From impotence to erectile dysfunction: a journey through the medicalization of sexuality

This paper delineates the history of the recent transformation of the concept of impotence - from a psycho-social disorder to a disease with an organic etiology. Then it shows how male impotency, which globally affected the entire sexual response cycle, even acted upon self-image and the representation of the couple - progressively became a disorder as the failure of a well controlled organ liable to undergo a single medicinal treatment. This process is analyzed from the sequential model of medicalization, making the interference of the several actors implied (scientists, practitioners, industrialists, politicians, businessmen) easier to understand. This sheds light on the way scientific discoveries are selected and developed according to their industrial potential, then applied to clinical research; how clinical entities are reconceptualized and measured through epidemiologic studies among the general population, how clinical trials are conducted and how they lead to the creation and validation of a drug in public health settings. Next, we observe how public health actors and politicians are involved with giving this new problem legitimacy. Eventually, we evaluate the germs of de-medicalization, caused by the non-medical uses of the drug within the context of self-prescription which is currently developed on the Internet.

medicalization; erectile dysfunction; sexuality


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