Female Viagra?

ViagraEver since Viagra’s entrance into the pharmaceutical market in 1998, many women have been advocating for a female equivalent to the drug that has alleviated sexual dysfunction in millions of men. Although it’s been nearly three years since the Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceutical Company in Germany asked the Food and Drug Administration to approve a drug called flibanserin, a “female Viagra,” the FDA announced this June that it would not approve the drug.

According to the FDA, flibanserin failed to significantly impact women’s libido in two different studies. Although many women who took the drug during the trial period experienced a slight increase in sexual pleasure, the pill’s side effects (including depression, fainting, and dizziness) outweighed its benefits. The drug seems to work by affecting serotonin levels in the brain; it still remains unclear how exactly the drug affects women’s libido.

Why is it so difficult to create a “female Viagra”?  The answer lies in the differences in male and female sexual desire.  The chief cause of male sexual dysfunction is lack of blood flow to the penis: Viagra works by stimulating blood flow to this region of the body.  Most female sexual dysfunction is caused by psychological factors.  According to Sandra Lieblum, Director of Sexual and Marital Health at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, the woman’s brain is the most important sexual organ.  Most women need sex to have some sort of meaning and their sexual interest is directly related to feelings towards their partner.  In addition, lifestyle stressors, including family problems, illness, death, financial worries, work, and depression can all decrease sexual desire.

This difference in causes doesn’t mean that male sexual dysfunction is always physical or that female sexual dysfunction is always emotional.  As the Boehringer Ingelheim studies reported, some women experienced increased sexual function and pleasure as a result of taking flibanserin.  Other non-scientifically proven treatments, such as testosterone therapy, L-arginine amino acid ream, and the male hormone DHEA, may also increase female sex drive.  For now, however, a “female Viagra” remains off the market.

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