"Female Viagra" Is Here — But Few Women Are Using It

Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Flibanserin, the so-called "female Viagra" and first drug designed to increase women's desire by acting on neurotransmitters rather than hormone levels, was approved by the FDA on August 18. It's been on shelves since October 17 under the name Addyi — but, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Sprout Pharmaceuticals' "little pink pill" has only been prescribed about 1,000 times so far.

Considering the restrictions on who can access the drug, the number isn't all that surprising. Only women who have been diagnosed with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), or clinically low sex drive, are eligible, and per the FDA; only doctors who have been specially trained by Sprout Pharmaceuticals can prescribe the drug. They're also required to closely monitor the experiences of patients who use it.

"I was never expecting — nor should anyone have expected — that women were going to storm the gates for a drug to treat HSDD," Sheryl Kingsberg, an Addyi reviewer and a division chief in behavioral medicine at MacDonald Women’s Hospital in Cleveland, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Kingsberg has spoken on Sprout Pharmaceutical's behalf before.) "This is about women becoming educated," she added.

The advent of Addyi may be doing more to raise awareness than women's libidos, though: The drug has been shown to lead to just "0.5 to 1" more "sexually satisfying events" per month than enjoyed by women on a placebo. For some, though, these potential benefits outweigh possible side effects, including fainting, nausea, and dizziness, but others object to the drug on a more ideological level.

While supporters view flibanserin as progress toward bridging the "orgasm gap" and enabling women to take control of their sex lives, others feel that it represents an unsettling step toward the medicalization of female sexual desire.

"Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder was actually invented by pharmaceutical companies," Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, the director of pharmaceutical watchdog project PharmedOut, testified to the FDA advisory committee that recommended flibanserin's approval. "Certainly there are women that have low libido, but that can be caused by many different things, including medications, such as the birth control pill and antidepressants and blood pressure medicines, for example." The FDA itself exercised caution when called upon to approve the drug, rejecting it in both 2010 and 2013.
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