When it comes to the interaction of males and females with social structures in society, a degree of inequality has always been existent. Many times the female gender bears the brunt of these inequalities. Cultural ideologies drive these inequalities, and shape our ways of being and views on life’s situations; particularly evident when it comes to the issue of sexual and reproductive health. These phenomena have gained significant amounts of popularity with the evolution of time. And have also been subject to much social construction.
It is from those constructions that the pharmaceuticalization of sexual and reproductive health arose. This essay will look at sexual and reproductive health as social constructs, and discuss the impact of these social constructions on pharmaceuticalization and how they have influenced it. The essay will also explore the differences in how sexual and reproductive health have been pharmaceuticalized in male and females, and the possible reasons behind it Pharmaceuticalization is a process which is intimately linked with medicalisation.
In this way these two phenomena could be defined as processes by which more and more of society’s social problems have come to be seen and described under medical terms, and hence medical interventions have been put forth as solutions for these problems (Zola, 1983, p. 295). Hence we can say that one is as is by the influence of the other, pharmaceuticalization driving and sustaining medicalisation (Conrad 1981). However the medicalisation of society is as much a result of medicine’s potential as much as it is society’s desire for medicine to use that power (Zola, 1972, p 182).
Given this statement, it can therefore be argued that the society’s ideas, culturally motivated or otherwise, have a lot to do with the pharmaceuticalization of sexual and reproductive health. Almost as though it is society’s ‘wish’ for pharmaceuticalization to exists. Hence we can say that pharmaceuticalization is also in part a process of capitalizing on the views of sexual health and reproduction. The evidence of the existence of the four bodies indicates that the body is not just an excluded or separate entity from social structure.
Similar is the case for the meaning attached to the penis in males. It is not just another organ carrying out its designated functions but it carries a lot meaning for the man in society. The penis is not only intimately connected to men’s sexuality but it is also connected to masculinity and virility. And as with most things that carry meaning in society, the meaning of ‘the proper/perfect’ penis has been a subject of much social construction.
A study(2012) conducted in Australia among 103 women found that the majority of the women preferred or were more attracted to men with larger penises, it was argued that the reason behind that had to do with the famous saying that ‘bigger is better’. This comes upon a time were sex has increasingly become used for recreation rather that procreation. Hence we see hear reports of penis enlargement pills and surgical procedures that can bring forth that kind of penis which is desired by the men and their women. In contrast however, we find that women’s sexual health has not been pharmaceuticalised to the extend it has been in men.
Perhaps it has to do with the old age stereotype that women are passive and fragile. This notion links into the idea of sex in a way that the man is the one who is most active during the sexual act. And hence the one who carries the responsibility for the sexual climax of both himself and his partner. And it is because of this pressure to perform that more and more men are using pharmaceutical methods in order to acquire ‘the perfect penis’ to do the ‘perfect job’, proving their masculinity in the process. This ties in with the use of Viagra in older males.
Another interesting factor is the wide commercialization of the male condom as a form of sexual health in the context of HIV/AIDS, whereas the female condom is to some extend looked down upon by both male and females, UK study (1997). We also find that female sexual health has not been commercialized to the extend it has been in males. The Johannesburg CBD for example, is crowded with posters at all corners advertising penis enlargement resources and guaranteeing a ‘better, bigger penis’; the long term effects of which are not well known, similarly the credibility thereof.
Among all these posters I have yet to witness an advert for female sexual health. And you find that even men in the prime of their youth use these penile enlargement resources, debunking the stereotype that it utilization of these resources is by aged men. It is not to say however that women do not use sexual enhancement pharmaceutical products. Whereas in women it is found that the use of sexual enhancement resources is done most by older women, a majority of which have been through menopause. When we come to sexual reproductive health however, we find that there is an interesting shift in positions.
It is women who are often put under the spotlight of pharmaceutical companies. Again this can be said to have arose because of the common stereotype ‘the weaker female body’ has to be the one with the issue when confronted with infertility. So the pharmaceutical companies position themselves to target women with solutions for sexual reproductive health. Here we see medicalization, whereby women are encouraged to go for regular pap smears to reduce the risk of cervical cancer and infertility in the future.
This pressure on sexual health may be said to result from the fact that women are only fertile up to a certain age whereas men can be fertile till the day they die. This essay argued the extends to which male and female sexual and reproductive ability have been medicalised and pharmaceuticalized. I extended my exploration to the possible reasons behind the approaches that may have influenced this differences in the degrees of pharmaceutilisation. In addition my analysis showed how these different approaches are influenced by socio-cultural factors.