For years, males with sexual problems looking for a solution have had many drug treatments to choose from. For the first time, a drug claiming to fix female sexual problems has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Drugs for men, like Viagra, do NOT instigate sexual arousal. Rather, they help produce the natural body chemicals that the man needs to obtain/maintain an erection when (already) sexually aroused. Men with erectile dysfunction have nervous system malfunctions, and the right amount of nitric oxide is not produced before or during sex. Normally, the nitric oxide stimulates production of cGMP. This enzyme then relaxes the smooth muscle cells of the penis, allows increased blood flow to the stimulated area, and subsequently produces and sustains an erection (British Pregnancy Advisory Service).
Sexual problems in women are not as physically-oriented as the male problem described above. Women suffering from “Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder” (HSDD) report problems of not wanting sex in the first place, despite also reporting feelings of love and affection toward their partner. The FDA describes HSDD as “characterized by a deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity which causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.”
Until now, no drug could be found on the market to treat HSDD. Flibanserin, produced by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, is the answer to the prayers of many sexually distressed women. After two rejections by the FDA, the pill was finally approved and will be available to purchase under the brand name “Addyi” starting October 17th (NPR).
Sprout Pharmaceuticals is known to be “committed to breakthrough firsts in women’s sexual health.” Sprout lists HSDD as affecting 10% of women in the United States. CEO Cindy Whitehead calls the authorization of flibanserin a time to “celebrate what this approval means for all women who have long awaited a medical treatment options for this life-impacting condition.”
Flibanserin is effective in treating HSDD in women by regulating the action of neurotransmitters. The drug is an agonist that restores natural release of neurons that fire and stimulate sexual arousal.
Many women are praising the opportunity to treat their sexual problems. A specific women’s health campaign called Even The Score, sponsored by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, released ads spoofing Viagra commercials and raising awareness for the need for a female sexual enhancement option.
Not all women’s groups are excited about the pill, though. Cindy Pearson, National Women’s Health Network, is concerned about the “long-term effects of changing brain chemistry.” A report from CNN suggested a reason for the previous FDA rejections: “the modest benefit of the drug wasn’t worth potentially risky side effects including depression, but for some women struggling with desire, the hope for help is greater than the fear of side effects.”
Flibanserin cannot be taken with alcohol, and it’s not meant for post-menopausal women. When available in October, the drug will cost the same as Viagra. In addition, according to NPR, Sprout “hopes many insurance companies will cover the new drug to the same level they cover drugs like Viagra.”
Although the efficacy of flibanserin is under question, it still seems as if its approval is a ground-breaking move forward for women’s sexual health. The National Consumers League says the FDA approval of flibanserin “validates and legitimizes female sexuality as an important component of health.”
Come October, women will be able to see for themselves the impact of the drug in their lives.
Check out the video below to learn more about the physiology of the sexual response in females and how it differs from the male sexual response.
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.