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"Female Viagra" Doesn't Work, Says Study

 

"Female Viagra" sounded like a dream come true. Last year, when the FDA finally approved flibanserin, the first medication targeted at raising a woman's sex drive, we celebrated. But a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that the pills don't work as promised. (Psst...Here are 5 Surprising Things That Lower Your Libido.)

Researchers analyzed eight clinical trials, five published and three unpublished, looking at over 6,000 women. They found that flibanserin didn't do much for most women's sex lives. In fact, the drug was associated with a tiny one-half additional "satisfying sexual event" per month. (Uh, what's half a sexual event anyhow?) It was also linked to a higher risk of sleepiness, dizziness, fatigue and nausea. Cool.

Feeling like you're chronically in your first trimester of pregnancy for a payoff of half a sexytime? Definitely doesn't seem worth it.

The first problem may be because flibanserin never was a "female Viagra." Viagra works for men not by increasing desire but by increasing the flow of blood to the genitals, so they can sustain an erection to complete the act they already very much want to do. Flibanserin, on the other hand, was actually developed to be an anti-depressant and works on brain chemicals to boost mood. And like an anti-depressant, women had to take the pill daily (not just when they wanted to have sex), then wait six to eight weeks for it to kick in. (Depressed? We have 9 Ways to Fight Depression—Besides Taking Antidepressants.)

But perhaps the real problem is with how we define female sexual desire. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that nearly one-third of women suffer from hypoactive sexual desire, also known as the not-tonight-honey-I-have-a-headache disease. The study leaves an important question unanswered, however: If fully one-third of women have the same trait (and over two-thirds partially met the criteria) then isn't that just, well, normal? Is this really an illness?

Thing is, women's interest in sex is extremely complicated, as John Randolph, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Health System, explained in the 2014 paper. In the end, he reported that female sexual desire has much less to do with hormones but everything to do with how secure and happy a woman feels in her relationship and in her life. He adds that a lot of people—both men and women—would rather take a pill than figure out the complicated emotions underlying a lack of desire. Sure, a pill like that this could help a small subset of women, as we reported in What's Killing Your Sex Drive?. But it's hardly a cure-all for most.

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