"Pink Viagra" Up for FDA Approval

Cristen Conger

The Food and Drug Administration may be on its way to approving the first prescription drug intended to boost women's libidos. I'd like to think this has come about since some FDA officials were listening in to Molly's and my discussion about filbanserin, nicknamed "pink Viagra," in a Stuff Mom Never Told You episode a couple weeks ago, but I'm probably overstating our clout. For now, anyway.

The global pharmaceutical firm Boehringer-Ingelheim initially tested flibanserin as an antidepressant a few years ago and realized that female subjects reported a spicy side effect of increased sexual arousal. Well, sort of. The women in the survey "reported, on average, 0.7 more "satisfying sexual events" per month vs. those on placebo," according to Inkling magazine. This is similar to how Pfizer stumbled on Viagra, which was first intended as a medication for hypertension.

Of course, flibanserin and Viagra work a little differently. Viagra treats erectile dysfunction, which is more of a physical issue, while flibanserin is meant to address actual sexual desire. The clinical term for a female's low sex drive is called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HDSS), and a 2008 study estimated its prevalence at anywhere from 26.7 percent of premenopausal women to 52.4 percent of postmenopausal women.

But some experts have argued there's been an overdiagnosis of HDSS since sexual desire in women is influenced by myriad factors, including stress levels, hormones and medications. It also assumes that there should be some standard for what constitutes a normal sex drive. Yet, quantifying a normal, acceptable sex drive is patently impossible. And to top it all off, while flibanserin was linked to an increased number of "sexually satisfying events", a Newsweek blog also noted that that didn't necessarily mean an increase in orgasm frequency.

With all of these pertinent issues on the table, it'll be interesting to see whether flibanserin makes the FDA cut. On the one hand, it's high time we had some upfront conversations about female sex desire (and lack thereof), and plenty of women might benefit from an HSDD treatment. But this also runs the risk of creating unnecessary sexual standards women feel they should live up to.

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