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Screw Science: The Futuristic Sex Tech Aiming to Penetrate Your Bedroom

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From fully customizable vibrators to bioelectronic headsets, smart sex toys are on the way up. But does personal pleasure necessarily make for better health?

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Pleasure is personal, mostly because it has to be, and not least because female scientists continue to face grinding discrimination regardless of their area of research. And when it comes to sexual health, breakthroughs are few and far between: in spite of increasing documentation of associated health risks, birth control hasn’t really been reformulated since the 60s, and last year’s much-anticipated release of Addyi, a pill meant to fix female sexual dysfunction, only worked for ten percent of the women who tried it.

It’s clear that sexual emancipation has not yet been freed from the bedroom. In spite of its roots in scientific misogyny—the vibrator was developed in the 19th century to cure women of hysteria, after all—a swathe of new devices have people looking hopefully to sex tech (or sextech, as it is also known) as the answer to systemic gaps in sexual health. History, it seems, is coming full circle; where the 1960s saw the vibrator de-medicalized and uncoupled from science, today’s consumer market is beginning to see pleasure and health unified in the pursuit of wellness. Yet what we call “sex tech” is tied more to the lucrative sex toy industry—worth $15 billion this year—than it is to scientific institutions, with much of its promise linked to idea that personal pleasure makes for better health.

These days, more people than ever understand that a woman’s ability to understand what turns her on and why is a crucial step in developing a healthy perspective on her sexual life. So it makes sense that we’re seeking out masturbatory experiences that are more tailored than your average stand-in phallus. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of devices like Crescendo, the first-ever fully customizable vibrator, which raised £1.6 million in funding to date and shipped out over 1,000 pre-orders after a successful crowdfunding round.

Designed to cater to the inherent complexities of female arousal, the vibrator can be finely customized, equipped with six motors and the ability to be bent into any favorable shape. An accompanying app allows users to control each motor individually; it remembers favorite behaviors, provides pre-set vibration patterns, and responds to mood-setting music.

“We were inspired by the concept of tech designed for the human, rather than the human having to adapt their behaviour to tech,” says Stephanie Alys, the co-founder of Crescendo creators Mysteryvibe. “Human beings aren’t just unique in terms of our size and how we’re put together genetically, but also in terms of what we like. What turns us on can be different from what turns another person on.”

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Mysteryvibe’s flagship product is the Crescendo, a customizable sex toy.

But in spite of the life-improving promises of consumer sex tech, the reality is that official, peer-reviewed studies remain crucial to reforming policy and education. Founded by Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos Center is one of the few sex-centric research institutions in the United States. Much of its work investigates the relationship between psychology, physiology, and sex, with an emphasis on the hard data that is often lacking in sex tech.

Liberos presses on in a particularly antagonistic climate; the American government is famously skittish about sexual content. Sexual material is banned from government-funded computers, says Prause, making it difficult for researchers to, say, screen porn to test subjects as part of a study on arousal. She adds that congressional bodies actively seek to pull funding from research that addresses the topic head-on—four recent studies that had already been awarded funding were re-opened for assessment because of their sexual content.

“People report having certain types of experiences all the time,” says Prause. “But they’re often poor observers of their own behaviour, and don’t see anyone’s behaviour but their own. They don’t really have that external perspective, which is why I think it’s important to take both a psychological and laboratory approach. For example, in science, people haven’t been verifying that orgasm actually occurs. So we’ve been developing an objective way of measuring that, and of measuring the effects of clitoral stimulation—on how to best capture the contractions that occur through the orgasm.”

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Liberos is also investigating the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and direct current stimulation (tDCS) on sexual responsiveness. Both are non-invasive treatments, meaning anyone seeking a cure for low libido may not require anything more than the use of a headset. TMS holds potential for long-term changes to a person’s sex drive; the technique, which uses a magnetic field generator to produce small electrical currents in the brain, has already been used to treat neuropathic pain and otherwise stubborn cases of major depressive disorder. DCS, on the other hand, uses a headset to deliver a low-intensity electrical charge, stimulating the brain areas where activity spikes at the sight, or touch, of a turn-on.

If using the brain’s electrical signals to control the rest of the body sounds like a dystopian fantasy, the reality is that these medical treatments aren’t far off. Bioelectronic firms are now backed by the likes of Glaxosmithkline and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and similar applications have already been established for hypertension and sleep apnea, while chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and arthritis are targeted for future development.

According to Dr. Karen E. Adams, clinical professor of OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of women experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction. Medication that targets neurotransmitters, like the SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety, can fluctuate in efficacy depending on the unique makeup of the person using it.

Combined with the trickiness of locking down the nebulousness of desire (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that Addyi, a failed antidepressant pursued because of its unexpected effect on serotonin levels in female mice, was a flop. Non-sex-specific studies have shown that electrical stimulation can be more adaptive to the brain’s constantly-shifting landscape than medication that interacts with its chemistry. For the 90 percent of women who found Addyi to be a sore disappointment, bioelectronic treatments could soon offer an alternative solution to low sexual responsivity.

“By giving women information about their bodies that they can decide what to do with, we’re enabling more female empowerment,” says Prause. “And by allowing women to decide which aspects of sex they want to be more responsive to, we’re giving people more control, and not with charlatan claims. We actually have good scientific reasons that we think are going to work, that are going to make a difference.”

Yet the field’s burgeoning successes are only as good as the social environment they take hold in. Sociopolitical hurdles notwithstanding, money remains a significant roadblock for developers, as the controversial nature of sex research has many investors shying away from backing new projects in spite of consumer interest. Whether they’re seeking government funding or VC investments, sex start-ups and labs alike are often forced to turn to crowdfunding to raise money for development.

“It’s pretty unsurprising that heavily female-oriented tech products do so well on crowdfunding sites; these are solutions to problems faced by half of the population, that are overlooked by a male-dominated industry where male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women,” says Katy Young, behavioral analyst at research firm Canvas8. “But the audience is clearly there—Livia, a device which targets nerves in order to stop period pains, raised over $1 million on Indiegogo.”

Outdated sex ed programs, which emphasize procreation and normalize straight male sexuality without addressing female sexual development, are ground zero for unhealthy social perspectives on sex. Acknowledging that change can’t just come from devices alone, New York’s Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is teaming up with “campus sexpert” app Tabù to bring both sex education and affordable masturbation tools to colleges across the country.

“There’s a national discussion right now surrounding consent, which is 100 percent needed and super important,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “But for women to be able to engage in sex and address consent as equals, they need to learn about female pleasure—they should understand their own bodies so that when they are engaging in sexual activities with someone else, they know what feels good to them, they know how to communicate that, and they don’t feel uncomfortable about it.”

It’s tempting to buy into the idea of tech as freeing: that the increased presence of smart devices in our lives will help us form healthier habits and a better understanding of our ourselves, or that the availability of medically-approved tech will be a panacea in the intricately fraught landscape of female sexual dysfunction—which is as socially determined as it is biological, and as cultural as it is psychological.

But sex tech is still far from being paradigm-shifting. Its success will be dependent not only on consumer dollars but on government policies and public attitudes; at a level of engagement this intimate, tech is only any good if people feel free to use it.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sex and Food: The World’s Strangest Aphrodisiacs Through Time

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Hot chocolate? The potato? Piranhas? Throughout history, humankind has persisted in the belief that some foods are linked to sex.

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By Felisa Rogers

From the Garden of Eden to the oyster cellar bordellos of old New York, food and sex are entwined. Although every food under the sun has been touted as an aphrodisiac at some point in time, humans tend to get turned on by three categories of food: extremely expensive food, food that is risky to acquire, and food that resembles genitalia.

Rare and exotic foods have favored positions in the canon of culinary aphrodisiacs. Consider the truffle, the piranha and the labor of harvesting a plate full of sparrow tongues. Foods from far-off lands have the spicy whisper of perilous adventure, and there’s nothing quite like a hint of mystery to stimulate the imagination. For example, Aztec concubines taught the conquistadors to drink hot chocolate; when the Spaniards carried the exotic substance across the sea to Europe, they brought with it the rumor that the drink was an aphrodisiac. And during the reign of Charles I, when rice was still a luxury in Europe, noble Casanovas swore by the improbable aphrodisiac of rice boiled in milk and flavored with cinnamon.

As an ingredient becomes common, and thus cheaper, it loses its magic. Case in point: the potato. Your modern Brit is unlikely to find a plate of mashed potatoes sexually stimulating, but potatoes and sweet potatoes were hailed as aphrodisiacs when they were first introduced to the European palate; in Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Falstaff reels off a list of the era’s aphrodisiacs: kissing comfits, snow eryngoes (the candied roots of sea holly), and potatoes. Once rare ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, marmalade, rice and pepper have likewise lost their sexy status.

The second largest umbrella group of chewable aphrodisiacs is based on the crude logic that if something looks like your nasty bits, it’ll undoubtedly put your prospective partner in the mood. Thus, scheming Lotharios and temptresses have long relied on the amorous offering of edible flowers and roots. In the British Isles, wake robin (Arum maculatum) was once valued as a thickener for puddings, a starch for Elizabethan neck ruffs, and for its phallic bloom, which earned the plant a reputation as an aphrodisiac and spawned over 20 suggestive folk names, including Adam and Eve, lords and ladies, devils and angels, stallions and mares, and dog’s dick. On a similar note, the word “orchid” is derived from the ancient Greek word for testicle. Pliny the Elder recommended bulbous orchid tubers as an aphrodisiac, and the Romans called orchids “satyrion” because legend had it that the phallic roots grew from the spilled semen of a satyr.

satyrThe tribes of Mexico preferred not the root but the flower. The Totonoc Indians believed that the orchid Vanilla planifolia sprang from the blood of a goddess, and the Aztecs named it tlilxochitl, or black flower. Vanilla planifolia is an inherently romantic plant: its small blossoms open in the morning and are exclusively pollinated by hummingbirds and melipone bees. The dirty-minded Conquistadors noted the pod’s resemblance to female genitalia, and gave the plant the name vanilla, which derived from the Latin for sheath. Europeans soon prized vanilla as an aphrodisiac; wild stories circulated that vanilla could transform the ordinary man into an astonishing lover. Elizabeth I is said to have been especially fond of vanilla pudding.

Oysters and clams have had a lewd reputation since history’s dawn. The Roman author Juvenal (a nasty misogynist) uses oysters to complete his portrait of a slut partying away the night: “When she knows not one member from another, eats giant oysters at midnight, pours foaming unguents into her unmixed Falernian, and drinks out of perfume-bowls, while the roof spins dizzily round, the table dances, and every light shows double!” In keeping with the Roman talent for using food to call attention to those ultimate aphrodisiacs — wealth and power — emperors and aristocrats turned their noses up at local oysters and sent away to the British Isles for a superior variety. The association between oysters and strumpets would have staying power: As Rebecca Stott points out in her book “Oyster,” “Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the woman oyster seller was used in poetry as a figure of erotic play, something like the oyster, to be consumed, part of the sensuous fruit of the street for the male urban voyeur.” In 19th century America, underground oyster saloons catered to base instincts — guests could slurp back dozens of oysters while cavorting with good-time girls and prostitutes; some of the seedier joints offered private rooms. A few decades later and a few hundred miles south, scantily clad ladies would shimmy in a popular striptease act called the oyster dance. In the 1940s, Kitty West (a cousin of Elvis Presley) danced on Bourbon street as “Evangeline the Oyster Girl”; to open her act, she stepped with aplomb from a giant half shell.

But food and sex also play an entwined role in more “respectable” culture. If we look at the big picture, we see food at the heart of every human ritual. As Lionel Tiger points out in “The Pursuit of Pleasure”: “The exchange of mates between families was the only process more significant for human evolution than food sharing. But it was also wholly associated with it; the wedding dinner established a circle of implication and meaning.” The Tzteltal Indians of Chiapas, Mexico, take it to the next level: in traditional families, a young married couple lives with the girl’s parents. For the first 15 days of marriage the bride and groom don’t speak to each other or sleep together. Their sole means of communication is through food. Every evening, the wife cooks a meal for her husband. If all is well on the 15th day, the couple will sleep together that night. These people clearly know their foreplay.sexy-fruit

Our literary masters have made much of the sensual significance of food. Eve parting her lips for the fruit of knowledge may mark the most infamous sexy food metaphor, but it is by no means the only time food and sex intersect in the Bible. Half the lyric beauty of “Solomon’s Song” stems from food metaphors: “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste”; “thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits.” Some phrases draw a direct correlation between eating and love: Food is a gift for the beloved, and the space where the lovers meet is made more beautiful by spices and fruit: “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” Certain passages hint that food is part of the path to the boudoir: “The mandrakes gives a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.” Mandrake, a poisonous root from the nightshade family, was a popular aphrodisiac during ancient times. “Solomon’s Song” also references other more tasty aphrodisiacs of the day: cinnamon, saffron, figs and pomegranates.

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Food scholars and scientists tend to ignore and/or ridicule the idea of a food that functions like Viagra. The Western world’s most popular edible aphrodisiacs, chocolate and oysters, do actually create a sexy hormone rush, but generally only when they are eaten in gross quantities. As food writer Amy Reiley notes, “You’re more likely to go into a diabetic coma than get that rush because you’d have to eat so much chocolate to get the effect.” Revered food historian Alan Davidson sums it up best in “The Oxford Companion to Food”: “In short, the concept of a truly aphrodisiac food is on par with that of finding a crock of gold at the end of a rainbow.”

So why the proffered carrots and the bowl of sparrow’s tongues? Perhaps because our entwined pair, food and sex, is really a threesome: food, sex and superstition. The human libido is both excitable and fragile, easy to titillate yet just as easy to destroy. So much of sexuality is subject to the vagaries of nature and the whim of another, it’s no wonder humans have sought to control the situation by relying on witch doctors, poisonous roots, dubious elixirs and our old fallback, food, a substance that we viscerally know to be the staff of life.sexy-fruit2

Or maybe we persist in the belief that specific foods can lead to sex because there’s something to it. According to anthropologist Robin Fox, food leads to sex because a male’s ability to provide food plays into the female’s need to reproduce with a mate who will help nurture their young: “a male’s willingness to provide food becomes an important index of his suitability as a mate. Above all, it suggests his willingness to ‘invest’ in the female’s offspring.” No doubt there’s something to it, but we prefer a less clinical explanation: The act of procuring or preparing a special food can be sexy in itself. We associate food with comfort, and cooking is an act of love. By creating or acquiring a special food or beverage for a potential lover, we are creating at least the illusion of love and security, which is generally conducive to sex. In his excellent book “Heat,” Bill Buford convincingly describes the concept of cooking with love: cooking as a singularly intimate act of love one performs for friends, family and lovers. He also writes of cooking to be loved: “The premise of a romantic meal is that by stimulating and satisfying one appetite another will be analogously stimulated as well.” If you’ve ever factored a date’s restaurant choice or cooking skills into your decision to put out, you’ve experienced the aphrodisiacal qualities of food.

Complete Article HERE!

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Cancer patients and survivors can have trouble with intimacy

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People who survive cancer treatment — a growing group now topping 5 million — often have trouble with intimacy afterward, both from the actual treatment and physical recovery and from the psychological damage of feeling so vulnerable.

People who survive cancer treatment — a growing group now topping 5 million — often have trouble with intimacy afterward, both from the actual treatment and physical recovery and from the psychological damage of feeling so vulnerable.(Photo: Getty Images/Comstock Images)

In the mirror, Kelly Shanahan looks normal, even to herself.

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Kelly Shanahan of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., has been battling breast cancer for eight years. She’s a big believer in doctors and their patients discussing sexual health.

But she does not feel like herself.

The breasts she had reconstructed eight years ago look real, the nipples convincing. But her breasts have no sensation. The only time she feels them at all is during the frigid winters of her South Lake Tahoe, Calif., home, when they get so cold, she has to put on an extra layer of clothing.

“For a lot of women, breast sensation is a huge part of sexual pleasure and foreplay. That is totally gone,” says Shanahan, 55, who has lived with advanced breast cancer for three years. “It can be a big blow to self-image, even though you may look normal.”
Kelly Shanahan of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., has been battling breast cancer for eight years. She’s a big believer in doctors and their patients discussing sexual health. (Photo: Kelly Shanahan)

Shanahan is part of a growing group of patients, advocates and doctors raising concerns about sexual health during and after cancer treatment.

“None of us would be here if it weren’t for sex. I don’t understand why we have such a difficult time talking about it,” she says.

Though virtually all cancer diagnoses and treatments affect how patients feel and what they think about their bodies, sex remains an uncomfortable medical topic.

Shanahan, an obstetrician herself, says that until her current doctor, none of the specialists who treated her cancer discussed her sex life.

“My former oncologist would rather fall through the floor than talk about sex,” she says.

Major cancer centers now include centers addressing sexuality, but most community hospitals still do not. The topic rarely is discussed unless the patient is particularly bold or the doctor has made a special commitment.

There’s no question that cancer can dampen people’s sex lives.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Weight gain or loss can affect how sexy people feel. Fatigue is unending during treatment. Body image can be transformed by surgeries and the idea that your own cells are trying to kill you. The constant specter of death is a sexual downer, as are the decidedly unsexy aspects of cancer care, like carrying around a colostomy bag. Then, there are the healthy partners, feeling guilty and terrified of causing pain.

And once people start to associate sex with pain, that can add apprehension and muscle tightness, which makes intercourse harder to achieve, says Andrea Milbourne, a gynecologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

There’s almost never a medical reason cancer patients or survivors shouldn’t be having sex, says Karen Syrjala, a clinical psychologist and co-director of the survivorship program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Even if there is reason to avoid intercourse, physical closeness and intimacy are possible, she says, noting that the sooner people address sexual issues the less serious those issues will be.

“Bodies need to be used and touched,” she says said. “Tissues need to be kept active.” Syrjala recommends hugging, romantic dinners, simple touching, “maybe just holding each other naked at night.”

There are ways to improve sexual problems, starting with doctors talking to their patients about sex. Milbourne and others say it’s their responsibility, not the patients’, to bring up the topic.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Lubricants can help smooth the way.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Lubricants can help smooth the way.

Communication between partners also is essential. “A lot of times, it’s unclear, at least in the mind of the other partner who doesn’t have a cancer, what has happened. ‘Why does this hurt? Why don’t you want to do anything?’ ” Milbourne says.

For women who have pain during sex, Milbourne says one study found benefit to using lidocaine gel to numb vaginal tissue.

Jeanne Carter, head of the female sexual medicine and women’s health program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, recommends women do three minutes of Kegel exercises daily to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles and improve vaginal tone, and to help reconnect to their bodies.

For women sent abruptly into menopause, moisturizing creams can help soften tissue that has become brittle and taut. Carter says she’s conducted research showing that women with breast or endometrial cancers who use moisturizers three to five times a week in the vagina and on the vulva have fewer symptoms and less pain than those who don’t. Lubricants can help smooth the way, too.

“We’ve got to make sure we get the tissue quality and pain under control or that will just undermine the whole process,” Carter says.

Sex toys also take on a different meaning after cancer treatment. Specialized stores often can offer useful advice and the ability to examine a product before buying. Rings and other equipment, in addition to medications such as Viagra, can help men regain erections.

Doctors and well-meaning friends also need to stop telling cancer patients that they should simply be glad to be alive, Shanahan says. Of course she is, but eight years after her initial diagnosis and three years after her disease advanced, Shanahan wants to make good use of the time she has left.

And that, she says, includes having a warm, intimate relationship with her husband of 21 years.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Sex Is Better At 57 Than 27

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Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Dame Helen Mirren approves of her wax replica.

Dame Helen Mirren approves of her wax replica.

Despite the fondness certain corners of the internet and cable television have for mocking sexually vital women of a certain age, new research suggests that those who embrace their sexuality may be laughing all the way to longer, healthier lives—though older men aren’t as lucky.

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A study out of Michigan State University (MSU) published this month in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior has found that frequent sex (defined as once or more per week) for women age 57 and older—especially if it’s “extremely pleasurable or satisfying”—resulted in a lower risk of hypertension and protected against cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately for men, frequent sex in the 57 and older range is actually dangerous, increasing their risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and stroke. The risk is compounded by the use of medications such as Cialis and Viagra.

The study—an analysis of survey data of 2,204 people collected by the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project in 2005-6 and again five years later—isn’t just good news for older women, and should offer hope for younger women as they look to the future of their own sexuality.

Dr. Nancy Sutton Pierce, a nurse and clinical sexologist, suggests the best thing a young woman can do for her continued sexual health is to cultivate an attitude of optimism about it as she ages. “Younger women think sexy has an expiration date. Older women know it doesn’t,” she says.

The study is a stride toward busting the cultural myths that older women are supposedly non-sexual beings, which Sutton Pierce says “absolutely does them a disservice.” Sutton Pierce, who is almost 60, happily defies sexual stereotypes of older women. Married for thirty years to the same man, she says, “My sex life is better than ever, much better than my twenties.” In her work she says she sees women after forty “blossoming,” adding, “As women mature, we mature on all levels, which means we start to own our sexuality and sexual power. We don’t need someone else to tell us we’re hot, we can feel it.”

Study author Hiu Liu, an associate professor of sociology at MSU, also finds that for women, quality of sexual experience is a key contributing factor to the health benefits, not just quantity. “As a sociologist, I don’t see sex as just a physical exercise, as medical doctors do. It’s a social behavior, and has emotional meaning,” she says.

001For older women experiencing other kinds of physical declines related to illness, staying sexually active may bring other benefits. Irwin H., who asked to remain anonymous, of San Francisco found that for his 70-year-old wife, who has multiple sclerosis, increasingly limited mobility, and walks with a cane, “Sex gives her back her former sense of her physical self.” He even waxes a little poetic: “Sexuality for her is like an unexpected warm day in the middle of winter. It doesn’t end winter, but it makes it bearable.”

Some older women may believe they’ve lost their sexual selves when they experience the often dramatic physical changes at and after menopause, such as vaginal dryness and reduced libido. They need not despair, says Celeste Holbrook, PhD, a sexual health consultant and sexologist. “Sex, and fulfilling sex doesn’t always have to be centered on the goal of an orgasm, or penetrative sex,” she adds.

004However, Liu points out that the female sexual hormone released during orgasm, oxytocin, “may also promote women’s health” by reducing cortisol and increasing estrogen.

Holbrook urges communication between partners rather than silent acceptance. “Redefining your sexuality as we age for anybody is really good. Talk to your partner about your body changes and how you can create a fulfilling sex life while embracing those changes.”

Men shouldn’t worry too much, however. Though the MSU study seems to be the research equivalent of a cold shower for older men, Liu reminds them, “Moderate sex is good for older men, too.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Female Sexual Dysfunction, Another Perspective

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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!

I invited Serena to make her case not only to me, but to all my readers. What follows is Serena in her own words.

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.

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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.

(c) Myles Murphy; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Myles Murphy; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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.

Holistic physician, certified sexual medicine specialist, sex counselor, medical director of the Northwest Institute for Healthy Sexuality

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