The rush to make the so-called female Viagra is on

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      The rush to make the so-called female Viagra is on. If an international company jumps through all the hoops, its drugs for low female sexual desire could be on pharmacy shelves by 2016.

      But a local sexual-health expert and a drug-policy researcher both say the pills aren’t all they’re pumped up to be.

      Emotional Brain is the Netherlands- and U.S.–based corporation that has developed two similarly named products to treat “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” (HSDD). Lybrido is for women with low sex drive and motivation stemming from “insensitivity to sexual cues”, EB’s website states. This drug is said to increase central sexual motivation and physiological sexual responses, such as lubrication and swelling of vaginal erectile tissue. Lybridos, meanwhile, is aimed at women who suffer from HSDD as a result of inhibitory mechanisms in the brain’s prefrontal cortex resulting from negative associations with sex.

      According to the EB website, the company is conducting clinical studies of the drugs at 17 research sites in the United States. Once the studies are completed, the drugs will enter into the final step before new-drug applications can be submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

      Registered psychologist Lori Brotto, director of the UBC Sexual Health Laboratory, says that of all the drugs in development for treating limited sexual desire in women, these two do show the most promise, especially Lybridos for that subgroup of women whose brains show inhibitory mechanisms. But that’s far from the majority. And the likelihood of a pill being the “cure” for a lagging libido is low.

      “The concern is that the push for Lybrido—or any drug, for that matter—is that there’s this tendency to medicalize it: if you don’t have the desire for sex you have a medical disease, and the only way to treat a medical disease is through medication, and there is absolutely no support for that,” Brotto says in a phone interview. “Studies have compared [women with] low desire to women with healthy and abundant levels of desire, and they find absolutely no difference in hormone levels, neurotransmitter levels.

      “I think that anything that offers women more options in general is a good thing, so the whole premise of having a variety of different treatments, medical and nonmedical, that women can choose from in general is empowering and is the right thing to do,” adds Brotto, who is an associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UBC.

      “However, it [female sexual desire] is very, very complex. It’s not influenced by one single thing; it’s influenced by a variety of things, hence a single medication…is probably unlikely to fix the majority of women who have low-desire concerns. It’s far from a panacea.”

      Alan Cassels, a drug-policy researcher affiliated with the University of Victoria’s school of health information sciences, says that the race for a female Viagra is just one more example of the way pharmaceutical companies create and market medical problems.

      “What’s the disease?” says Cassels, coauthor with Ray Moynihan of Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients. “Can you really make a credible case for medicalizing disinterest in sex? You can try, but I think it’s going to be a tough sell.

      “Medicating female low sexual desire is part of the perennial search for a nymphomania drug, but, of course, the target audience [for Lybrido] is middle-aged women who have jobs and careers and kids and are busy and are not interested at 11 o’clock at night,” he adds. “It’s taking a social situation and turning it into a medical one.…I don’t think very many women are going to buy into it.”

      Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is also referred to as women’s sexual interest/desire disorder, a term that Brotto herself helped shape for the fifth and latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Brotto’s lab website describes the disorder as being characterized by “absent or diminished feelings of sexual interest or desire, absent sexual thoughts or fantasies and a lack of responsive desire. Motivations…for attempting to have sexual arousal are scarce or absent. The lack of interest is considered to be beyond the normative lessening with life cycle and relationship duration.”

      Nonhormonal variables that affect sexual desire, according to some of Brotto’s research, include developmental history (significant life experiences as a child and adolescent), psychosexual history, psychiatric history and current status, history of sexual abuse, current relationship factors, and medical factors.

      Brotto says that many nonmedical approaches to treating low libido exist, including cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness-based therapies.

      In a study Brotto headed that was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2008, she describes mindfulness as “relaxed wakefulness”. The practice, which has its roots in Buddhist meditation, has been found to be effective in psychological treatments for medical and mental illnesses, as well as in women dealing with sexual complaints following gynecologic cancer. Its use in other areas of sex therapy could expand, Brotto says.

      Her lab is currently recruiting women with sexual-interest/desire difficulties for a study of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Participants will take part in eight two-hour weekly group sessions.

      “Our own research is entirely focused on psychological treatments for low desire,” she explains. “Mindfulness-based interventions are particularly useful. The ways in which women describe low desire are they describe being disconnected; they’re multitasking; they’re concerned about partners’ reaction to their low desire. So all of the negative judgments serve to further that divide between her brain and her body. Medication for increased blood flow is probably not going to help too much with that.”

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      2 Comments

      nutsnbolts

      Apr 3, 2014 at 10:29pm

      Ay NO...BIG PHARMA feeds you dangerous deadly chemicals.

      greenpirate

      Apr 30, 2014 at 8:31am

      While I do agree that medicine is not the 1st way to go it is sometimes the only way to go. Before pre-menopause I had a healthy sex drive but now during pre-menopause I have almost none and I want it back. I have tried lots of things without medicine but nothing has worked. I have a partner who is incredibly wonderful, loving & understanding but he is still a man with a healthy longing for sex which I want to give but have no desire to...I want the pill.