FDA hearings this week on “pink viagra”


The Food and Drug Administration will be deliberating the possible approval of a new drug meant to increase women’s sex drive, Flibanserin, on Thursday of this week.
Jessica Vanessa already talked about how it’s the least appealing name for a sex drug ever created, and the New View Campaign thinks medicalizing women’s sexuality for pharmaceutical profit is a terrible idea.
I do think it’s interesting that this drug was originally an anti-depressant, as Jessica Vanessa pointed out. They do say the brain is our biggest and most important sex organ, but it’s hard to trust the pharmaceutical industry with a concern for women’s sexual health and well-being. The application calls Flibanserin a “treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in premenopausal women.”
Who decides what is hypoactive (aka not active enough or under active) sexual desire anyway?
In my opinion, sexual desire is not something that can be measured independently, most frequently what becomes an issue is how it compares to that of your partner (if there is a partner involved). Women are stereotyped with never wanting sex and men with always wanting it, but we all know it’s never that simple.

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25 Comments

  1. Lily A
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m confused by this post.
    Some women have low sex drives.
    Some of those women would like a higher sex drive.
    Some women who would like to have a higher sex drive might get help from this pill.
    If they can get help, they have a chance at a higher quality of life, sexual self-determination, and all that good stuff.
    Why should we object to this? I understand that we shouldn’t be telling all women “if you don’t want sex, take this pill! It will fix you!” But why condemn women who choose it with full knowledge of the possible side effects?
    Just because there’s no objective way to measure sexual desire doesn’t mean that women who feel that they have less than they would like shouldn’t have a chance to get help.
    Just because the industry profits doesn’t mean that the product is worthless. They profit from the HPV vaccine too, but when that came out none of us were saying “we shouldn’t get the HPV vaccine, because the drug companies don’t really care about women’s reproductive health.”

  2. Miriam
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I don’t disagree with you. I’m not necessarily against the pill, just posing some questions about what can be wrong with the way the pharmaceutical industry goes about it.
    I don’t think sexual function and desire fit so neatly into the medical industry’s system of “disease and cure” as these medicines would make it seem.

  3. jonas
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    This may be a little tangential to Miriam’s point — which is well taken — but comparing this to “Viagra” is a misleading marketing ploy. Viagra helps with erectile dysfunction, which is not necessarily linked to a hypoactive sex drive. Most men who take Viagra are plenty horny, they just have trouble achieving a satisfactory erection for sex, or want to maintain an erection for longer than they normally would. A more appropriate female equivalent might be personal lubricant or something like that. This “Flibanserin” (and it does sound like something The ONION came up with) is a psychoactive drug, which I think has far more significant implications for women’s health.

  4. Lily A
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Cool, we definitely agree on that point!

  5. BelialTheGirl
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, where were these high profile arguments when Viagra? The existence of Viagra hasn’t lead to every man with ED chomping on pills willy-nilly.
    As someone who suffers from a sex drive that is much lower than I am comfortable with, why not let me stand up and speak for myself? In my doctors office, with plenty of options, please.

  6. Comrade Kevin
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Doctors are schooled to think that all problems can be cured and that with enough effort and research, they will draw to a neat conclusion. And as you pointed out, sexual desire lies along a continuum that goes beyond personality and often varies with circumstance and setting.

  7. Nicole
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    “I do think it’s interesting that this drug was originally an anti-depressant.”
    This is really striking to me, because a very, very frequent side effect of anti-depressant medications is actually the loss of sex drive. This is purely anecdotal, but I’ve spoken to many people (men and women) who complained that taking anti-depressants completely and utterly killed their sex drive. I was one of them, and I’ve talked to friends about it, I’ve slept with guys who have experienced it; it’s no little-known side effect. It’s incredibly common.
    So they produced this drug, which was supposed to cure depression, but then it did something else altogether and the thing it did was the exact opposite of what the usual effects of anti-depressants are? This sort of thing gets to me; it really shows an indifference on the part of pharmaceutical companies to whether or not they’re really helping people because for them, the bottom line is marketability. It’s like, they said “oops,” shrugged their shoulders, and found something else they could do with it. It also makes me wonder how strong the developpers’ research standards are if they got this far off course.
    Maybe they weren’t far off course. I don’t know what went on or how these ingredients work, or how long they went through the re-development process once they determined that the end result wasn’t what they wanted, but all I know is that the idea of taking something that was produced accidentally – likely way off the mark – doesn’t exactly tell me I should trust that this company cares about me.
    I’m with Miriam; I don’t think it’s bad to give women who wish they could be more sexual options to increase their sex drive, but medicalization of this kind of thing, and calling a low sex drive a “syndrome,” is all just so …. troubling.

  8. Brianna G
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    “Who decides what is hypoactive (aka not active enough or under active) sexual desire anyway?”
    My guess is the women, who would have to go to a doctor’s office to request it?
    So someone like me, who has a low sex drive but whose partner also has a low sex drive, would have no need for it; someone who had a partner with a higher sex drive might want it.
    It’s not like a doctor’s going to ask you how many times you have had sex in a week and automatically suggest it if it’s less than x amount. They may confirm that you don’t have unreasonable expectations, and make sure you’re not having sex every day and still want it, but they’re not going to push this on women who don’t independently decide they want it.
    After all, almost every mental condition requires that it be causing a problem for you or others before it’s actually considered a disorder, no matter how abnormal it seems.
    I actually wonder if this would work on men. We need a male treatment for hypoactive sex drive too– Viagra just helps blood flow better and doesn’t actually improve sex drive. Though antianxiety meds usually improve male sex drive.

  9. Nicole
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I 100% agree. This is treating sexual dysfunction as a mental problem; which, sometimes, it can be. But oftentimes, it’s physical. For men, it generally means they can’t “get it up,” so to speak, and Viagra treats that. It attacks the physical side of the problem. But for women, it’s not always just some mental block – it could be a body’s low response to stimulation, meaning any number of things: lack of personal lubrication, difficulty for the vaginal muscles to expand and allow penetration, a faulty nerve in the cervix* that means it can’t spasm and thus induce orgasm…these are physical problems, not mental. And this pill won’t do women who suffer from these physical problems any good by saying “ladies, it’s all in your head!”
    Mental sexual problems exist, of course, but they’re complicated and they affect men too and it’s not really fair to treat them as deficiencies when they could just be symptoms of a bad relationship or self-esteem woes or low confidence any other of a thousand things. I don’t think this pill is inherently bad and it could surely be beneficial for some – but I guarantee it will be poorly marketed and it will try to convince women that they have problems that don’t actually exist in them personally.
    *Someone correct me if my terminology is incorrect, I’m no gynecologist. :)

  10. makomk
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    We need a male treatment for hypoactive sex drive too– Viagra just helps blood flow better and doesn’t actually improve sex drive.
    Of course, in practice this ain’t gonna happen – few men are going to admit that the reason they can’t get it up is because their sex drive has gone for a wander. (Plus, from what I’ve read here previously, I suspect that the reaction they get from their partners wouldn’t be positive, at least for those with a female sexual partner.)

  11. Nadav Perez
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    The concept of ‘women who would like to have a higher sex drive’ is quite weird for me.
    If a woman doesn’t want sex, why does she need a pill to make her want more sex? I never wanted a pill to make me want more eggplant quiche. either I wanted it or I didn’t.
    ‘woman wants a higher sex drive’ sounds awfully like ‘woman wants to satisfy someone by having more sex with him’ to my ears.

  12. Hrovitnir
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    As someone with an extremely high sex drive that for a combination of reasons utterly deserted me a few years ago, I can tell you I feel like a piece of me is missing.
    I’m still interested in sex; very interested. But my body does not feel the need to fill me with visceral arousal the way it used to. Instead I feel a small twinge that reminds me that yes, that’s quite nice, and it goes no further. I cannot get engaged with my own body any more. It sucks.

  13. ScienceAndTheCity
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    It is interesting. I have heard from several people I know about the sexual side-effects of antidepressants, so I wonder if this drug (as well as those anti-depressants) work on some of the same brain pathways that play a role in controlling sex drive. Obviously, desire is really complex and I am not arguing that it all boils down to brain chemistry, but I think it’s obvious that that is a component.
    I also wanted to point out that this is definitely not the only drug on the market that was originally developed for another purpose – many important scientific discoveries have happened by accident, but that is not necessarily a reason to be distrustful of them. Sometimes pharma companies design drugs that are safe, but not really effective. They determine this by doing clinical trials, in which they also record any side effects of the drugs. If there are beneficial side effects, then they have to go through a new round of clinical trials (again showing safety and effectiveness) before the drug is approved by the FDA for that new use. Obviously there are some flaws in the system (look at Vioxx, etc.), but it’s not necessarily a reason to be suspicious of a drug’s saftey just because it was originally designed for something else. Actually, this is how Viagara was discovered – it was originally developed by Pfizer as a heart medication.

  14. Lissla Lissar
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Wow, how dismissive of people who might actually be legitimately distressed by their low sex drives. Sometimes hormones and other factors get in the way of someone’s sex drive, and they might want to change that if they can by using this pill. The fact that you dismiss that as something that’d only be done to please sex partners is really insulting.

  15. paperispatient
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    The concept of ‘women who would like to have a higher sex drive’ is quite weird for me.
    My libido took a serious hit thanks to a 1+ year struggle with recurring yeast infections. I had been horny 24/7, and after all of that my sex drive was dramatically diminished, and I felt like another commenter said, that part of me was missing. Being sexual is a really central part of who I am and one of many great ways that I connect with and express love for my partner, and I was profoundly distressed when I lost a lot of my interest in sex. I try to take as little medication as possible so I personally would not turn to a pill like this, but I can very much understand people who want to want sex more.

  16. Devonian
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    “but all I know is that the idea of taking something that was produced accidentally – likely way off the mark – doesn’t exactly tell me I should trust that this company cares about me.”
    Plenty of scientific discoveries (medical and otherwise) happened by accident, that’s not a reason to distrust them.

  17. mandoir
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    I, too, am someone with a formerly high sex drive that has since deserted me. Like the other commenters, I would want to be able to get it back for me.
    However, I don’t see what’s so wrong with kind of wanting to do it for my partner as well. The woman with whom he entered this relationship had a high sex drive, one that was compatible with his, and she enjoyed participation in frequent sex.
    I am not that woman today, and though our relationship overall remains strong, our lack of sexual chemistry has certainly had an impact. He is no different, and he’s been very understanding about accommodating me and not forcing me to do anything I don’t want to do.
    So yeah, I’d want to improve my libido if I could. I’d want to so that I could enjoy sex again, but I’d also want to because I love my partner and I want him to be able to realize that phyiscally with me – like we used to.

  18. Nadav Perez
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    Rereading my comment, I now see that it was, indeed, dismissive, and I apologize for that – it is not what I meant.
    I did not mean that the pill was only intended for women who hate having sex, but their husband will divorce them unless they do.
    But I do think that the feminine sexuality cannot be discussed without considering that it is highly socially constructed. The way women think and feel about their sexuality is a product of social policing no less than of biological desires, or some ‘authentic’ feelings – much, I think, like the way women think about their body.
    So I’m not saying that women wanting more sexual desire is the same as women wanting to lose weight or enlarge their breasts. But I think that we do have to be critical here – especially considering that previous instances of the medical profession meddling with sexuality. for some people, enhancing sexual drive might be desirable, but for others (e.g. asexuals) defining low sexual drive as a ‘syndrome’ might be as oppressive as Gender Identity Disorder is for some transgenders, or the inclusion of homosexuality in the DSM for all gay men and lesbians.
    And even for those who find it desirable, I think we should ask ourselves where does this desire come from – while giving full respect to its existence.

  19. MaggieDanger
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I agree with you. The way our society feels about female sexuality is truly fucked up, and I’m worried that for some assholes, the idea of making your wife want to have sex with you more with a pill is icing on the misogynist cake.
    However, there are women who would genuinely love this pill. There are some women who wouldn’t. I even know at least once woman who went on medication and considered the libido-dropping side effect a BONUS. This pill is the last thing in the world she wants, and she would consider someone recommending it as a personal affront to her personal decision to be as asexual as possible.
    I think this pill is, overall, a very good idea. But I think everyone’s going to have to be VERY careful to not foist it on a woman unless she genuinely wants it. Having a high sex drive and wanting to have sex with a particular person are not the same thing. This pill isn’t the answer to a loveless marriage or an easy way to get some woman who keeps dumping you to finally sleep with you. This pill will help some women who miss wanting sex in general to once again want sex in general. Period.

  20. BelialTheGirl
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I understand and appreciate the need to explore the social implications of this drug. Just please understand and appreciate that many of us who would like to see a drug like this have heavily explored where the desire comes from. For me, the mere fact that I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had sex in the last two years…That I can’t even remember the last time I had satisfying sex because I was so hung up on the fact that my body wasn’t in harmony with brain.
    It’s frustrating. For me.

  21. eeanm
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    “but it’s hard to trust the pharmaceutical industry with a concern for women’s sexual health and well-being”
    But the millions of women on hormonal birth control certainly do, whether they know it or not. Just check out the latest Savage Love, it can affect hormone level even after going off the pill.
    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=4281993
    One solution is to go on other hormonal drugs to counter the effect, but this drug sounds like it would have a lot less side-affects.

  22. eeanm
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Yea agreed. Who said scientific progress had to be clean and pretty?
    You could look at this and decide that folks are just guessing and checking and don’t really have a handle on whats going on in the brain /really/. You’d probably be correct about that. :) But the notion that it “really shows an indifference on the part of pharmaceutical companies to whether or not they’re really helping people because for them, the bottom line is marketability” is just kind of silly.

  23. delwalk
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    HSDD has a clinical definition, and that definition includes that the symptom, low incidence of sexual desire in pre-menopausal women, causes distress. If the woman has low desire and is not distressed about it then she is excluded.
    One could talk about how there is no true “normal” amount of desire and the normalization of male sexual desire in western culture, but such discussions quickly devolve into issues of free will vs cultural expectations which, unless you were raised in a Skinner box, you have no way of knowing objectively. Intro Behavioral Psych will tell you that all of our desires are subject to influence by our environment so the extent to which we truly want to (the so-called authentic self) or because we’re responding to external influences (e.g. I want to because my partner wants to) is quite unknowable.
    Setting aside the sophistry, there exist women who want to have more sexual desire than they currently have. They don’t want to have more sex, they want to want to have more sex, and this lack of desire causes them emotional distress. It’s hard to draw a hard and fast line but I know a woman for whom quarterly desire would be an improvement. Say what you will, it’s difficult to form and maintain intimate relationships where the desire discrepancy is so markedly pronounced.
    Pharmacology is not an exact science. Viagra (aka “sildenafil citrate” – no more sexy a name than “flibanserin” which might be sold under the name “Girosa”) was originally developed to treat hypertension. The patients in the trial discovered an unexpected side effect – the mechanism of which researchers eventually discovered. Many drugs are used for their side-effects; some like Viagra are marketed for them, others are prescribed “off label” by physicians.

  24. rhian
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    The definition of “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” is essentially a low sex drive that is a) not caused by any other disorder and b) (much like the definition of many psychiatric disorders) is significant enough to impair your life. So who decides what is “hypoactive”? You do.
    Is there a chance women will take it inappropriately, because of pressure from their partners to have more sex? Sure. But that’s not a reason to keep it off the market any more than the fear of rampant sex is a good reason to keep Gardasil away from teenagers.
    By the way, re the name flibanserin: generic drug names are scientifically descriptive and so almost always lame. Viagra = sildenafil. That doesn’t really get me off either. Apparently the brand name being considered is Girosa.

  25. paperispatient
    Posted June 18, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the additional explanation. I very much agree with your points about viewing our understandings of sexuality as socially constructed and about the perils of medicalizing sex drive and thus making certain levels of interest in sex “a problem” as opposed to looking at the specifics of different people’s situations.

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