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A Little Pink Pill

pills“Women’s desire for sexual emancipation is very worthy. I fear that it’s being hijacked by a profit-oriented industry that doesn’t really try to understand women and their sexuality.” –Leonore Tiefer

The race towards a pill to cure female sexual dysfunction continues as the major pharmaceutical players vie to create a pill that can cure the symptoms that keep women from the desire and arousal that characterize a vital intimate life. The market for such a remedy is estimated to be worth close to $2 billion; but of those who have already tried and failed, the prevailing sentiment was that female sexuality and its corollary dysfunction is the result of a subtle and complex combination of behaviors, attitudes and emotions. Not easily treatable with a single pill.

In fact, FSD, or female sexual dysfunction is a reality that visits the majority of women on the planet at some point in their lives. On any given day, most clinical studies cite the statistic of 43% of women being affected by a range of symptoms that include vaginal dryness, pain with intimacy and loss of libido. It is difficult to decipher which symptom begets the other and even harder to unravel the emotional, mental and spiritual impacts that this extremely common, yet rarely discussed condition that impacts millions of women and couples.

The most recent application to the FDA came from Boehringer Ingelheim, who actually discovered their recent entry into the field of sexual healing by way of a failed anti-depressant, Flibanserin. The manufacturers themselves are not entirely sure why changing the levels of seratonin, dopamine and norepinephrin work to affect a woman’s libido. Many of those on the review committee felt that the company had not made its case and that the benefits of the daily pill did not outweigh its side effects, which included dizziness, nausea and fatigue.

The publicity that the company has invested in the US market during the last month is almost as controversial as the drug itself. The ex-Playboy model, Lisa Rinna describes herself in the Discovery Channel program and publicity tour as someone who suffers from female sexual dysfunction, which has its own diagnostic code (hypoactive sexual desire disorder) in the DSM manual for doctors and insurers. However, sexual issues in women are much harder to diagnose. Many physicians and researchers doubt whether female sexual dysfunction is treatable with drugs. Typical treatments can include psychotherapy, counseling and prescription hormonal drugs.

Some women believe that all of the media hype surrounding this new medication both exaggerates the prevalence of the condition and creates additional anxiety among women, making them believe that they need treatment for their sexuality or lack of it. “The messages are aimed at medicalizing normal conditions, and also preying on the insecurity of both the clinician and the patient,” said Dr. Fugh Berman of Georgetown University.

The question of tapping into desire and arousal is a profoundly personal issue for most women. The quality of communication and the safety arises out of sustained healthy connection are as essential for many women as the right balance of hormones. Even if this pill was truly effective at raising levels of desire for women, the question of the vitality of the relationship would continue to impact the access and enjoyment of the physical intimacy. The old saying that men need sex to feel connected and women need connection to feel sexual provides a solid hint for the actual research that might reveal a solution to increase female libido. The arousal mechanism for humans sits in the brain, flush up to the emotional experience, the process of triggering and creating loving memories and igniting our sense of smell. Too bad we can’t unlock this complex gate with a little pink pill. The good news is that if you go looking for it, it is there waiting to be tapped.