Top

Putting a Face to the Push for Female Viagra

Viagra and similar medications have revolutionized treatment of erectile dysfunction.

Viagra and similar medications have revolutionized treatment of erectile dysfunction.

Men who experience erectile dysfunction (ED) due to diminished blood flow have the choice of several prescription medications that address the problem.

Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis are the three big names in treating ED, and though the drugs can be somewhat expensive, they are not hard to obtain.

Women who have sexual difficulties, however, do not have an equivalent of Viagra they can take to improve sexual functioning. In women, sexual satisfaction typically involves more than ensuring adequate blood flow, and developing a drug for women has not been as straightforward. Moreover, the usual health indicators for ED in men (like increasing age and cardiovascular issues) aren’t often present in women with sexual dysfunction. Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) can occur in young, healthy women and can affect much more than just sexual satisfaction.

What Is HSDD?

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder, or HSDD, is a condition for which there is no medical test. Rather, it is diagnosed based on self-reported symptoms. Also known as female sexual interest / arousal disorder, HSDD is characterized by a marked deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and sexual desires that causes distress or difficulties in a woman’s relationship to her partner. HSDD is diagnosed when the problem cannot be better accounted for by another disorder (like depression), and is not due to physiological effects of a medical condition or a medication.

An estimated 1 in 20 to 1 in 10 women have HSDD. One important key to the diagnosis of FSDD is that it causes psychological distress for women. In other words, if a woman has low sexual desire and it doesn’t bother her, she doesn’t have HSDD. It’s only when the condition causes distress or puts strain on relationships that it is considered as a diagnosis.

How Female Sexual Dysfunction Differs From Erectile Dysfunction

Years ago, before drugs like Viagra came along, ED wasn’t talked about much and was thought to be largely a psychological problem. The discovery of drugs that help men have erections changed the line of thinking and prompted research showing that in most men, ED is a problem of hydraulics, not psychology (though there are cases where ED is caused or made worse by psychological issues).

HSDD, by contrast, isn’t a matter of lack of blood flow to the sexual organs. Rather, it is believed to have to do at least partly with altered brain chemistry, which may come about as the result of childbirth, or hormonal changes associated with increasing age. The condition affects self-esteem, body image, and quality of life. As you might expect, developing a drug to address the condition is not easy.

Current Makeshift Treatments for HSDD

Doctors willing to try to treat HSDD don’t have a lot of tools at their disposal. Assuming no other treatable medical condition accounts for symptoms, doctors may prescribe certain antidepressants known to increase dopamine levels in the brain. (Some types of antidepressants are known to seriously dampen sex drive, so not just any antidepressant will help women with suspected HSDD.) Another option is prescribing low doses of testosterone, but this can be tricky as well.

Testosterone patches can be prescribed off-label, and studies of the use of patches in women taking antidepressants that quell libido have shown mildly promising results. But in women testosterone has a small therapeutic window, and when a woman uses more than the right amount for her, she may experience side effects like growth of facial hair and voice deepening. Any time a woman is prescribed testosterone, she should be closely monitored by a doctor.

How Flibanserin Is Different from Viagra

A North Carolina pharmaceutical company called Sprout Pharmaceuticals bought a drug called flibanserin from a German company called Boehringer Ingelheim in 2011, at which time they resubmitted data on the drug to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with newer clinical data on over 3,000 new patients. However, the FDA has asked for more data before they will approve flibanserin for treating HSDD. The company isn’t giving up, however, and in the summer of 2014 raised $4.3 million in venture capital for additional clinical work to address specific FDA concerns.

After a new infusion of capital, Sprout Pharmaceuticals hopes to gain FDA approval for its drug flibanserin.

After a new infusion of capital, Sprout Pharmaceuticals hopes to gain FDA approval for its drug flibanserin.

Though flibanserin may be referred to as “Viagra for women,” its mechanism of action is totally unlike that of Viagra. Initially investigated as an antidepressant, flibanserin is non-hormonal, doesn’t affect fertility, and doesn’t interact with hormonal birth control. What it does is increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain while lowering serotonin levels. It is believed that a healthy balance among neurotransmitter levels is essential for optimal sexual response in women. And unlike Viagra, which is taken on-demand, flibanserin is taken every day.

Flibanserin Current Status With the FDA

After being rejected by the FDA in 2013, Sprout Pharmaceuticals didn’t give up. They worked with the FDA to find out exactly what kind of data the regulatory agency wanted, and set out to design studies to collect the appropriate data. In December 2014, the company was scheduled to submit data to the FDA in hopes of being granted approval for the drug. If the FDA ends up giving approval this time around, the drug could become available as early as mid-2015.

Right now there really aren’t any other serious contenders for the title of “Viagra for women.” Addressing sexual dysfunction in women isn’t simply a matter of applying what works for men. If flibanserin gets FDA approval, women will have an option other than dopamine-boosting antidepressants and low doses of testosterone to address low sexual desire. But for now we’ll have to wait and see how the FDA rules.

Conclusion

Sexual problems are naturally different in men than they are in women. Whereas erectile dysfunction isn’t normally a problem with sexual desire, in women, hypoactive sexual desire disorder affects self-esteem and relationships as well as what goes on in the bedroom.

Viagra and similar drugs have been revolutionary for men suffering from ED, and for over 15 years, eDrugstore.com has worked with US-licensed pharmacists to deliver these medications to over half a million satisfied customers. eDrugstore.com is committed to its customers’ sexual health, as well as to privacy, discretion, and the most stringent standards for online security.

Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+