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The Pink Pill: the Viagra for Women?

If you are following the news reports about Flibanserin, referred to as the female Viagra, or “little pink pill’, you know there’s been a lot of debate over the need for a pill for women who suffer from low libido, or Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD)*.

There are plenty of issues involved, from the idea that the FDA discriminates against women to the fact that many of the most ardent supporters of this “promising” medication have a financial connection to the drug’s manufacturer, Sprout Pharmaceuticals. And, somewhere in the midst of this debate is the issue of female libido and dysfunction.

There isn’t really going to be a true female equivalent to Viagra because it’s not a drug designed to work with the female anatomy. Viagra increases blood flow, including flow to the penis, which can make it easier for men to get and sustain an erection. It’s all about mechanics, nothing to do with desire.

Flibanserin-women's-viagra

The issue for women is all about desire.

There have been no studies I’m aware of that indicate a significant number of women have clinical proven, clitoral dysfunction. Do women really have HSDD or is that just a new medical disorder, created so pharmaceutical companies can sell us pills and make more money? Would a pill fix what ails us as women? Not in a world where the norm is intercourse, which as we know, rarely provides the stimulation of the clitoris so necessary to achieving orgasms. A world where many older women don’t feel as desirable as they used to and talking about our sexual desire is still somewhat taboo.

Maybe women, who don’t feel desire in the way they used to, have other issues contributing to their lack of interest in sex?

I can think of a number of reasons:

  1. A partner who doesn’t want, or know how, to provide the stimulation necessary to help a woman orgasm.  He might not understand or fully appreciate the role of the clitoris.
  2. The shame and inadequacy some of us feel about sex–the lack of sex education in our early years, religious upbringing, societal pressures and the perception that sexual activity stops when we get older.
  3. Fatigue and stress related to child rearing, stressful jobs, caregiving, family responsibilities, illness, menopause, financial challenges, and on and on… If we’re stressed out we don’t have the energy to feel sexy.
  4. A failing relationship. Sex isn’t very satisfying when two people aren’t enjoying their time together. It takes mutual engagement and good communications to build and sustain intimacy. Lack of interest in sex often indicates relationship problems of another nature.
  5. Sexual trauma—Child sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape and  genital-related surgery (hysterectomy, cancer) can lead to a fear or reluctance to have sex. Genitals may feel numb or hold residual pain. Trauma can resurface at different times in a woman’s life and have varying impacts on her relationships and her sex life.

No pill in the world is capable of fixing those issues. More appropriate solutions might include creative problem solving, therapeutic support or other life/ relationship changes.

A recent study of French women provides an answer that resonates with my experiences and thoughts on the question of female desire. Researchers studied 251 women ranging in age from 18-67, all sexually active.  “The women in the study–176 who defined themselves as “orgasmic,” and 75 who defined themselves as “not orgasmic”- answered questions about the emotions, thoughts and behaviors that typically play a role in being able to orgasm, during both sex and self-stimulation.”

 And what they found was that women who regularly reached orgasm during sex reported more erotic thoughts.

Study author Pascal De Sutter, professor of sexology and family science at the University of Louvain in Belgium, said “It seems that women have no problem focusing on erotic fantasies when they are on their own, but women who do not have regular orgasms during intercourse seem to have more difficulties focusing their attention on the present moment when they have sex with their partners.”

I love what Elke Reissing, the director of the Human Sexuality Research Laboratory at the University of Ottawa, says, “…mindfulness approaches to the treatment of sexual dysfunction might be helpful for women who have trouble achieving orgasm. Mindfulness techniques could help women focus on the present moment during sex and thus increase their arousal and reach orgasm.” (Source)

When I talk about stepping into one’s desire and practicing sexual meditation, I urge women to focus on their bodies and their feelings of desire. By taking the time to think about sex, knowing what we want and what feels good, we are focusing our minds on our bodies, our arousal and our desires. This awareness of our own body is what helps us become more orgasmic.

If a woman goes into sex thinking she’s not going to be satisfied, or needs to be doing the laundry, write the business report, etc. she’s not present to her partner. More importantly, she’s not present to her own body and her arousal.

When we feel our genitals tingle and become wet, when we feel the swelling as blood flows into our labia we are present to our bodies. We feel each sensation and touch and we recognize our arousal. That’s when we’re most likely to have an orgasm or, at the very least, feel pleasurable sensations and an increased level of sexual satisfaction. And when sex feels pleasurable and we are satisfied—we want more. It’s not about ‘fixing’ a dysfunction, or popping a pill. It is about us stepping into our full sexual capacity as women, creating what we want and allowing ourselves to experience pleasure.

Thoughts? Is another pill the answer or is a better understanding of our bodies and communication between partners what we need?

* “HSDD is defined as an absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity that does not have an obvious cause, such as depression or libido-suppressing drugs, and that causes distress to the sufferer.” (Washington Post)

midlife boulevard, columnist, midlife women, middle-age, midlife crisis

Walker Thornton

We are delighted to have Walker Thornton as our Women’s Sexual Health columnist. After working for over 10 years in the field of sexual violence against women, Walker is now enjoying a new career as a freelance writer, public speaker, and sex educator with an emphasis on midlife women. Her blog, <a>WalkerThornton.com </a> was ranked #5 by Kinkly.com in their top 100 Sex Blogging Superheroes of 2014. You can connect with her on <a>Facebook </a> and <a href="http://twitter.com/WalkerThornton">Twitter</a> For questions about sexual health, write her at [email protected]

Walker Thornton

Monday 11th of August 2014

Liz, I'll have to go read your thoughts on the drug. Love that you used the word multifaceted, so true.

Liz Scherer

Monday 11th of August 2014

Your post echoes the themes I've explored with regard to fibanserin on Flashfree. Sexual desire is so complex and to assign a pharmaceutical to do a multifaceted job is ridiculous. Thanks for sharing this; its critically important.

Carol Cassara

Monday 11th of August 2014

i'm sure there are cases where a pill is called for but in my opinion, a great sex partner who is on your wave length is better and safer than any pill. It is amazing and beautiful and fireworks inducing, regardless of state of life. I figured that out when I was single--libido depends on your partner. We are a society of shortcuts--and having a pill for everything is one of them. I just don't think it's good to put all this crap in our bodies unless we absolutely have to. It is absolutely true that we don't all have the right partner for this or the partner may not be into what flips our switch and some of us are unwilling to do anything to change that --and the partner may be true and loving in so many other ways. Not everyone gets a one-stop-shop . In that case I am a huge believer in DIY. So, those are my thoughts, Walker, thanks for sharing yours!

Walker Thornton

Monday 11th of August 2014

Carol, I do agree that libido can be framed by one's relationship and partner- but we need to come to the bed/situation/relationship already engaged and ready for pleasure. If we don't own and nurture our own sexual desire no partner, however skilled, can be expected to turn us on! Always happy to hear your thoughts, thank you.

Nancy

Monday 11th of August 2014

Walker - I really liked your post. Lots of good & helpful info. Always learn something!

Nancy

Walker Thornton

Monday 11th of August 2014

Nancy, Thank you so much. I try to offer info that will be relevant for midlife needs!

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