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Whatever Happened to Foreplay?

Big Pharma would rather give you a testosterone spray to make you excited.
 
 
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Once upon a time there was a thing called foreplay. Sometimes it was silent: just a kiss in a club and an awkward scuffle in the toilets. Others took more time with it. They wrote sweet lines, sent flowers, asked a lady to dance and, even, for her hand in marriage before they even embarked on it.

For some people, it was all about the tease: lips licked over dinner, a glimpse or more of bosom, biceps squeezed with an "Oh you're so chunky!" and a wink, toes moving up trouser legs. It seemed women did this better than men, this slinking about. Or, maybe, they just had more role models. There isn't a male equivalent of Dita Von Teese, unless you count Magic Mike which none of my straight male friends has seen so you can't, really. That said, if you're a fella on a date with another chap, there are some moves you could steal. You'd most likely do yourself an injury, but that's all part of the fun of foreplay.

You see, fun was what foreplay was all about.

Then along came Big Pharma declaring that, no no no no no, what people really wanted wasn't fun; it was a failsafe ticket to instant gratification. Foreplay was pointless and sexual desire was nothing more than a physiological process, ripe for medicalization. Most enticing of all, for Big Pharma, it seemed things didn't always go smoothly; in fact, things went wrong. People had problems: vaginas wouldn't lubricate on command, penises wouldn't get hard, sex drives didn't render people horny 24 hours a day. But never fear: Big Pharma was on hand to help.

The first step in all this was to come up with a vernacular - some acronyms and terms that sounded like they came from the mouths of experts. Trouble was, sexuality was all a bit messy and the problems complex. What the whole thing needed was some disorders, a few umbrella terms, to neaten it all up a bit. So was born Female Sexual Dysfunction, Male Erectile Dysfunction and, later, Female Orgasmic Dysfunction. Being able to attribute their problems to a disorder, a medical term no less, was comforting for people, right? And if it was a disorder, that meant it was a medical problem which, in turn, meant it required treatment.

With dollar signs in their eyes and patient well-being in their hearts (honest), pharmaceutical companies set about transforming sex from something of the body and mind into a scientific phenomenon. Money poured in and clinical studies, pills, ointments, potions, devices, and patches poured out.

Men's sexuality wasn't of particular interest because there was only one process involved in arousal - penile erection - and it was just a question of mechanics so research pretty much stopped with Viagra. If you're bringing in over $2billion a year in sales with apparently few complaints from consumers, why bother investing any more time or money?

Female sexuality was something different altogether. For a start, a lot of it went on down there where, unless you happened to have your head in the right place, you couldn't see it. Thinking it might be a simple case of mechanics, a few scientists gave devices a shot: the Orgasmatron involved the insertion of an electrode into the spine attached to a control button pressed to stimulate nerves in the clitoris but which was more likely to make your legs jerk than send you into mind-melting heights of orgasmic ecstasy, and the clitoral vaginal vacuum suction pump was equally ineffective and as unsexy as it sounds. No, it seemed that there was more to it than could be sorted through mechanics. It called for something subtler than suction and electrodes. It called for pharmaceuticals. Inspired by the phenomenal success of Viagra, companies raced to find a female equivalent - a pill that could be popped and all bedroom troubles forgotten.

The race has gone on for a few years now but is yet to come up with anything to cure the "secret epidemic" (as it's been termed) of FSD, despite the fact that it's said to affect around 40% of women. Oprah said it, so it must be true. The latest cure-all to arrive is Tefina, a nasal testosterone spray, created by Trimel and currently entering clinical trials with an estimated release sometime in the next 3-5 years. It's being marketed as a treatment for Female Orgasmic Dysfunction, a condition apparently unheard of until Trimel came up with the name and decided it needed a treatment.

In case you're worried you might have it, according to Trimel, "FOD is defined as the persistent or recurrent delay in, or absence of, orgasm following normal sexual excitement phase that causes marked personal distress or interpersonal difficulties". What constitutes "normal" sexual anything no one knows, but let's not let specifics get in the way of vast generalisations. You might be concerned about the potential side effects of the absorption of testosterone, but Trimel is quick to reassure people that Tefina is "expected to present an attractive safety profile, with virtually no androgen-related side effects such as acne, facial and body hair growth or deepening of the voice". Probably just as well, given the adverse effect on your sex life of waking up with a hairy chest and baritone growl.

There are many cooked-up statistics to support the existence of and, therefore, need for treatment of FOD of the unspecified "studies have shown" variety. For example, one in five women has FOD, 30% can't climax during sex, not 1 in 5 but 43% of women have FOD and "many women" have sex up to five times a month, despite not wanting to, because they think it is what their partners want and is, therefore, good for their relationship. I find this last factoid disturbing because, technically, this is sex against the woman's will so raises the issue of consent which is far greater cause for concern than the potential efficacy of a nasal spray. Not that relationships have anything to do with sexuality - no, it's all about the chemicals.

Despite being billed as an "on-demand" treatment, the spray takes up to two hours to have any effect which doesn't sound very on-demand to me. I suppose I could fill those hours on something fun like, I don't know, foreplay, maybe. Once you're fired-up, the effect is reckoned to last around six hours. Yet to be released is any literature on what this effect is likely to be and, crucially I think, what happens if you have a squirt but don't have sex. Say you take it before you go out, but don't meet anyone you'd want to have sex with, are you left, squirming on a bar stool, horny as hell, with an engorged clit and wet pussy? If that's likely to be the case, Trimel should be providing pocket rocket vibrators with every prescription.

Kate Gould is a writer, Beethoven groupie, feminist, campaigner for sex workers' rights at SCOT-PEP, tattooed lady, etiquette fanatic, insatiable reader, and commissioning editor at The Fine Line.