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The Viagra for Women Pitch Has It All Wrong

On June 4, a Federal Drug Administration advisory committee voted that flibanserin, a non-hormonal sex-drive drug for women, should be approved—as long as steps are taken to reduce potential side effects, which include fainting and low blood pressure.

The drug, also dubbed "the pink Viagra," works by changing chemicals in the brain, which in turn, would allegedly increase a woman's sex drive. On the other hand, the male "equivalent," Viagra, which coincidentally was approved 17 years ago, increases blood flow to the necessary parts of a man's body. And there's more: While men take one drug to get the desired effect, women who take flibanserin have to take it every day in order for it to work.

Translated, male Viagra is a quick fix for a man's body, and female Viagra is a long-term commitment for the woman's mind.

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As tempting as it is, I'll stop short of making the obvious joke about where men's and women's "brains" are, because that wouldn't be nice.

The vote was lauded by groups and campaigns like Even the Score, which said in a statement following the vote:

"The FDA Advisory Committee made history for women's sexual health today by choosing to respect the science and stand with the millions of American women suffering from [Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder] by opening the door to medical treatment options for their most common sexual dysfunction."

Even the Score is right to say that "women have the right to make their own informed choices concerning their sexual health," and I'll side with the fact that it does seem unfair that there are 26 FDA approved sexual health drugs for men, and none for women. Proponents of "the pink Viagra" lose me though when they refer to the symptom this drug claims to cure as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), which is defined as "a deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity that causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty."

Time and time again, society categorizes the fact that women generally don't seem to want sex as much as men do as a dysfunction, and it's frustrating.

So, this condition would have to create a significant level of distress. But who will define this? How will medical professionals prescribe the drug when, as the Mayo Clinic puts it, there is "no magic number to define low sex drive"? It's been well documented that a woman's sex drive is affected by what happens in her life, be it pregnancy, the status of her relationship or illness. I'll add exhaustion and stress to the list, too.

All of these things are things that affect parents—mothers in particular. Time and time again, society categorizes the fact that women generally don't seem to want sex as much as men do as a dysfunction, and it's frustrating.

I've had very frank conversations with many women who admit that they're so stressed out by the day-to-day challenges of trying to keep up with the physical and emotional demands of their families that they're left drained at the end of the day, that all they want to do is have a quiet moment to themselves. Jumping on their partner is the last thing on their minds. We've all been there.

Most of the time women just want a moment to themselves; not because they aren't attracted to their partner anymore, but because they're just trying to exercise some self-care. And sometimes that time out can go on for more than one day—certainly until the stress goes away. And stress doesn't go away on its own. Women need to be able to work through those feelings without being told that something might be wrong with them.

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I don't say any of this to negate the needs of women who live with HSDD. Quite the opposite. I think women who live with it should have whatever options they need to make their lives better. And I'm not against a pill, if it doesn't have serious side effects, or that could make them "sleepy, but not incapacitated" as the drug maker, Sprout Pharmaceuticals admits this drug does.

What I do object to is how the push for this drug has been framed. Having a lower sex drive than your male partner doesn't mean you have a "dysfunction." It could be a symptom of something else going on in your life. Comparing the drug to Viagra gives everyone the impression that it will be—or should be—a mass market drug.

And I don't buy it.

Image via Twenty20/gggg

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