Why is the rhetoric around women’s sexual health still so skewed?

09 : 04 : 2018 Health : Wellness : Female Futures
Roman, US Roman, US

Although it subsequently changed its stance, Boots is not alone in its previously held view that prices need to be kept high to stop women ‘abusing’ the morning after pill.

Rhiannon McGregor, Foresight writer, LS:N Global

Earlier this month, Boots became the first UK pharmacy to sell the drug sildenafil – more commonly known as Viagra – over the counter. The move follows changes in regulation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which have resulted in erectile dysfunction treatment being reclassified from a prescription-only medicine (POM) to one that can be distributed under the supervision of a pharmacist.

It marks a significant shift in the narrative around men’s healthcare. Erectile dysfunction is a condition that affects as many as 52% of men of all ages, according to the Cleveland Clinic, but has traditionally been stigmatised as a condition related to old age and impotency.

In ensuring that Viagra – or Viagra Connect as it is being branded – is more readily available to the wider public, Boots has taken an significant step forward in assimilating the treatment into the mainstream narrative. There is a similar shift occurring in the US. Expiring patents for Viagra and Cialis have opened up the market to new competitors such as Hims and Roman – online pharmaceutical brands selling sildenafil direct to consumers – which is helping to radically reshape the male medicare landscape.

While changing the conversation around erectile dysfunction is obviously important, this change does serve to exacerbate the stigma that lingers around the morning after pill. Of course, no one is claiming that Viagra and the morning after pill serve the same medical function, but when it comes to how each of these drugs is perceived, the gender gap is growing.

While changing the conversation around erectile dysfunction is obviously important, this change does serve to exacerbate the stigma that lingers around the morning after pill.

Boots, the brand that is pioneering access to Viagra for men, was made to publicly apologise last year for suggesting that women might ‘misuse’ the morning after pill. The brand was reacting to a campaign by The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which called Boots to make it cheaper for women to purchase the morning after pill. The pharmaceutical company decided to take an ideological approach in its reply to the request, stating in a letter to BPAS: ‘We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product.’

Under duress, Boots finally lowered the price in January this year, having already failed to meet its initial promise of dropping the price in all of its stores by October 2017. Despite this change, which has led to a starting price of £15.99 ($22.53, €18.34), the cost is still high when compared to other countries around the world. In Turkey, for example, the morning after pill costs £6 ($8.60, €7), while in Georgia it’s only £4.36 ($6.14, €5).

Although it subsequently changed its stance, Boots is not alone in its previously held view that prices need to be kept high to stop women ‘abusing’ the morning after pill, despite guidance from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Care stating repeatedly that it is completely safe to use.

When it comes to sexual health, the idea that women should not be allowed agency over their own body is damaging. Brands within this space need to take their cues from forward-thinking brands such as Hims and Roman in order to change the rhetoric around sex and empower women through accessibility.

Visit our Health & Wellness vertical to find out more about the forward-thinking brands that are helping to change the sector.