BACKGROUND: Sex and gender sensitive inquiry is critical in pharmaceutical policy due to the sector's historical connection with women's health issues and due to the confluence of biological, social, political, and economic factors that shape the development, promotion, use, and effects of medicinal treatments. A growing number of research bodies internationally have issued laws, guidance or encouragement to support conducting sex and gender based analysis (SGBA) in all health related research. METHODS: In order to investigate the degree to which attempts to mainstream SGBA have translated into actual research practices in the field of pharmaceutical policy, we employed methods of literature scoping and mapping. A random sample of English-language pharmaceutical policy research articles published in 2008 and indexed in MEDLINE was analysed according to: 1) use of sex and gender related language, 2) application of sex and gender related concepts, and 3) level of SGBA employed. RESULTS: Two thirds of the articles (67%) in our sample made no mention of sex or gender. Similarly, 69% did not contain any sex or gender related content whatsoever. Of those that did contain some sex or gender content, the majority focused on sex. Only 2 of the 85 pharmaceutical policy articles reviewed for this study were primarily focused on sex or gender issues; both of these were review articles. Eighty-one percent of the articles in our study contained no SGBA, functioning instead at a sex-blind or gender-neutral level, even though the majority of these (86%) were focused on topics with sex or gender aspects. CONCLUSIONS: Despite pharmaceutical policy's long entwinement with issues of sex and gender, and the emergence of international guidelines for the inclusion of SGBA in health research, the community of pharmaceutical policy researchers has not internalized, or "mainstreamed," the practice. Increased application of SGBA is, in most cases, not only appropriate for the topics under investigation, but well within the reach of today's pharmaceutical policy researchers.