Hey sex fans,
It appears that my posting of last week, Female Sexual Dysfunction Is A Fictional Disorder, caused quite a stir. As you recall, I was answering a question from a woman who asked if FSD, or female sexual dysfunction is real or a fictitious “ailment” that is being promulgated to sell pharmaceuticals to unsuspecting women. I replied; “I think that, for the most part, female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, is a fictional disorder. I also think pharmaceutical companies are trying to hit on a female version of Viagra to treat this imaginary disorder so they can make a bundle, just like they did with as the male version.”
Well, that didn’t sit well with some friends and colleagues. One among them, Dr. Serena McKenzie took the most exception. She sent me a little note: “Your blog on female sexual dysfunction being fictitious is – respectfully – fucking bullshit sir.” Ok then!
Flibanserin, the first and only medication available for use in reproductive aged women with low libido, becomes commercially available this week after a rocky and controversial road that led to its FDA approval Aug. 18. The view on the medication whose brand name is Addyi (pronounced ADD-EE) ranges from a historical achievement in women’s health care to an epic failure of commercialized medical propaganda. Despite the lengthy debate that has surrounded flibanserin, what most people want to know is whether it will help their sex life or not now that it is here.
First Things First
While sexual concerns can be difficult to discuss for many women and their partners, it is important to acknowledge that sex and intimacy are some of the great extraordinary experiences of being human. When sex goes badly, which statistically it does for 43 percent of U.S. women, the consequences can devastate a relationship and personal health. One of the biggest applauds I have for the FDA is their statement of recognition that female sexual dysfunction is an unmet clinical need.
Sexuality Is Mind-Body But Not-Body?
Sexuality is usually complicated, and problems with sex such as loss of libido are multifactorial for most women. Antagonists to flibanserin cite psychosocial contributions such as relationship discord, body image, or history of sexual abuse to be the most pinnacle causes of a woman who may complain of problematic lack of sexual desire, and that sex is always a mind-body phenomenon. While these factors often implicitly correlate to loss of sexual interest for a woman, they don’t always, and you cannot advocate that women’s sexuality is all inclusive of her mind, body, and spirit — and assert simultaneously that a biochemical contribution which flibanserin is designed to address in the brain to improve satisfying sexual experiences does not exist.
The Biochemistry of Sex
Antidepressant medications that alter brain biochemistry are notorious for having sexual side effects which can be prevalent up to 92 percent of the time, and are known to decrease sexual interest, disrupt arousal, and truncate orgasm in some women. Ironically, flibanserin was originally studied as an antidepressant, and while the exact mechanism of how a medication can impair or improve sexual interest is unknown, it should not be difficult to consider that if biochemical tinkering can crush sexual function, it may also be capable of improving it.
Efficacy Data Dance
Flibanserin is a pill taken once nightly, and has been critiqued as showing only modest increases in sexual desire, with improvements in sexually satisfying events rising 0.4 to 1 per month compared with placebo. However just because flibanserin has lackluster efficacy data, that does not mean it is ineffective, and even small improvements in sexual function can be life altering for a woman struggling with disabling intimate problems. If only 1 percent of women with low libido were to improve their sexual function with use of flibanserin, that equates to 160,000 women, or the population of Tempe, Arizona.
Blue Sky Side Effects
Flibanserin has side effects, and the sky is blue. All medications have pro and con profiles, and for flibanserin the most common consequences of use include fatigue, dizziness, sleepiness, and a rare but precipitous drop in blood pressure. Women may not drink alcohol while taking this medication. Providers who will prescribe it and pharmacies that will dispense flibanserin must be approved through what is called a Risk Evaluation and Management Strategy, or REMS, which means they are educated on advising women on how to take flibanserin safely. While a REMS program is arguably overkill compared to numerous higher risk, common prescriptions which do not require a REMS, it is an excellent opportunity for clinicians who have a background in sexuality to be the main applicants since they are far more qualified to assess proper candidates for treatment as well as continue to endorse holistic measures alongside flibanserin. Women who are interested in trying flibanserin should only obtain it from sexuality trained professionals.
The Proof Is In The Sexy Pudding
If flibanserin is worthless, the marketplace will bury it in a shallow grave quickly. Women will stop paying for it, and conscientious medical providers will stop prescribing it. Yet 8,500 women taking flibanserin were studied, over a 1,000 of them for one year, and the data suggests it will help some. Women deserve to be educated on their options, because sexual health is worth fighting for.
Changing The World, One Orgasm At A Time
We simply cannot overlook how astronomical of an achievement it is to even have a mediocre medication approved for female sexual dysfunction. Women’s sexuality has been ignored by medicine for most of history. At least now we have something to fight over.
The controversy about flibanserin is in fact magnificent, and frankly, the entire point. We must talk openly about sexuality and sexual concerns to improve them, personally for one woman at a time, but also uniformly to embrace female sexuality as a vastly larger societal allowance.
A satisfying sexual life is far more than the restoration of sexual dysfunction, it’s a thriving, multi dimensional, ever evolving weave of psychology, relationships, life circumstances, and yes can include a milieu of biochemistry and neurotransmitter pools.
Is a pill ever going to replace the vastly complicated arenas that fuse into our sexual experience? Of course not — it’s absurd and lazy-minded for anyone to suggest that is even being proposed. But it is necessary and inherently responsible to allow for all possible puzzle pieces to be utilized through the ever evolving navigation of sensuality, intimacy, and erotic fulfillment.
So will flibanserin make your sex life better? Maybe. But considering the conversation about it valuable as well as its use as merely one tool among many options to improve sex and intimacy would be the better bet. Ultimately, we “desire” sex that is meaningful, erotic, and dynamic. The journey of seeking sexual vitality deserves every key, crowbar, heathen kick, graceful acrobatics, or little pink pill that lends its part to the process, no matter how small or big, for the opportunity to discover and embrace a sexual aliveness.
Follow Serena McKenzie, on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SexMedDoc