Friday 9 December 2016

Are women ready to say yes, yes, YES! to Viagra?

A controversial new pill aimed at boosting flagging female libidos looks set to hit the Irish market later this year, but it's already stimulating plenty of debate

Chrissie Russell

Published 10/06/2015 | 02:30

(stock)
(stock)

Candles, romantic meals, a wet-shirted Mr Darcy, a man who can load the dishwasher correctly - the question of 'what turns women on?' has had many answers, but in the future it might simply be 'flibanserin'.

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Ever since Viagra appeared in 1998 to give millions of men a helping hand with sexual performance, the hunt has been on for a female equivalent, a drug to tackle that tricky mystery of female desire. Well, the wait may finally be over.

Last week an advisory board for the American Food and Drug Administration voted 18-6 in favour of flibanserin, a drug produced by pharmaceutical group Sprout, and widely touted as 'the female Viagra'. It will now go before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for consideration.

And yes - it's coming (no pun intended) to Ireland. According to Sprout Pharmaceuticals, while they're "focused on securing approval of ADDYI (flibanserin) by the FDA in the USA with a decision expected in August," they're "also committed to working closely with other regulatory bodies in the future to bring to market a safe and effective treatment for the millions of women around the world affected by distressing low sexual desire.

With a recent survey citing Irish women as having the least satisfying sex lives in Europe (seven out of 10 ladies say they're not happy) a new wonder drug sounds like great news - or is it?

First off, all is not exactly as it seems. While flibanserin has garnered the decidedly more catchy label of 'female Viagra' it is, in fact, nothing to do with Viagra or Pfizer, the company who make it. Interestingly Pfizer, whose Ringaskiddy facility in Cork is one of the world's major manufacturers of the little blue pills, have stopped trying to find a Viagra equivalent for women.

"Pfizer has ended its research into female sexual health," states Pfizer Ireland spokeswoman Karen O'Keeffe, though she declined to comment on whether it was a source of irritation that the company's name finds itself associated with any new pretenders to the sexual throne.

Nor does flibanserin work in the same way as Viagra. Viagra sends blood to the penis to produce an erection. Flibanserin, initially developed to treat depression, works on the brain, not the genitals, targeting two neurostransmitters associated with sexual desire.

It has to be taken daily - unlike Viagra - and worryingly comes with a list of potential side effects including low blood pressure, fatigue and fainting.

In trials it produced fairly limp results - an additional one extra sexually satisfying event per month - not exactly an orgasmic marathon. It's also the third time the drug has gone before the FDA.

But that's not the reason why some people are concerned about the pill and the effect it could play in addressing female sexual problems.

"For a lot of people, men and women, sex is more complicated than just taking a pill," says sex therapist Teresa Bergin (sextherapy.ie).

"Differences in sex drive exist and can cause very real problems in relationships, especially as we age, but there's often many factors at work; problems with intimacy, communication, stress.

"It's a situation that doesn't necessarily mean rushing to a GP for medication. My concern would be that if there's a pill available, then some people might feel inclined to gloss over these other factors and just take a tablet - but a tablet alone won't fix all the issues."

"Viagra worked very well for some men but not at all for others. A pill doesn't address the psychological component of sex."

It's estimated that up to one in 10 women suffers from Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) or 'low libido' and it's these women that could potentially benefit from medication.

But also key to the buzz around flibanserin is the perceived gender imbalance around drugs for sexual problems. The argument for female viagra isn't just about sex, but sexism.

"Institutionalised sexism has meant that for a very long time women's sexuality and sexual pleasure hasn't been taken seriously, so it's good that this is being looked at," says feminist Stephanie Lord who blogs for FeministIre.

But she's sceptical about whether flibanserin's the answer. "It would also be useful to look at addressing the causes of low libido for the women who don't want or need a drug, and that's a broader societal issue."

Perhaps the real question should be 'why are we always looking for a pill to make sex better?'

Cork-based Tantra instructor, Vesco Bondov, works with female clients to achieve 'full body orgasm'.

He promotes synchronicity between spirituality, healing and sexual energy and has mixed feelings on where medication fits into the equation.

"Maybe as a concept at some indefinite point in the future when medical science matures out of its commercial nappies, it wouldn't be a such a bad idea," he muses.

"Why not? If we could get it in a pill it would be so much easier."

But he believes science lacks the maturity to effectively help women orgasm, and worries taking a pill could have the opposite effect.

"It effectively interferes with human evolution," he says. "It will have a reductionist effect on the consciousness. It will affect intimacy."

Sarah Taylor is likewise unconvinced. "I struggle with the idea of something that separates the neurotransmitter side of sex away from emotional, physical and relational factors," she explains.

Sarah's just one of 1,000 'sexological bodyworkers' in the world and runs classes in the UK and Ireland, essentially coaching clients how to masturbate.

In her experience a lot of the problems associated with sexual desire are tied in with the shame that still surrounds sex generally.

She says: "If you've no idea how to please yourself and how your body works then how are you going to have that fully experienced in a relationship with someone else?

"There's so much taboo and shame there, maybe we'd rather take a pill, but a lot of the time I think what's really needed is to spend a bit of time looking at ourselves."

Irish Independent

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