a long day of being poked and prodded by little ones, running around and attending to other’s needs and being physically active, the last thing a busy women may want is to be touched sexually. She wants to go to bed!

Here are some key tips for improving sex in marriage:

1) De-stress

Stress releases adrenaline and other hormones into your body that zap you into “fight or flight” mode and drain energy from other systems including your sex drive. Reduce the stress on your body by following the CODE: practice Calming activities such as meditation, yoga or prayer; Organize your day for efficiency and also prioritizing for your health; follow a healthy Diet; and Exercise.

2) Talk about it

Whether it’s a specialized sex therapist or a special session with your marriage counselor, talk to a mental health professional about your problems. There will be many things to discover about yourself in one-on-one sessions, and mutual things to work through with your spouse in group sessions. Talking with a trusted friend or finding an online discussion forum may also help.

3) Get Educated

If you feel lost or confused about your body and desires, there are many female oriented pleasure stores around the country that are friendly, tasteful and encouraging places to lean about your sexuality. Good Vibrations is one of the most well-known chains. There are also many faith-oriented blogs, marriage help books and websites that celebrate sex in marriage along with religion. I recommend The Pure Bed and Hot Holy Humorous.

I also highly encourage you to see ‘Orgasm, Inc’. It’s available streaming on Netflix. It’s a cheeky little film and deals frankly and humorously with sex, so be prepared, although there is no sexually graphic imagery. This movie will make you think very differently about your sexuality and the role medication plays in your life.