DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE: WHY “FEMALE VIAGRA” ISN’T ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE

This piece originally appeared at The Radical Notion (Aug 25, 2015). I am a semi-regular contributor to TRN, check it out on Facebook and Twitter for the latest. 

Congratulations ladies (and anyone who likes to have sex involving a vagina)! The FDA has approved a “female viagra” to enable you to get it on! Hooray!


Except, not quite. First let’s remove the misnomer from the drug, Flibanserin, dubbed Addyi by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, its manufacturer,  is absolutely not the same as Viagra, Cialis or any other ED drug out there. Those drugs are designed to aid men who are aroused and want to have sex but face physical limitations. Those drugs basically increase blood flow to the genitals, allowing the penis to get erect, enabling penetrative intercourse. The analogous to this for women, actually, is probably lube which has been around in some form or another for millennia. But Addyi does not increase lubrication in the vagina. It doesn’t focus on the physiological aspects at all. Instead it takes a woman who has little to no desire for sex and, essentially, gives her some.

Addyi is designed to increase sexual desire in premenopausal women who suffer from low sex drive orhypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) that is not otherwise caused by a medical or psychiatric condition. Flibanserin began its life as an antidepressant (much like how Viagra started out as a heart medication) and affects neurotransmitters to increase sexual desire. It increases dopamine and stimulates and blocks certain receptors appropriately for the desired effect. Women will need to take Addyi daily for up to a month before noticing any changes. In clinical trials, participants had an average ofone additional sexually satisfying experience per month. Side effects are potentially dangerous, which is why this is Flibanserin’s third attempt at FDA approval. Women taking the drug may experience  nausea, low blood pressure, drowsiness, fainting and dizziness.These side effects are made worse when accompanied by alcohol.

So there you have it, in order just to want sex more, a lady (or any vagina possessing human) must take a drug for a month, risk fainting and quit drinking, and the best she can hope for is one additional sexually satisfying episode per month. Wouldn’t it be a lot better if we could just create environments where women wanted to have more sex without turning to prescription drugs?

We are an over diagnosed and over medicated society. Giving women with “low sexual desire” the diagnosis of hypoactive sexual desire disorder overly pathologizes what might just be part of the normal spectrum of human sexuality. The diagnosis for HSDD does not take into consideration how the external environment may affect a person’s (specifically a woman’s) desire to engage in sex. While the argument has been made that women have been clamoring for a way to treat their low libidos, it doesn’t seem if Addyi is the answer.

In her 2011 film, Orgasm Inc. (available to stream on Netflix), Liz Canner examines Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) and big pharma’s quest to “fix” it. She shows how we know so little about sexual desire in women. Supposedly 43% of women suffer from FSD, but that number is actually wildly misrepresented. “It turns out that it was taken from a sociology survey that was conducted in the early ’90s to find out what people’s sex lives were like. It was never meant to measure the number of women with a disease. Using exaggerated statistics manipulates women. It also says to Wall Street that there is a large market for this drug,” Canner says.

While some (Sprout funded) lobbyists have called this a win for equal rights, it actually sets a bad precedent. We can’t continue to act as if male and female sexuality are the same thing, two sides of the same coin. They have commonalities, of course, but they operate in different ways and need to be treated as such. The way to “Even the Score” is not to create a “pink Viagra.” Viagra works on a man whose brain wants to have sex but his body isn’t cooperating. Addyi makes a woman want to have more sex. We should be finding ways to make women more inclined towards sex (if that’s what they want) by making sex more appealing. That requires an entire cultural shift that people just are not ready for.

What we are ready for, it seems, is a pill to treat something that isn’t necessarily a disease. Doctors who are interested (who must first watch an online slide show to educate them on the risks of Flibanserin) can begin prescribing Addyi in October, so women can expect that additional sexually satisfying event sometime around Thanksgiving.

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