The topic of women’s sexuality has been taboo for centuries. Both men and women are often uncomfortable discussing female libido.
Men’s sexuality, on the other hand, has received a lot of attention. Prime time television commercials for Viagra, Cialis or Levitra have made ED (erectile dysfunction) a household acronym. In addition, ads for testosterone supplementation for men emphasize the benefits for libido as well as strength and energy.
Off Label Prescribing of Testosterone
For years, however, women who complained of low libido have had no recourse. Some physicians prescribe low doses of the male hormone testosterone to improve sex drive, but there are risks such as facial hair, oily skin, acne and voice changes. This was an “off-label” use that the FDA frowned upon.
Female Libido: A Controversial Topic
More recently there has been growing interest in newer drugs that might actually affect brain chemicals to restore libido. The idea of a sex pill for women has been highly controversial, though. Some advocates maintain that medicalizing women’s sexuality is nothing more than a ploy by the pharmaceutical industry. They insist that low libido can be better addressed with talking therapy or couples counseling.
Others insist that there is a strong biological component to libido. They report that a total lack of sex drive has a devastating effect on their relationships and their lives.
An article in the New York Times (June 13, 2015) titled “Aid to Women, or Bottom Line? Advocates Split on Libido Pill” reveals the divide in women’s organizations about the new sex pill for women. For example, the National Women’s Health Network and Our Bodies Ourselves did not support the campaign to “Even The Score.” This was the public relations effort designed to sway experts at the FDA to recommend approval for the new drug called flibanserin. The National Organization of Women had a representative speak in favor of the drug and other women’s groups also supported the initiative.
A Personal Story
One reader shared her story:
“I’m a female, 26 years old, married for eight years with one child. Since I had my child, my sex drive has vanished. Over the last four years I have lost all desire and sexual responsiveness. I am too young to be deprived of this part of life. This problem is stressing my husband out and putting a real strain on my marriage.”
We have received dozens of similar messages to this website over the years and most are powerful and poignant.
The New Sex Pill for Women
Over the past several years, a sex pill for women that would help improve libido has been developed. Flibanserin (Addyi) was submitted for FDA approval twice before 2015. Both times the agency rejected it.
Recently, however, a panel of experts met to advise the FDA on whether to approve flibanserin. After hearing testimony on the drug’s effectiveness (which seems to be modest but statistically significant), the advisory committee voted to recommend approval.
The green light came with substantial reservations, however. The health professionals were underwhelmed by the drug’s ability to stimulate sex drive.
They were also quite concerned about possible side effects. Flibanserin can cause dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, low blood pressure and fainting (syncope).
The panel was especially worried about a potential interaction with alcohol. Because the drug has to be taken for long periods of time, some experts worried that cautioning women not to drink alcoholic beverages would be unrealistic.
Despite these qualms, the committee voted 18 to 6 that the FDA should approve flibanserin for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). It is expected that the FDA will give the drug the go-ahead sometime later this year. There will likely be restrictions and special precautions for its use.
You can read our blog about the hearing here.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect about the flibanserin hearing is that it will open the door for more research into human sexuality. Better communication may also result, so that women’s libido is no longer such a taboo topic.