Drugs market is banking on sex

March 4, 2005

Independent sex research is being irreparably damaged by multibillion-pound drugs companies clamouring to find successors to the blockbuster sex drug Viagra, researchers claimed this week.

In the week that an Oscar-nominated film on pioneering sexologist Alfred Kinsey is released in the UK, researchers said the next generation of Kinseys may never emerge, as the pharmaceutical industry tries to turn sexual health into a purely medical problem.

The researchers said that unprecedented levels of sponsorship encouraged underfunded scientists to help "invent" sexual disorders and raise demand for new drugs.

Sex specialists in the fields of sociology, anthropology, psychology and even zoology, where Kinsey began his career, are being sidelined as a result, it is claimed.

"We are at the beginning of the medicalisation of sexuality," said Meika Loe, an academic at Colgate University in New York State and author of The Rise of Viagra: How the Little Blue Pill Changed Sex in America . "It is a tragedy that the voices of people such as Kinsey may no longer be heard in a culture where biomedicine reigns supreme."

Indiana University zoologist Kinsey started a new academic field when he unveiled America's sexual habits in the Fifties.

Dr Loe said that ever since the conservative backlash faced by Kinsey, the question of where sex researchers get funding has been a concern. But the success of Viagra has attracted the pharmaceutical industry to the field. She said: "Now we have an unbelievably wealthy industry that is interested in helping, but with major caveats attached."

Petra Boynton, a London-based sex psychologist and lecturer in international health services research, said she recently turned down a £2,000 trip to New York, including the cost of flights, accommodation and meals, to talk to a drugs company. "Being involved with the drug companies is a nice little junket," she said. "If they're paying that much for their market research, you can imagine how much they're prepared to pay for drug development.

"Many sexual behaviour researchers feel they can get good and consistent funding only by working for a corporation, and sex research is used to create anxieties so people can be sold products."

In last month's edition of the British Medical Journal , Australian writer Ray Moynihan suggests that the medical phenomenon known as female sexual dysfunction is little more than an invention by the drugs industry.

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