Orgasm Inc. Director Liz Canner Talks About Her New Film, Decriminalizing Clit Classes
Stress abounds in the life of a documentary filmmaker, especially when the work involves gritty subjects like police brutality, globalization in Nicaragua, and the 1992 L.A. riots. Award winning director Liz Canner is proud to call those documentaries her own, but when the topics left her reeling for "lighter" film fare, she turned her attention to the female orgasm. Eleven years later, her husband is still asking for a vacation. Canner's investigation of the pharmaceutical industry's pursuit of the female Viagra pill, among other bizarre, orgasm-inducing mechanisms, is chronicled in her latest documentary, Orgasm Inc., which debuts at The Quad Cinema on February 11. We caught up with her recently to find out how it came about, and what she hopes to accomplish.
"I was starting to get really depressed by the human condition," Canner said. Her story began in 2000, when she accepted a freelance position at a drug company looking for treatments for FSD, Female Sexual Dysfunction.
"Out of the blue I was offered the job by a company making pharmaceutical drugs for women. My job was to edit together erotic videos and asexual material that was inter-cut into the pornography for the women to watch." Remarkably, she was given permission to film the drug's development process.
The initial drug company footage spurred the making of the film when Canner realized that what she had on tape was a strong comment on the FSD controversy. The debate over whether Female Sexual Dysfunction even exists is still raging in medical academia, and doctors nationwide are far from agreed as to whether any pill, patch, or procedure can safely fix it.
"I never set out to make an expose of the pharmaceutical industry," said Canner. "This is something that they work on because they need new markets. Now we have it out of the doctors' mouths that they're actually creating [FSD], and we have an obligation to share that."
Canner's allies believe the FSD moniker to be a catch-all, an umbrella definition of both psychological and physiological problems. She says that the more women who can be classified as sexually dysfunctional, the larger the number of potential consumers of pharmaceutical treatments, despite the health risks. The FDA has so far rejected two FSD drugs on the ground of efficacy and safety risks, the Intrinsa testosterone patch in 2004 and the Flibanserin pill in 2010.
"These drugs are serious. Even if it seems like a small percentage who feel these side effects, it ends up hurting millions of women because we're talking about a tremendous number of women going on these drugs. If the FDA does its job and continues to protect women, then we'll be okay," she says.
American audiences have had to wait since 2009 to see the film open in theaters, despite popular television broadcasts in Europe and Canada. Canner pitched the documentary to PBS and Oprah, but both declined.
"It doesn't push a very sexualized image of women, but our public TV is very uptight about these issues. God forbid that there's a film that talks about women's pleasure. In Canada they bought the film after watching the first 18 minutes of it!"
Orgasm Inc. more than reveals the opposition to FSD drugs, clearly aligning itself that way. While the "medicalizing" of sex was Canner's immediate focus, another major issue she sees is that of sexual education in the U.S.
"The fact that they do not teach about the clitoris in sex ed classes is criminal," she said, perhaps proving her point with what followed: "Someone asked that they had expected to see a woman having an orgasm in the film. I told him that there was one and he said 'Oh! That's the first time Ive ever seen an orgasm!'"