ORGASM INC. HAS AN UNLIKELY origin story: Filmmaker Elizabeth Canner was hired by drug company Vivus to edit erotic films for use in clinical tests of Alista, a product Vivus hoped would become the first-ever FDA approved pill to combat "female sexual dysfunction." At the same time, Tanner began documenting Vivus' operations for a planned documentary on science and pleasure. But soon the focus of her own investigations changed, as she became concerned with what she saw as the profit-driven pathologization of female sexuality—the idea that women who fail to achieve orgasm during intercourse can, or should, be treated with drugs.
Canner's documentary explores drug companies' "race" to gain FDA approval for such a drug (a race she dramatizes with animations of pills and patches with legs, panting toward a finish line). Canner examines a variety of purported fixes for female sexual dysfunction, including drugs, vaginoplasty, and something called an "orgasmatron." Canner also speaks with sex educators who persuasively argue that abstinence-only education contributes to women "being taken advantage of" by drug companies looking to create a disease, then treat it. One of Canner's subjects characterizes female sexual dysfunction as "the hysteria of this century," taking its place in history alongside nymphomania and frigidity. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, the portrait Canner paints of rapacious drug companies cashing in on female insecurities is a damning one.
There's not much in Orgasm Inc. that's new or surprising—we all know (or should know) that drug companies are in it for the cash, that women's sexuality is complicated, and that not every doctor you see touting a new drug on CNN should be trusted. But Canner's scrappy documentary incorporates these elements into a frank, funny, and persuasive whole.