‘Female Viagra’ Results Don’t Excite

A drug that was hoped to be the long sought-after female Viagra did not boost female libido in two studies, but still may end up on the market.

By Leah Zerbe

What you can do

Don’t rely on a magic pill to increase libido; instead, make better lifestyle choices and investigate our good sex tips.

Update: An FDA panel Friday rejected the latest pill trying to gain approval as the female version of Viagra. The FDA panel of health experts found the side effects outweighed any benefits.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA-The wonder pink pill that was supposed to do for women what Viagra has done for men…well…”It doesn’t work,” says Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, an organization focusing on using science-based findings for more effective health policies.

On Friday, the German drug company intent on selling the antidepressant flibanserin as a way to help women improve their sex drive will try to persuade the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the drug for female sexual dysfunction, although two industry-funded studies did not show a significant increase in sexual desire in women taking the drug. “The greatest benefit of these drugs would be to the company making money from these pills, not the women taking them,” Zuckerman says.

THE DETAILS: The FDA Reproductive Health Advisory Committee meets today with the German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim to discuss the approval of flibanserin for use in women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder. However, critics say this drug is more about lining the pockets of pharmaceutical companies than helping women. Among other complaints, Zuckerman says, is the fact that flibanserin affects seratonin similar to the way selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, antidepressants do. “We know those drugs have substantial risks,” she says, adding, “The drug is intended for women of childbearing age, who already are cautioned by the FDA to avoid seratonergic drugs like this one during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Committee on Obstetric Practice explicitly recommends that paroxetine (Paxil, an SSRI) be avoided by pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant. “We expect a similar risk for this drug, but it hasn’t been adequately studied,” says Zuckerman.

The two studies on flibanserin’s affect on female libido did not show a significant increase in sex drive, although some women did report having more satisfying sexual experiences. (Drug approval is based on increasing libido, not having better sex.) To make matters worse, women taking flibanserin withdrew early from the U.S. trial because of side effects.

WHAT IT MEANS: Should the drug reach the market, it’s likely that many women will find themselves pressured to take a medication that won’t help them. “There will be enormous advertising and payments to doctors to promote this drug, and to convince a large portion of the female public that they need this drug. This is already underway,” says Zuckerman. “Most women who use it won’t benefit at all, and some will be harmed.”

And although it’s been dubbed “female Viagra,” flibanserin actually works very differently than the male version of the drug. Viagra targets blood flow, and the effects only last a few hours after a man downs the pill. On the other hand, flibanserin (which women would be instructed to take every day indefinitely, or problems could arise) acts on the brain. “There is no doubt that some women lose sexual desire, especially as they age,” says Zuckerman. “It would be great if there was a safe and effective drug to help them, but this drug is not it.”

Here’s how women can improve their sexual health without a pink pill.

  • Figure out if you even have a problem. Hypoactive sexual desire disorder, or HSDD, is a controversial diagnosis, explains Zuckerman. “It is not clear that it is caused by physiological problems,” she says. “It may be caused by emotional or other issues that can’t be solved by a pill.”

Italian researchers developed a female sexual dysfunction test, one they recommend all doctors administer to female patients. However, many of the sexual dysfunction problems outlined in the test could be solved without pills. For instance, sex therapy is effective for many women. And unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, excessive drinking, physical inactivity, or smoking could also hinder sexual health.

  • Have better sex, or find alternatives. For older women,
    senior sex tips could help improve sexual satisfaction. More attention to foreplay could also improve sex for both men and women.
  • Be open about it. There are many physical conditions (like thyroid disease or diabetes) or psychological (anxiety, stress) issues that can lead to female sexual dysfunction. Women’s Health magazine suggests, if your sexual problem is new, that you have an open talk with your partner. Sometimes just talking about sexual needs and concerns can improve your sexual satisfaction. If the problem persists, talk to your doctor. Most sexual problems can be treated.