Imagine this scenario:
A woman walks into her doctor’s office complaining of an inability to orgasm. The doctor compassionately explains to her that there are millions of other women just like her, women who are also suffering from anorgasmia. An inability to orgasm can be caused by high blood pressure, aging, or other physiological reasons, the doctor reassuringly says, as she opens up a cabinet to reveal a plethora of gleaming vibrators made of medical-grade silicone and filled with the most powerful miniature motors known to man. But I can’t afford these vibrators, counters the patient. Access to orgasm is not a luxury for the rich, replies the doctor, as she explains that with a co-pay, each vibrator will only cost five dollars.
Is this scenario wildly utopian and unrealistic? Not necessarily. Insurance companies have been paying for men’s erectile dysfunction drugs for over a decade. It’s time that women’s sexual health devices received the same coverage.
Why is insurance coverage of vibrators necessary? First, it’s about access. High-quality vibrators usually cost around $100, so women on a budget frequently purchase cheaper, lower-quality versions or forego vibrators altogether, because they see vibrators as an indulgence. Second, insurance-subsidized vibrators would take us one step closer to defining women’s sexual pleasure as a right and not a privilege.
Of course, there’d be the counterargument that insurance companies shouldn’t be subsidizing women’s masturbation. But it could be easily refuted by arguing that vibrators are used during partnered sex too, and, that for an anorgasmic woman, masturbation serves as a form of therapy. Research demonstrates that orgasm is associated with psychological well-being, so companies could argue that the vibrator could be used as an antidepressant. Besides, a woman’s newfound ability to orgasm would improve sex with her partner. And this would satisfy the family-values cohort, as studies have shown that having a good sex life strengthens relationships.
Another sign that we’re ready for insurance-subsidized vibrators is that physicians are already selling vibrators from their office. In an April 2013 article in OBG Management, Barbara DePree, M.D., explains that she offers a “curated” collection of vibrators and lubricants for sale to her patients, and she argues that other doctors’ offices should get into the vibrator business. Her rationale is that the options for treating Female Sexual Dysfunction are limited: there’s only one FDA-approved FSD-treatment device (the $179 Eros vacuum pump, which many insurance companies won’t pay for), and the numberous sex toys offered for sale online are baffling to her patients.
Furthermore, this isn’t the first time that doctors have dabbled in vibrators. About 100-hundred-years ago, physicians promoted vibration as a cure for back spasms, deafness, and sexual problems, among other things. And while my research demonstrates that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, doctors were not applying vibrators to women’s clitorises to cure hysteria, as historian Rachel Maines claims, they were promoting vibrators as cure-alls until 1912, when the American Medical Association declared that vibrator companies’ medical claims were fraudulent. However, companies only sold vibrators in dishonest ways at the turn of the century because social and legal restrictions prevented them from selling them as sex toys.
But laws and mores and have shifted in the 21st century, and we’ve finally reached a time when doctors can openly embrace the vibrator as the sexual cure that it is. It’s time that insurance companies follow suit. Because until we take women’s inorgasmia seriously, we will continue to regard the devices used to cure it as frivolous luxuries, in other words, as “sex toys.”– Hallie Lieberman