Gender Politics Abound With The Creation Of Female Viagra

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One need only mention Viagra to denote a host of controversy surrounding the treatment of women's health by our society and our government. While the drug has been an enormous financial success for Pfizer, it's also been a consistent point of discussion in the debate about female reproductive health, birth control, and women's versions of the drug itself. The latter has been markedly slow in coming to fruition since Viagra came on the scene, which seems to reflect a deep societal prejudice against female sexual liberation, even today. But now, according to this New York Times Magazine cover story, a lady's libido helper could finally be on its way.

The proposed drug, Lybrido, is currently going through tests. The inventer, Adriaan Tuitan, plans to present the results of his research to the FDA as early as this summer. The interesting thing about Lybrido, though, is that it appears to target the female psyche as much as the body. The article's author, Daniel Bergner, writes, "Give a man an erection, and his sensitized nerves and enhanced feelings of power are going to feed his drive. Women, research has shown, are less cognizant of genital arousal, and probably for this reason, Viagra-like substances haven’t done enough to raise women’s ratings of desire in past experiments." So, a female version of the drug has to address problems in libido-suppressing serotonin and libido-enhancing dopamine, ideally giving the latter a temporary advantage. And while Lybrido does contain testosterone, and is largely similar to Viagra, it differs in that it offers both increased genital blood flow and mental awareness of the same.

Right now, the women in trials are married, many with children, supporting the hypothesis that, as Bergner says, "for many women, the cause of their sexual malaise appears to be monogamy itself" — and research shows that desire tends to drop much more drastically in long-term relationships for women than for men. Tuiten himself doesn't mention monogamy beyond the fact that he needed women with one consistent partner to discount any desire that might be stimulated by the sheer excitement of a new lover.

If this is making you uneasy and evoking a lot of Victorian sensibilities about the delicate, demure nature of female sexuality, you're not alone. But, a study published by Queen's University last year suggests that female desire is actually not biologically programmed for fidelity by any means; in fact, women appear to get "bored" even faster than men. Sadly, research like that — plus claims by women in trials who said the pill dramatically improved their sex lives and returned them to the "jackrabbit" state of their relationship's early days — means that getting this pill on the market by 2016 (the current optimistic projection) is going to come with a lot of conservative controversy. Even now, market researchers and pharmaceutical companies are worried that this drug will be defeated by fear of the sexually crazed woman (heaven forbid).

So, yes, a female Viagra is coming. But, right now, it seems like it will be designed, or at least marketed, towards monogamists. Mother's Little Helper just took on a whole new meaning, but if this prescription comes with lifestyle conditions that Viagra does not, it's going to be a big step backwards and a bit of a disappointment. Politics aside, there's a lot of complex and interesting science going on here, including some tidbits about the female psyche that might surprise you. We highly recommend you head over to the original article and learn for yourself. It's exciting stuff, though, in more ways than one. (The New York Times)

Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.