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That “Little Pink Pill” Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Here is what Viagra does:  it allows a man to get an erection so that he can have intercourse with a woman when his body isn’t cooperating due to age, illness or medication side effects.  Here is what Viagra doesn’t do: it doesn’t spark desire, it doesn’t make a man want to make love to a woman, any woman, just because he takes a pill. It doesn’t turn him into a raging sex fiend.

Viagra is like the match you put to a pile of charcoal briquettes doused in lighter fluid.  It starts the flame but the fire has already been laid.

So all this talk about a Viagra pill for women is bizarre, especially when interpreted by the members of the media, as they clamored to get on the bandwagon to report that an FDA advisory committee recommended the approval of a new “female Viagra.”

Most recently we have this gem from every woman’s BFF Cal Thomas, a conservative (to put it mildly) syndicated columnist:

Men of a certain age may rejoice at such a breakthrough. Imagine the possibility of no longer hearing “not tonight, honey, I’ve got a headache.”

Think of the time and money this pill could save men. No more expensive dinners. No more mandatory chick flicks. No remembering birthdays or sending flowers. No back rubs or faked sensitivity. Just a simple pill and she’ll be “ready,” as the male enhancement commercial euphemistically calls it. Cut to the chase, except there would be no need for a chase. No romance. No “getting to know you.” It sounds like the 1973 film “Westworld” where lifelike android women fulfill any male fantasy and never say “no.”


He adds:

Many believe the contraceptive pill transformed sex from a marital act to a mechanical action. Love would also be re-defined from a selfless regard for another person, to a focus on pleasing oneself.

In this latter definition, when the feelings end or can no longer be sustained at the hormonal level of a randy teenager or newlywed, one jettisons the object of one’s former affection in pursuit of new feelings and new conquests. If women today complain about men who can’t commit — and many do — how do they expect commitment when a little pill can lead to pharmaceutical arousal? The same holds true for men and Viagra.

Right.  Viagra hasn’t done that, of course. What it has done is to allow men to have sexual relations with the women they wish to have sexual relations with.  But a female Viagra? That would spell the downfall of the human race.

But as NPR reports, the drug, called flibanserin (gotta change that name) doesn’t even work like Viagra:

“Flibanserin shifts the balance of three key brain chemicals … . The drug … increases “excitatory factors for sex” — dopamine and norepinephrine — and decreases serotonin, which can dampen the sex drive …”

And in fact, the drug has already been rejected by the FDA twice, due to lack of evidence of its efficacy and a rather alarming group of side effects.

There are women’s groups pushing for some sort of drug to help women achieve a higher level of satisfaction. The head of the National Organization for Women and several women in congress feel that the standards for a woman’s drug are far too rigorous when compared with the standards that gave rise to Viagra, Cialis and other such types of pills for men.

But the counter, according to an article in Think Progress, is this:

People on the other side of the issue disagree, saying that it’s unnecessary and potentially even irresponsible to market a drug that claims to help women who are struggling with low libidos. Some behavioral health experts argue that women’s sexuality is too complex to be regulated with a pill, and the pharmaceutical industry is more interested in its own profits than in finding real solutions to nuanced sexual health issues.

 “There’s really been a move toward medicalizing normal human experience,” Adriane Fugh-Berman, a Georgetown University professor who studies the influence of drug companies’ marketing practices on the medical profession, told NPR. “And while there are certainly some women who have very troublesome symptoms of low libido, it’s not at all clear that medication is a good answer for them.”

It isn’t that something to help women regain both their libido and desire isn’t a useful concept, especially for post-menopausal women who often find their desire waning, despite a competing desire to continue to have desire.  But that’s what makes the manufacture of a drug for women’s sexual dysfunction so complex. Menopause hits each of us differently: for some it ratchets up desire now that the fear of pregnancy is no longer relevant and the children are out of the house; for others the lack of hormones can seriously decrease the sex drive. Women I know have found help in HRT of many kinds, from pills to creams. But first we need to address the issue that a “little pink pill” isn’t targeted toward the same kind of issues as that little blue pill.  There are millions of women in bad or unsatisfying relationships who have no wish for sexual intimacy with their partners. No pill in the universe is going to change that.


(This post originally appeared in The Broad Side)