Is Viagra For Women a Real Possibility?

The “little pink pill” has been all over the news of late, as the FDA finally recommended approval for Filbanserin, a proposed treatment for female sexual dysfunction. 

The drug was initially developed by Boehringer Ingelheim as an anti-depressant but once its effect on female sexual dysfunction was noted, the focus shifted.   Initially, the FDA gave it a negative report and Boehringer then turned over the rights to the drug to a company called Sprout Pharmaceuticals.

So what exactly is Filbanserin and why is it causing such controversy?  Clinically speaking, Filbanserin targets the brain, helping to increase the level of dopamine while decreasing the level of several forms of serotonin.  The result is literally a change in the brain’s chemistry which affects psychological and physical response on many levels. 

This is where the drug took a leap from just one among many treatments for depression to something of historical significance and became the subject of heated debate.  Once its possible use as a treatment for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) became known, Filbanserin immediately picked up the label “female Viagra”, and that’s where the real problem lies, because despite the implications this particular drug is nothing like Viagra.

Viagra works by increasing blood flow to the penis and can have an instant noticeable effect, which is why it is only taken as needed.  Because Filbanserin works on the brain chemistry, it takes much longer to produce an effect, sometimes as much as a month, and it must be taken continuously.  

At the same time, results in clinical trials have been marginal at best.  In studies where participants were given either Filbanserin or a placebo, there was actually very little difference in the results between those individuals who took the drug and those who were given the placebo.  And even in those who took Filbanserin and reported an effect, it amounted to one extra satisfying sexual experience a month, a very slim improvement.

How Do Doctors Feel About Female Viagra?

While recognizing the troubling effects of HSDD, some doctors have had mixed reactions to "female Viagra" as a treatment, sparked by the potentially serious side effects that the drug is known to cause, including fainting, dizziness, nausea and changes in blood pressure.  Because the drug affects levels of dopamine and serotonin, it can also have a sedative effect when combined with alcohol, which is another cause for concern.

So where does this leave women who are suffering from HSDD and feel as if they are not being taken seriously by the medical establishment?  It’s a real quandary.  Many women feel like HSDD itself is dismissed as purely psychological and they are patronized when they seek treatment for it.  

Since female sexual response is so much more complicated than that of men, it’s easy to see how it could be misconstrued.  But HSDD is a very real condition and can be extremely distressing for some women.

For this reason, you’d think that a drug which can help to relieve the symptoms of HSDD could only be a good thing, but as with any newly developed and still generally untested drug, there is reason to proceed with caution.  

For women who regularly experience diminished sexual satisfaction anything that can increase their positive sexual experiences even by as little as once a month is certainly worth considering.  But, even if the FDA should ultimately give its final approval, this drug should not be considered the quick and easy fix that Viagra is. 

As with most things related to sex and sexual function, everything is always a bit more complicated for women.  There are many factors, including stress, marital discord and the onset of menopause, that can contribute to female sexual dysfunction.  

For this reason, a drug like Filbanserin that targets only one possible cause should be considered a limited treatment at best.   The best overall treatment remains a multi-pronged approach that addresses all of the contributing factors.

Is the “little pink pill” cause for big excitement?  Certainly, especially for women who suffer from HSDD.  But has it really earned the label of “female Viagra”?  Absolutely not, and with good reason.  

The ultimate response to this pill can only come with time.  Until then, it is best to take a watch and wait approach and to treat Filbanserin with the respect and caution it deserves.

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