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Whatever Happened to Foreplay?

Big Pharma would rather give you a testosterone spray to make you excited.

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Once upon a time there was a thing called foreplay. Sometimes it was silent: just a kiss in a club and an awkward scuffle in the toilets. Others took more time with it. They wrote sweet lines, sent flowers, asked a lady to dance and, even, for her hand in marriage before they even embarked on it.

For some people, it was all about the tease: lips licked over dinner, a glimpse or more of bosom, biceps squeezed with an "Oh you're so chunky!" and a wink, toes moving up trouser legs. It seemed women did this better than men, this slinking about. Or, maybe, they just had more role models. There isn't a male equivalent of Dita Von Teese, unless you count Magic Mike which none of my straight male friends has seen so you can't, really. That said, if you're a fella on a date with another chap, there are some moves you could steal. You'd most likely do yourself an injury, but that's all part of the fun of foreplay.

You see, fun was what foreplay was all about.

Then along came Big Pharma declaring that, no no no no no, what people really wanted wasn't fun; it was a failsafe ticket to instant gratification. Foreplay was pointless and sexual desire was nothing more than a physiological process, ripe for medicalization. Most enticing of all, for Big Pharma, it seemed things didn't always go smoothly; in fact, things went wrong. People had problems: vaginas wouldn't lubricate on command, penises wouldn't get hard, sex drives didn't render people horny 24 hours a day. But never fear: Big Pharma was on hand to help.

The first step in all this was to come up with a vernacular - some acronyms and terms that sounded like they came from the mouths of experts. Trouble was, sexuality was all a bit messy and the problems complex. What the whole thing needed was some disorders, a few umbrella terms, to neaten it all up a bit. So was born Female Sexual Dysfunction, Male Erectile Dysfunction and, later, Female Orgasmic Dysfunction. Being able to attribute their problems to a disorder, a medical term no less, was comforting for people, right? And if it was a disorder, that meant it was a medical problem which, in turn, meant it required treatment.

With dollar signs in their eyes and patient well-being in their hearts (honest), pharmaceutical companies set about transforming sex from something of the body and mind into a scientific phenomenon. Money poured in and clinical studies, pills, ointments, potions, devices, and patches poured out.

Men's sexuality wasn't of particular interest because there was only one process involved in arousal - penile erection - and it was just a question of mechanics so research pretty much stopped with Viagra. If you're bringing in over $2billion a year in sales with apparently few complaints from consumers, why bother investing any more time or money?

Female sexuality was something different altogether. For a start, a lot of it went on down there where, unless you happened to have your head in the right place, you couldn't see it. Thinking it might be a simple case of mechanics, a few scientists gave devices a shot: the Orgasmatron involved the insertion of an electrode into the spine attached to a control button pressed to stimulate nerves in the clitoris but which was more likely to make your legs jerk than send you into mind-melting heights of orgasmic ecstasy, and the clitoral vaginal vacuum suction pump was equally ineffective and as unsexy as it sounds. No, it seemed that there was more to it than could be sorted through mechanics. It called for something subtler than suction and electrodes. It called for pharmaceuticals. Inspired by the phenomenal success of Viagra, companies raced to find a female equivalent - a pill that could be popped and all bedroom troubles forgotten.