‘Not tonight, I’ve got a headache’ or ‘Hypo-active sexual desire disorder’… you choose.

As a researcher by trade, I am always interested when I see a ‘new finding’ make front page news. We have all seen them – ‘do this and this won’t happen’ or ‘do that and it’s the end of the world’. In general we brush them aside now so it is rare to come across something that makes you go ‘REALLY?!!’

I am lucky enough to be a co-editor on the wonderful ‘Women’s Views on News’ website, a not-for-profit, daily online news and current affairs service which focuses on stories about women in the news. It is a great project to be involved with, and all credit to Alison Clarke for establishing it as a voice for women in the world whose stories often never get told.

Yesterday I was on mentoring duty for upcoming journalist Meg Kissack who is subjected to my feedback on her work once a fortnight. Whatever I may say about her youthful enthusiasm for random punctuation, she is certainly a girl with an eye for a story and yesterday she came up with a fabulous one:

Scientists claim ‘valid reason’ for women making excuses to avoid sex

Her piece picked up on some research undertaken by Dr Michael Diamond at Wayne State University, Detroit that suggests there may be a ‘valid reason why some women make excuses (often in the form of headaches)  for not wanting to make love to their husbands’. Apparently women with a low libido behave completely differently from those with ‘healthy’ sex drives.

Simply explained, it seems tests involved just 19 women watching ‘erotic’ movies and then watching a blank screen whilst having their brains subjected to MRI scans. Apparently those with a diagnosed ‘persistent’ low libido did not experience a rush of blood to the head so to speak. This has been termed ‘hypo-active sexual desire disorder’ or HSDD, and there has been some controversy over whether this is a real medical condition or just normal human behaviour. Dr Diamond thinks he has found the answer.

Meg made some good points in her comments on this story. Why she said were researchers looking to prove that there had to be something ‘medically wrong’ with a woman who did not want sex whenever it was suggested to her? What was their definition of a ‘normal’ sex drive anyway? And did they factor into their research that many women don’t get turned on by porn, and many find it degrading and offensive? And quite simply, why are women  – and men of course – not allowed to be just ‘not in the mood’? Or exhausted and desperate for a good night’s sleep?

In the interests of accuracy I looked into this a little further. In other news reports it doesn’t seem to be confined to married couples, or heterosexual relationships, but the message is the same.  It isn’t because a woman doesn’t love her partner anymore, or is turned off by bad breath, poor technique or a tendency to have a good scratch before touching her interesting bits. She has a medical condition. Well that’s OK then.

I really wouldn’t blame anyone reading this for having a giggle; after all, the idea that these research projects get funding in the first place is laughable. Add to that the thought of a presumably well-respected male scientist choosing his sample of suitable women, facing them with porn movies and then scanning their brains – quite honestly it is a Carry On film in the making. However, it is being presented as a serious piece of work at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference in Denver, Colorado.

Now I for one am more likely to respond to an advance made after a sad movie, or a really romantic one. I may even leap into the arms of my beloved at the end of a film that has scared me out of my wits. Sometimes the reason is inexplicable. But a lot of heavy breathing and graphic sex scenes? No way – I am more likely to be turned on by the ancient video I was shown in a 4th Form biology lesson.

Why does science appear determined to hold up every facet of human experience to the light and explain it in medical terms? Knowing the chemical processes behind why your partner seems less than alluring doesn’t suddenly make them irresistible does it? And what will the treatment for this new ‘syndrome’ be? A cynical person might consider, as many doctors apparently do, that this is an invention of the firms making female Viagra.

So it seems that although we shouldn’t have to, we are all going to have to come up with some truly brilliant new excuses. It isn’t something I resort to very often, but I always find sitting up reading till the snoring starts pretty effective. Anyone any other ideas?

Photos: Kiersten Byrne Sean McGrath indi.ca

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3 Responses to ‘Not tonight, I’ve got a headache’ or ‘Hypo-active sexual desire disorder’… you choose.

  1. littleacceb says:

    This study was referred to recently on Woman’s Hour. On the surface it does seem like a bit of a crock, but then I do wonder if there are women who have low libido and find it frustrating that they can’t switch over to “the mood” as easily as they’d like.

  2. Louise says:

    Personally, I’ve never bothered with excuses. Whatever you say, your partner is going to be disappointed as an excuse is what it is. I’m also cynical about the reasons behind this research. We are all different, what is ‘normal’ as you say. The explanation is more complex than can be explained by a brain scan.

  3. grace says:

    I’ve also heard that this newly discovered ‘medical condition’ is a cynical invention by the pharmaceutical industries who are- surprise surprise- producing drugs to ‘treat’ it.

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