, “Wanted: Healthy Females 18-35 for UT Psychology Sex Study $200.” As a healthy, sexually-aware, twenty-four-year-old female, I qualified; I had plenty to offer the field of sex research and besides, I was way behind on my bills. So I signed up to test-drive Lilly’s IC351, a.k.a. the new “Female Viagra.” The drug, which, like its male analogue, comes in pill form, is supposed to relax blood vessels in the genital region, thereby increasing sexual arousal and easing the path to orgasm.
It was a romantic prospect: bravely contributing to the sum of the world’s knowledge, easing the sexual dysfunction of other women in the process. Sixty women were to participate in the study, but each of us went through it alone. In the battle against female sexual dysfunction, I was an army of one.
Visit #1: The Intake
“Do you ever have multiple orgasms?” “How many partners have you had in the last three months?” “Have you ever had a venereal disease?” “Do you orgasm during intercourse?” The interviewer was grim, vampiric. “Uh, is there a more private place to do this?” I asked the tester a grad student with a mass of dark curly hair she kept carefully pushing back, though it was nowhere near in the way. We were at the nurse’s station in the gynecological wing of a women’s health center surrounded by bored patients and nurses. Grudgingly, she took me into an empty examination room, then continued her battery.
“Rarely,” I replied. “Two.” “No.” Then, in response to her last question, hoping to add levity: “Not with people who suck in bed.” I expected a light-hearted slumber party discussion about men’s sexual inadequacies. She looked perturbed.
“Do you mean ‘no’? ” she asked.
“No, I mean yes . . . yes, usually,” I said, flustered. She nodded and made a mark on her clipboard. There would, I realized, be no bonding. Perhaps I am in the control group, I said to myself, meaning I must be controlled. I was led into a room to wait in a paper gown for a gynecological exam.
About a half an hour later, the gynecologist arrived. An aerobicized, middle-aged woman, she peered at my vagina over her half-glasses, her sensible gray hair hovering between my thighs. When she found out I was part of the study she became extremely personable and told me all her patients ask her how they can have more and better orgasms. She said it was high time someone came through with a drug that would do for women what Viagra does for men. She told me I was brave and she was proud of me and that I had a perfectly shaped cervix. It was the best gynecological exam ever.
Visit #2: Drugs and Porn, Part I
On the sixth day of my cycle, in the early evening, I got off the fourth floor elevator of a university building in which I had once had a class in, of all things, the History of Mormonism. At the end of a dim corridor I found the curly-haired tester waiting in her white lab coat. She led me into a fairly dingy room with only an easy chair covered with doctor’s office paper, a large TV, a scale, tables and a treadmill. The walls were covered with Monet posters. A Monet book sat by the chair. It was like a freshman dorm room writ large.
“That’s your probe,” she said, pointing to a plastic tube sitting innocuously on a piece of gauze. It looked innocent enough very much like a clear tampon, only with wires leading out of the bottom instead of a string. The wires went through a hole in the wall next to the chair, and then into another room, where they were connected to a computer. “Just put that in and have a seat. You can cover yourself with the blanket if you like.” A pink, faux-felt blanket sat next to the chair. Because I’d planned ahead, I was wearing a skirt and thigh-high tights so I didn’t have to take any clothes off. Pretending it was an ordinary applicator-less tampon, I inserted the probe until the rubber guard stopped it from going in any further. The tester had been thoughtful enough to leave the probe on a heating pad so it was warm and felt like nothing so much as an incredibly small dildo. It was so small, in fact, that I could barely feel it inside me. But the wires running out of it and into the wall made me wonder if they weren’t going to start pumping alien semen into me.
I sat down, put my feet up on another chair and pushed the intercom button. “Okay, it’s in,” I said. “Good,” said the disembodied voice of the tester. “Now it’s just going to register for a few minutes and then I’ll show you the first film to get your baseline response.”
A few minutes was plenty of time for me to get comfortable and imagine how this would go down. The computer would light up and my vaginal responses would spell out “sex kitten.” The pharmaceutical company people would gather around looking at my charts saying “It’s not possible! She’s off the scale! Let’s get her back in for more testing so we can bottle her pheromones.” Or at least they would call me asking for dates and plying me with the really good sex drugs they’d been saving for just such a femme fatale.
The TV flickered. I put on the headphones, hit the tap-light and watched a five-minute nature film about the maternal instincts of cats. When it ended, the voice came back and instructed me to fill out the questionnaire by my chair.
The questions followed the format “On a scale of one to seven, how ______ do you feel?” I scanned a page of adjectives: sexually aroused, anxious, feminine, loving, guilty, angry. If it weren’t for this questionnaire I would never have realized that on any given day I was a solid three or four on pretty much every front. Am I feeling masculine? I asked myself. Well, sure, a little. I’ve been really bossy lately. Is that what they mean? Maybe like a two or three. Am I feeling depressed? Sure, I had a kind of lousy day. Okay, three. Am I feeling nervous? Fuck, yes. I am in a lab with a probe in my vagina. But still, I am maintaining a detachment befitting a control group member, so four. And so on. I tried very hard to be honest, but how aroused was I? Well, after reading the word “aroused,” I started to get a little turned on and went to put down five, but then I noticed I had a run in my stocking and my state of excitement plummeted to three. I averaged it out to four.
When I was done, I intercomed the tester and she came in to give me the study medication. It was a little off-white pill shaped like a piece of candy corn. It arrived in a paper cup along with a paper cup of water. Then she went back to her room to talk on her cell phone while I sat waiting for the drug to kick in. I kept second-guessing my questionnaire answers even though it was too late to do anything about them. Like my sexual arousal in general, my responses had felt completely random. What makes me aroused anyway? Sometimes some guy’s eyebrows set me off. I began to wonder how the other women in the study group were faring. Were they all machines of consistency, only feeling one or two emotions at a time and getting turned on as soon as they saw a penis? Is that how things are supposed to work? After ninety minutes of wondering how I stacked up, staring at the Monet posters and reading make-up tips in the Self magazines that sat in the magazine rack, I heard the voice on the intercom say the next round (the real round) of films were about to begin. I tapped the light off, saw five more minutes about the nobility of the house cat, and then . . .