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Monday, February 27, 2006

sex in the marketplace

It's girls' night out: a welcome event in every woman's daytimer. Take a neighbourhood bar, add a few cocktails and chances are the conversation might turn to sex.

Marketplace invited Lisa, Carol and Nancy to get together for some frank talk.

Lisa's a marketing co-ordinator, Nancy's a dental professional and Carol is a computer programmer.

"I've used vibrators and that takes the pressure off my husband because it lasts a lot longer than he can," Carol offered.

"I would love to have multiple orgasms and to be able to achieve orgasm a little bit easier," said Lisa.

The quest for an orgasm. The big O. But the odds aren't great. Studies show that only one in four women ever achieve an orgasm during intercourse. Many don't know what one would feel like or if they've even had one.

We spoke with Karen Kaffko, a psychologist who specializes in female sexuality to describe the sensation. (Read excerpts from the interview.)

"An orgasm is often likened to a sneeze where there is a build up like 'ah, ah, ah CHOO!' Then there is this release of the orgasm. And with that release, for a man there is ejaculation. For a woman there is a kind of pulsating experience around the clitoris," she explained.

In late October, 2001, "The Everything to do With Sex Show" opened in Toronto. It's a trade show for buyers and sellers of sex products. And it's a sign how mainstream the subject of sex has become. No longer a private affair, something kept in the bedroom.

Ever since Viagra, that little blue pill, hit the market in 1998, it's been nothing but male celebrities talking about erectile dysfunction. But what about women?

A little dab'll do ya?

"For those who have orgasms frequently [Viacrème] helps make them more pleasurable. For those who have infrequent orgasms it helps them get them more quicker," says a Viacrème distributor.

A little tube sells for about $25 per tube. Then there's O Cream, $39.95 for 40 to 50 applications.
Hoping for a "bigger bang." Marketplace tester, Nancy

Back at the bar, we asked our three guests if they'd be willing to do a little homework. All three eagerly agreed to give it a try.

"Mine is not to have a bigger success story. Mine is to have a bigger bang so to speak. That's what I'm hoping these creams will do," Nancy said.

Marketplace had some questions about orgasm creams, so we went to the launch party for O Cream.

"Women were saying that they were too embarrassed to buy products in sex shops because they are pretty seedy looking and they don't even like to go into stores and the packaging is awful and they are embarrassed to have it. So we thought that maybe we could change that and make something more appealing to women," Rebecca Powley, one of the women behind O Cream told us.

The product is mainly sold through Web sites — and sales are reported to be quite brisk — although it is available in a few specialty shops.
"You really need a very small…amount." Lynda DiMarco, head Viacrème distributor in Canada

Lynda DiMarco is the head distributor for Viacrème in Canada. We asked her how the product works.

"You really need a very small size amount, a pea-size, a kernel of corn. And you apply that to your clitoris and within seconds you will feel it," she explained. "I don't know how to explain it. It poofs up the area and it…makes it incredibly sensitive to touch."

Viacrème is owned by an American company, Lexxus. The company uses its Web site to not only promote Viacrème, but also to entice potential distributors.

Health Canada takes note

Viacrème has also attraced the attention of Health Canada. It's taking the products claims seriously.

According to Health Canada: "The product is classified as a drug based on its total representation to the public…Even the name of the product 'Viacrème,' there's a reference to Viagra in an indirect kind of a way. The product was being promoted as a sexual enhancer."

In Health Canada-speak, Viacrème is making therapeutic claims that it modifies an organic function. It's been assessed as a drug, so it can't be sold in Canada until a drug submission is approved.

But Lexxus does not see its product as a drug, so it immediately backed off on the "Viagra for women"claims. They shut down some of their Web sites and others have changed.

Lexxus' chief financial officer says: "We make no claims. This is strictly a quality of life product for us to 'enhance relationships.'"

Health Canada says it has not received any complaints of adverse reactions to the product and for now it can't say that the company does not meet its claims because no drug submissions have been made.

What's in it?

We decided to go to the University of Toronto to find out what's in Viacrème. We met with Dr. Philip Marsden. (Read excerpts from the interview.) He says what makes Viagra work is nitric oxide, a by-product of L-arginine. It's also one of the main ingredients in Viacrème.
L-arginine is one of the main ingredients in Viacrème

"The product is a lubricant and contains arginine and menthol. It's called l-arginine on the product. It's the same product you find over the counter as an oral drug in the vitamin section of the drug store," Marsden explained.

The other main ingredient is menthol.

"I'd be hesitant to rub toothpaste on the genitals and I think menthol falls into that same category," Marsden said.

We took that medical opinion back to Karen Kaffko, for her take on Viacrème's claims.

"Well, the problem with those claims is that there's no testing, there's no proof that, in fact, any of that happens. There's no proof that increased sexual response occurs," Kaffko said.

Lexxus says since Viacrème is not a drug, research has been anecdotal.

"They don't say take this cream and everything will…be good, but they do send the message: take this cream and you'll have improved libido and you'll have increased sexual response," Kaffko notes.

Kaffko says that could be a problem.

"I think the major thing is that it…defocuses from the real issue of women's sexuality that women do struggle with all sorts of sexual problems. A lot of them have to do with relationship and partner education. If we only focus on a cream that is specific to the clitoris, then that I think cheats women of what they really enjoy about sexual contact."

Back at the bar, two weeks later, the results were mixed.

"I was hugely disappointed," said Lisa.

"I felt I wanted to use the cream to see if there could be a heightened sensation. And I must agree with Lisa that it was a disapointment," said Nancy.

Carol disagreed. Her experience was that, "The O Cream was easy to use. And it actually lasted for a long time."

Carol also said she preferred O Cream.

"I actually preferred the Viacrème," said Lisa. "I found that it was more enjoyable and that the sensation lasted longer."

We asked what both of the products did physically for the women.

Nancy said, "It was like what a breath mint would do for your mouth. That…nice cool menthol. That's what it felt like. It was very nice. But it didn't last long in terms of the tingling."

So would these women recommend either O Cream or Viacrème?

"I think so. I think that even though it didn't work for me like I wanted it to, the fact that there is even interest in getting a product on the market for women I think is great," said Nancy.

All three women felt that at least it will get women talking about their sexuality.
"I was hugely disappointed," Marketplace tester, Lisa

In the end, our testers bonded like long lost friends.

And, if you're looking, Viacrème is still being sold. So is O Cream. They dodged the controversy by avoiding any comparison to Viagra.

The women agreed that whether the creams worked or not — it got them talking about orgasms.

And that's O-K.

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