Cover for LAYNE: Feminist Technology. Click for larger imageDuring the fall 2010 semester, students in my graduate course on Gender, Science, Technology, and Medicine read Feminist Technology.  One of their assignments was to generate a blog entry of their own. Here is one of the products they evaluated. —Linda Layne, co-editor of Feminist Technology

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According to the authors of Feminist Technology it is possible that a technology used in men’s bodies could be feminist. I would like to consider the case of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction. For the moment, let’s leave aside how men might enjoy this technology, either in using the treatment or being the partners benefitting from it, and focus on if and how women might benefit from this technology. The successful application of this treatment can provide women whose partners lose the ability to muster an erection with continued sexual activity involving the penis of that partner. It can also provide a greater choice in sexual partners equipped with an erection-capable penis to women looking for such a partner, by allowing available men to remain in the category of erection-capable when they might otherwise lose that ability.

I have some concerns. These benefits revolve around the presence and use of a penis in that activity; it does nothing for women interested in sex without a penis. These drugs are marketed primarily towards men, and it may be that by focusing on this market segment research and development of technologies aimed at facilitating sexual activity without a penis are marginalized. Relying on pharmaceutical companies to create technologies that facilitate sexual activity seems to offer little promise of equitable distribution of attention to obstacles to that activity and may very well work to reinforce only the kinds of sex that do sell.  Even within the narrower population of those who are in the market for sexual activity involving an erection-capable penis, this technology stratifies sexual pleasure along class lines; there are those that simply cannot pay to keep it up. This has repercussions for sexual selection, since men who cannot afford such a treatment disqualify themselves from going all the way with those who are looking for an erection-capable penis.

What I find ultimately at stake here is: how important is the male penis to female sexual satisfaction? There are other technologies that can be used to make the penis erect such as implants to simulate an erection, but these present even more extreme versions of the concerns outlined above. There are certainly technologies that can substitute for the erect penis in sexual activities in terms of simulating dimensions and motion.  As it stands, the technology of pharmaceutical treatments for erectile dysfunction appear to be quite unsatisfactory from most feminist perspectives, but what improvements or alternatives would be better?  Can this treatment technology be improved or can alternative technologies serve just as well or even better in affording women sexual pleasure?

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