Viewpoint: Drugs to Boost Female Sex Drive: That’s a Good Thing, Right?

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In the past, women who lacked sexual desire were stigmatized as “frigid” — today, psychiatry’s diagnostic manual labels them with hypoactive-sexual-desire disorder. Big Pharma is betting that many such women will want to take a drug to rev up their sex lives, but is that a good idea?

Ethicists and feminists are concerned that the emergence a drug that can amp up female sexual longings may have lasting effects on the very nature of female desire. Male-sexual-enhancement drugs, you see, are about shoring up the plumbing — improving blood flow to the penis — while research so far suggests that most women need more than mere physical arousal to get in the mood. To stoke female desire with pharmacology, then, you need to get into the brain. And that, understandably, makes some people nervous. While I share some of those worries, I believe we’ll nonetheless soon be faced with a variety of such drugs — and need to address the way we view and regulate them rather than trying to turn back the tide.

In this week’s New York Times Magazine, author Daniel Bergner chronicles the lives of some participants in clinical trials of two new drugs aimed at relighting women’s fires. He writes:

The promise of Lybrido and of a similar medication called Lybridos … or of whatever chemical finally wins the race for F.D.A. [Food and Drug Administration] approval, is that it will be possible to take a next step, to give women the power to switch on lust, to free desire from the obstacles that get in its way. “Female Viagra” is the way drugs like Lybrido and Lybridos tend to be discussed. But this is a misconception. Viagra meddles with the arteries; it causes physical shifts that allow the penis to rise. A female-desire drug would be something else. It would adjust the primal and executive regions of the brain. It would reach into the psyche.

In fact, Lybrido is actually a combination of Viagra (sildenafil) and testosterone. Just as they do in men, Viagra sends blood to the organs of arousal and testosterone can increase lust. The second drug, Lybridos, combines testosterone with buspirone, an antianxiety drug that lowers serotonin levels briefly. That may help because elevated serotonin can interfere with sex drive, which is why SSRI antidepressants like Prozac can kill desire.

With millions of American women taking antidepressants — and with dampened sexual desire a common experience in aging and in long-term relationships — pharmaceutical companies see room for blockbusters. I certainly wouldn’t mind having the option, if I needed such a pill.

But some feminists anticipate that the marketing of these drugs will pathologize normal losses of desire and make women feel as though we need a pill to please our partners when in fact, low desire may result from stress or relationship problems that should be addressed in other ways. Men have already felt such pressures, thanks to Viagra and similar drugs that imply anything but a constant ability to turn on arousal is worthy of medical treatment. The same pathologization of normalcy appears in a completely different environment — intensely competitive academic programs — where some students feel they must take stimulants just to keep up.

Leonore Tiefer, associate professor of psychiatry at New York University, is so concerned about the potential misuse of female-sexual-desire drugs that she founded an organization, the New View Campaign, back in 2000, to address calls for a “female Viagra” that arose after the drug was first approved for men in 1998.

In an essay for the scientific journal PLoS Medicine, she called the selling of drugs for female sexual dysfunction “a textbook case” of “disease mongering,” or creating and selling a disorder simply to market a medication for it. Just as pharma rebranded impotence as “erectile dysfunction” to sell Viagra, Tiefer fears it will label a large chunk of normal female sexual experience as a disease to be medicated away for profit.

However, if pharma wants to develop and sell a drug, it needs a disease for the drug to treat. Because in the U.S., it’s increasingly difficult, and in many cases illegal, to sell them otherwise. With a few exceptions like alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes, Western societies have decided that using drugs to change your mind or mood is only acceptable if you agree to be labeled — as some sort of patient. And in the absence of alternatives, many see this medicalization as a fair bargain.

(MORE: The Dangers Lurking in Male-Sexual Supplements)

But this leads to massive overdiagnosis of conditions like ADHD as people seek to use stimulants to enhance performance. And the failure to regulate “lifestyle drugs” has also created the crazed market in so-called legal highs, where analogues of the active ingredients in drugs like marijuana and methamphetamine are sold before authorities can make them illegal. This cat-and-mouse game makes consumers who want to get high but stay (at least technically) on the right side of the law into human guinea pigs, taking ever-newer drugs, some of which have never been tested first in animals.

Moreover, as I recently reported, so-called natural health supplements sold for male-sexual enhancement, which are far less regulated than pharmaceutical products, frequently turn out to contain counterfeit versions of drugs like Viagra or even analogues of such drugs — again, often without prior testing for safety and efficacy. The deaths and psychoses associated with these unsafe supplements and with legal highs like “bath salts” are unlikely to end any time soon — in fact, they are likely to escalate.

All that said, our increased understanding of neuroscience, our massively globalized markets and the anonymity of the Internet make the eventual availability of female-desire drugs almost inevitable. The question is, Will we make them legal and safe — and require the marketing and labeling of low desire as a disease — or will we recognize that we need a new system of regulation to address nonmedical drugs?

(MORE: Outlawing ‘Legal Highs:’ Can Emergency Bans Hinder Drug Development?)

The current system of turning normal behavior into diseases and allowing pharma to market them — while relegating everyone else to an illegal market — is not sustainable. When pharma discovers a drug that, say, turns off nonmonogamous desires, will we make adultery into a disease — or will we make the drug illegal? Will we make normal IQ a disorder if we discover a drug to raise it — or clamp down on people who are trying to make themselves smarter and send them to prison? The questions raised by drugs that change what we want to want or alter our intelligence make their regulation an extremely difficult challenge — but one we can no longer afford to ignore.

18 comments
anginaberryz
anginaberryz

I have a dry vaginal skin. Last year I suffered from severe cold and I took certain medications for curing it. Then, after sometime because of taking the medications for cold the skin of my vagina became very dry, during sexual intercourse I started feeling pain and there was also bleeding after doing sex. I and my partner became worried and we didn’t have sex for about 6 months. Then we came to know about zestra and I started using it. Everything is fine now; I don’t feel pain during intercourse. I will keep it with me forever!
http://www.consumerhealthdigest.com/female-enhancement-products/zestra.html

memjay67
memjay67

I am a 46 year old, healthy female...and I NEVER remember a time when I wasn't pretty disinterested in sex.  So for me, it's not a matter of menopause or aging.  As a matter of fact, I've always held out hope that this would change as I get older; but so far, no luck!  I've been with the same man for over 20 years, and my husband is very patient...always willing to be romantic, take the time to be attentive, etc.  It's never just about his satisfaction, and when we do engage in sexual relations, it is a satisfying experience for both of us.  So for me, the problem is not reaching orgasm once I'm aroused...it's simply being interested in becoming aroused.  I love my husband very much and for YEARS have searched for something that would help me to have a more active sex drive so that I would be interested in becoming aroused more often.  I have ordered "herbal" remedies, spoken to my primary care physician, spoken to my ob-gyn, spoken with my therapist, etc. I have gone so far as to investigate "date rape" drugs to see if they'd be a viable option (the answer is no because of the side-effects). If there were an easy "fix" in the shape of a medication that I could take (much in the same way that men take e.d. meds), I would certainly want to educate myself about the side effects, but for the most part, I would be elated!  I say bring it on!  I would even seriously consider taking something that was a "maintenance" drug (one which needs to be in your system all the time or taken daily).  Besides, just because something like this will be available, doesn't mean that people have to take it.  If the idea offends you for some reason, don't take the meds!  As a matter of fact, if I could be on the clinical trial for something like this, I would jump at the chance.

dschinker
dschinker

HSDD is not some manufactured condition. It is real and, I suspect, GROSSLY under-reported. Too many doctors tell women who used to have healthy, active libidos that their waning desire is simply from "stress" or "fatigue" implying that it's "all in their heads." But HSDD has a biological basis more than psychological and deserves to be treated and treatable!

JacquelineBrown
JacquelineBrown

The "female viagra" debate has been around for a few years -- and it was just last year that the latest "little pink pill" got yanked before final FDA testing. Do women need a pill to boost sex drive? Probably not. But they do need to pay attention to their hormonal balance during menopause -- this is what is the clincher with libido. However, science already knows that ovarian estrogen production declining, the body is designed to produce adequate estrogen from secondary sites, such as subcutaneous fat and the adrenal glands, as long as you provide the raw materials and support (source: http://www.womentowomen.com/sexualityandfertility/menopause-sexdrive-libido.aspx). Seems like that's what we need to focus on!

SomewhereOverTheRainbow
SomewhereOverTheRainbow

Big Pharma looking for the nezt new drug to make big profits thats is all this is about.

REALITY So much depends on your partner.  How many woman just grin and bear it because the husband or male partner doesnt have a clue on how to be romantic, take the time to be attentive or is just about pleasing his needs. What a man says and does makes all the difference. How he acts makes a difference. Face it many men dont care to change their ways its just about quickly pleasing themselves. Will  a drug help if the male partner is really the problem and is killing that loving feeling.? Men who are selfless, giving and not self centered are rare and really can make or break it for a woman.

stubor2796
stubor2796

A major convern of the author is centered on society's perception. It is already generally accepted by society that modifying attitude chemically is a normal procedure. Whether by sedation or elevation, why is this fundamentally any different? The drugs discussed are mostly tranquillizers and improve circulation. Alcohol isn't called liquid panty remover because it inhibits a person, and Lord knows, having a drink with a partner is pretty much a given.

JcRebolla
JcRebolla

suddenly women who don't like sex are freaks?

JamesMacolm
JamesMacolm

This drug will be 100% free as a basic human right because of the "war on women"... right?

hotandbothered
hotandbothered

But some feminists anticipate that the marketing of these drugs will pathologize normal losses of desire and make women feel as though we need a pill to please our partners..."

I'm not looking to 'please' my partner, for crying out loud! I'd like to be able to have the same type of arousal that I had before I had massive surgery that removed my ovaries, uterus and some other organs. I can't take hormone replacement therapy because I am cystic so I have no alternative, no nothing(!) to help me achieve arousal like I did before that surgery. 

IMO, those 'pills' would be a blessing but for some odd reason in this day and age there are way too many people who don't want women to have any sort of control over their bodies for any reason. Here's a clue for those people: If you don't like it then don't use it but by no means should you try to stop other women from having some joy in their lives.



NormanGooding
NormanGooding

Are we going to get more pharmaceutical ads,,just what we need,,although some ads of sexy women grabbing a man and demanding "What do you mean your sleepy"? would be a welcome change.

SomewhereOverTheRainbow
SomewhereOverTheRainbow

Well I also ask this question, if Big Pharma was so concerned about a woman's lack of libido why has it taken so long to address the issue with drugs?  Viagra has been around for men for about 20 years now.

Peace_2_All
Peace_2_All

@SomewhereOverTheRainbow 

You Said:  "Big Pharma looking for the nezt(sic) new drug to make big profits that's (what this) is about"

No, that it is a drastic over-generalization to suggest that there is -0- merit in having sexual enhancement medication for women, and that the only reason is to "make big profits."  Obviously, there are many women out there who could benefit from some medication to enhance their sexuality... and... drug companies are in the market to make a profit too. 

*Both*... are legitimate reasons.

Regards,

Peace...

Peace_2_All
Peace_2_All

@JcRebolla 

No... but I'm guessing that there may be an underlying problem/s that are causing the dislike.  If a woman is o.k. with 'not' liking sex, then that's here business.

However, there are many women out there who don't like sex, but... want to find the causes and fix it, so they can enjoy one of the greater pleasures.

Regards,

Peace...

Finderhorn
Finderhorn

@hotandbothered Women should not feel as though they need a pill to please their partners. But how about a pill to aid them in pleasing themselves and in adding healthy sexual fulfillment to their lives?

RekkaRiley
RekkaRiley

@hotandbothered I think what they're really worried about is women who may be actually asexual or demisexual getting labeled as somehow having a condition that needs to be medicated.

Speaking from experience, women who are asexual (not really interested in sex at all, with any gender, and simply don't require sex to live a fulfilling happy life) or demisexual (someone who needs an emotional connection before they start experiencing sexual attraction) already get stigmatized and have to deal with everything from accusations of lying, or "you just haven't met the right boy yet," or "you clearly have some sort of medical condition that must be treated because you can't possibly be happy without having sex."

I'm demisexual/borderline asexual myself, and I've experienced all of that...plus nasty catcalls, being called a frigid prude "feminazi" who must hate men (which I don't, I've just never felt the urge to have sex with them), or that I'm trying to make some kind of point (which I'm not), or even threats of rape along the lines of "I'll MAKE you like it."

Society seems to have a hard time imagining that someone can be genuinely content with never having sex, and I think the feminists that are nervous about this drug are concerned that those women may start getting harassed about it even more than they already are.  Which is an honest, valid concern. 

 I totally agree that this drug could be a great deal for women who started off with an average to high sex drive that suddenly tapered off (though I'd check for any other physical causes first, just like with men who can't get it up), but there is a very real possibility of women who were never interested in sex and don't enjoy it at all either getting harassed by peers and doctors into taking this drug to force them to want it (which sounds an awful lot like Mind Rape), or getting misdiagnosed as having a disorder where there isn't one.

Peace_2_All
Peace_2_All

@NormanGooding 

You Said: "although some ads of sexy women grabbing a man and demanding "What do you mean you're sleepy"?

LOL...!!! :-)

Regards,

Peace...

Peace_2_All
Peace_2_All

@SomewhereOverTheRainbow 

Several reasons.  For men, taking testosterone, for libido/sex drive and viagra was pretty much an easy fix for helping men to better their sex life.

With women, in the research studies I've seen, Pharmaceutical Companies have been having a much harder time isolating what works for women, as do to the complexity of the female brain/body situation.  Pharma has been working to find ways, it's just been taking awhile...and... women, *in general* have starting to be more open and vocal about their wanting some help.  They have kept, *as a general rule* more to themselves about their needs.  Not so much anymore.

Look at it this way... It's a win-win if these medications work.  The women get their needs and sex lives enhanced, and the Pharm companies get to make money.

Pretty simple, actually.

Peace...