Why a new pill for low female sexual desire won’t be a cure-all
As usual, IVillage News offers a great article on a very controversial subject an dStacey Colino hits a few nails on the head
At first blush, it seems like a miraculous breakthrough: Cases of lost sexual desire found! The promise of sexual satisfaction restored for millions of women! Could it be that an antidepressant called flibanserin, a non-hormonal compound that works on neurotransmitters in the brain, is effective at treating low libido in women? That's what three separate clinical trials presented at the Congress of the European Society for Sexual Medicine in Lyon, France found. The news is creating quite a clamor, causing people to wonder if a Viagra-like form of sexual healing will soon be available for women. Ooh la la!
It’s not the first and not likely to be the last attempt to create a pill that boosts low female sexual desire, which affects 27 percent of premenopausal women and up to 52 percent of menopausal women, according to a 2008 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. But the nature of sexual desire and sexual function is much more complex for women than for men. It might even be more than a single pill can ever change.
“If women aren’t feeling intimate with or close to their partner, my guess is a pill isn’t going to have much of an effect,” says psychologist Lonnie Barbach, Ph.D., a member of the clinical faculty at the University of California, San Francisco and co-author of Going the Distance: Finding and Keeping Lifelong Love. “Women are built a little differently that way. The connection and caring is such an important part for women. It’s all about the relationship: Do you feel respected? Do you trust your partner? Are there power struggles? Has the energy gone out of the relationship?”
That’s not to say that scientists couldn’t do something to raise female libido levels. They could, for example, develop a pill that gets men to vacuum more often. One survey finds that women often feel more lustful toward a partner when he does more household chores or childcare. (New Pine-Sol commercials even feature a hunky, shirtless man mopping the floor while the “Pine-Sol lady”, who’s clearly in the mood, lies sprawled on a bed strewn with rose petals.) The link between men, housework and sex has little to do with biology, however, and everything to do with a woman feeling appreciated, being treated fairly and not feeling like she's being taken for granted.
How a woman feels about her body may also affect her sex drive. Losing even a moderate amount of weight, one study finds, boosts a woman’s libido (surprise, surprise). Another finds that practicing “mindfulness”—turning off the background chatter and focusing all attention on sexuality—boosts desire in women with low libido. A repressive upbringing (“sex is dirty”), an illness or stress overload can also put a damper on your interest in dancing between the sheets. Men feel stress too, of course, but they “are better able to overlook stress and relationship problems and get past that in the bedroom,” says Barbara Bartlik, M.D., a psychiatrist and sex therapist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “It could be because their innate desire is higher to begin with.”
That’s not to say new medications, if they are effective and safe, have no role in helping women overcome barriers to sexual satisfaction. “I do think there should be pills to treat women’s sexual problems,” says Bartlik. “But a pill to raise desire is not the only answer. If a woman has other problems like low testosterone, a toxic relationship and she’s stressed to the max, chances are this medicine won’t help. You have to take a multipronged approach to treating desire problems.”
The good news: If you’ve lost that “come hither” feeling, there is plenty you can do now. First, get a checkup to find out if a medication or medical condition (like a hormonal imbalance) is blocking desire. If you get a clean bill of health, the best prescription may be to find ways to reconnect emotionally with your partner by eking out more alone time together. “For women, intimacy is about the conversation,” says Barbach, “so talk about your hopes and dreams and what’s going on inside you.” It can also help to use fantasy and to communicate with your partner about the right stimulation for you, Bartlik says. For many women getting emotionally and conversationally cozy may be the right kind of foreplay to re-ignite sexual desire—without a prescription.