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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Female Sexual Dysfunction: History, Critiques, and New Directions


Although the term “female sexual dysfunction” is fairly new, the medicalization of women's sexuality is not. As early as the sixteenth century, diagnosis of nymphomania was not uncommon, and the Victorian era saw a dramatic increase in the numbers of women with this “medical condition” (Groneman 1994). A canonical 1973 review of gynecology textbooks documented the profession's reliance on cultural views of women as “frigid,” and of sex and sexual pleasure as male‐centered; the authors suggest that gynecology may be “medicine practiced on women for the benefit of men” (Scully & Bart 2003: 14). While this is an oversimplification, this statement calls attention to the material and cultural biases that inform how biomedicine treats women's sexuality. Cultural and material influences on medical knowledge dominate current literature on the medicalization of female sexual dysfunction (FSD). In the twenty‐first century the pertinent influences include consumerism, privatization of medical research, and “Viagra culture.” This paper will review both feminist critiques and sociological studies of the medicalization of sex and especially female sexual dysfunction.

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