Toronto Star Reviews Pharma Sutra


“Ever since a blue pill called Viagra started getting a rise out of men and became a billion-dollar pharmaceutical “blockbuster” in the process it was just a matter of time (and scientific engineering) before a drug to enhance or restore the flagging libidos of women would be developed.”

Pharma Sutra, a documentary by Cogent/Benger Productions (airing on CTV Saturday at 7 p.m.) takes a broad, almost clinical look at the issue: the multinational pharmaceutical companies, the approval process, the “sex” doctors, the feminists and, most important, the women and their spouses.

Documentary-maker Robin Benger said the film raises a raft of ethical issues. It all started with a statistic reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999, which said that 43 per cent of women suffer from female sexual dysfunction.

“We spoke to an awful lot of women on this and we found a reasonable percentage of them saying, yeah, they did feel the need for a drug like this,” Benger said, including one particularly vocal woman from San Diego in the film who feels she has a “right” to such a drug and even muses about going to the “black market” to find it.

The counterpoint and a persuasive one comes from the feminist perspective, embodied by New York sex therapist Dr. Leonore Tiefer, who worries about the “medicalization of sexuality” and is dubious about whether female sexual dysfunction even exists.

Then there are pharmaceutical giants earnestly seeking the female equivalent of Viagra.

The documentary focuses on three products in the trial phase: a pill, a testosterone patch and a nasal spray.

While project partner Marion Gruner tracked down the human interest side, the women, it was Benger’s job to penetrate the highly secretive pharmaceutical industry, which proved to be a surprisingly difficult challenge.

“I’ve done all sorts of documentaries on investigative stuff, on intelligence and the CIA and all that kind of stuff. And I thought at one point, it’s easier to find out about new weapons in development than it is about new drugs,” Benger said.

Benger called the race to develop what he cheekily described as the modern-day “mother’s little helper” with respect to the Rolling Stones a high-stakes one, with millions and potentially billions in profits at stake.

“I think a drug is inevitable, but I can go into a subject and come out slightly ambivalent about it,” Benger said.

“For me myself, I think it’s sort of ridiculous. But you’ve got to respect the fact that for tens of thousands of women … (a libido drug) would be a very good thing,” he added.

If nothing else, Benger said confidently, Pharma Sutra is going to get the conversation flowing on the whole issue of sexual politics, identity and desire.

“I think it’s a good `water cooler’ doc,” he said.

The Toronto Star Review

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