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Can You Boost Female Desire With a Pill?

The Flibanserin Dilemma

Lack of sexual desire affects many of us at various times in our lives. It can affect our romantic relationships as well as our connection with ourselves. There can be much love and fondness between partners but one or both might still feel that they are missing “the spark”. Low sexual desire can cause significant distress in a relationship. Although it also affects men, it is more common among women.  They often turn to their doctors who diagnose them with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) but there are few medical options. Like men who have Viagra to help with erectile dysfunction, so too are women hoping that there is something to help them with their sexual dysfunction. The answer however is not the same for both sexes as the issues are quite different. Viagra increases blood flow to the penis, unrelated to desire. Women need something to help kickstart their desire that has its genesis in the brain.

The movie Orgasm Inc. documents the release of Viagra in 1998 where Pfizer was asked if they were working on a "female Viagra". "Yes, yes of course" they quickly responded, and the race was on for the next medical jackpot, turning attention to now solving female sexual dysfunction. After all, there must be lots of money to be made in fixing women’s sexual problems too!

There is usually nothing “wrong” with women who feel that their desire for sex doesn't match their partner's or is lower than what they themselves used to feel.  Between 30-50% of premenopausal women feel low desire on a regular or intermittent basis. However distressing it may be, half the female population feeling the same thing likely indicates a relatively “normal” condition. Women generally have a lower sex drive (although of course there are many exceptions). It is simply the way we are built. The “limerance” (new relationship energy) at the beginning of an erotic connection makes us horny more intensively and more regularly for up to three years of a new relationship. As time passes, our sex drive decreases.  Once we add stress, children, relationship conflict, boredom and unsatisfying sex, our libido naturally tanks. Not rocket science.

As such, desire is much more complex than just increasing blood flow to our genitals and is based on many variables, so it is unlikely that a pill will be able to fix it. Early results back up this concern. After taking Flibanserin every day for two months, women on average had less than one (0.8) additional sexual event per month. That is a very low ”success rate”. In addition, Flibanserin has many side effects such as low blood pressure, dizziness and fainting and no alcohol can be consumed while on the medication.  Low results with high side effects contributed to the failure of Flibanserin’s approval twice in the past by the USA’s FDA. The low success rate is likely partly due to the fact that no pill will ever address some of the important factors affecting sexual desire such as lack of pleasure during sex, boredom in the bedroom (or anywhere else), conflict, poor communication, stress at home or work, parenting woes, breastfeeding, trying to conceive or adopt, and side effects of medications. If only there was a pill that could address all of these challenges too!

The success of this new magic pill remains to be seen. Long-term studies have yet to be undertaken and those brave and distressed enough to give it a go will be the guinea pigs in determining its safety.  Because of the known short-term side effects, only MDs and pharmacists certified through an online course will be able to prescribe and dispense Flibanserin. Hopefully this course will also (re-)inform MDs about the other non-medical options such as therapy, sexual skill building, as well as relationship and sex coaching that should also be attempted. It will be available in October in the USA, and application for approval in Canada has already been submitted.

Likely if folks looked at the price of Flibanserin and invested the same amount of money in seeing a sex therapist or coach, attending workshops and reading books on improving sexual technique, spicing-it-up and improving desire, slowing down and relaxing with massages and looking after their health, they might see similar or even better results with fewer side effects and many positive spin-offs. But it is much easier to just take a pill.

My fear is that the hype and belief in this pill will overshadow the diversity of information and options for helping us get our mojo going.  Low libido can indeed be distressing as it affects ourselves and our relationships. The benefits, risks, side effects and alternatives to any drug, including Flibanserin need to be explained to and available to all those with low sexual desire. In the end, whichever decisions each individual makes hopefully leads to finding the sexual desire that we want to have and express.