Buzz Off, FDA

On May 3, 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved what news outlets are calling a "device" that is intended to help women suffering from impotence. Translation: There is now a government-approved piece of technology that will supposedly give women orgasms more often. It costs roughly $400 and requires a doctor's prescription.

I'm so pissed off right now that I'm imagining the introduction to an X-Files episode instead of writing my column. Menacing music plays behind a single image that swims up out of the muzzy darkness. It's a drab door among thousands of others, buried in a drab government agency. Stenciled lettering on it reads: DEPARTMENT OF FEMALE ORGASM TECHNOLOGY. Mulder has discovered that after years of secret, nefarious testing on repressed housewives and coercively inbred little girls, the government has come up with a highly sophisticated machine to solve the female orgasm problem.

The clit pump. Yep, just like those stupid, useless penis pumps advertised in the back of The Spectator and Playboy. Except smaller, and with a softer suction cup. The idea is that you pump your clit full of blood with the "device," and then sexual arousal ensues.

Government savages! With all the technological knowledge they could have harnessed in Silicon Valley, all the historical knowledge of thousands of doctors at their disposal, they come up with this? Even an armchair techno-historian could have told them that the vibrator was one of the very first electrical devices -- used prolifically in the late 19th century -- for a damn good reason.

Jessie Moss-Burton, marketing manager at Good Vibrations, a sex-toy store, told me that her store had stopped selling clit pumps a while ago because "there are so many other, better products for aiding female orgasm." Yeah. Like vibrators. But after the FDA announcement, which Moss-Burton called "comical," the store will of course start selling the devices again within the week.

Kids, let this be a small object lesson for you on how so-called scientific and technological progress works. First, the government gets wind of some sort of "problem" involving women and sexual functioning. They've seen Bob Dole on TV, so it clicks: this must be the female version of impotence, a thing they can all understand. And an ill-educated dork back in the 1940s or some other crazy time period had already gotten FDA approval to use penis pumps on men who experienced impotence.

"If it works on men, it must work on women, right?" Well, sure, if you're a government bureaucrat. The whole thing comes off like an engineering problem, an issue of mere hydraulics. If penis = clitoris, then penis pump = clit pump. And that kind of symmetry is comforting. It makes logical sense, just like the idea of earth being at the center of the universe. So, since the clit pump can in fact technically cause clitoral erection, and it is also physically quite safe, the FDA approves it.

The thing is, FDA approval means so much more than it seems on the surface. Remember, this is the only government-approved aid for female orgasm (although the word "orgasm" isn't used; instead we speak of "curing female sexual dysfunction"). And if it's government approved, it must be good. It must work. And by extension, other sexual aids are probably bad, stupid things made for the unenlightened.

Do you see where I'm going with this? When a powerful institution -- like, say, the government, or a giant software corporation -- "approves" a particular router or a particular Internet service, it's so widely reported and discussed that other possible options never come to light. Maybe that option is a vibrator (only 10 bucks at your local sex-toy store!), or a faster router (there is life after Cisco).

And let me just add that I've been conducting my own personal benchmarks on female orgasm technology for the past 15 years. One hundred percent of tests indicate that the clit pump performs with far less accuracy, reliability and speed than any average vibrator applied to the clitoral region.

In other words, fuck the FDA. They could probably use it.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who reminds you that May is national masturbation month!

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