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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: “Female Viagra” not a feminist victory

In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration sanctioned the release of a little blue pill and things looked up for millions of men. Seventeen years later, a new prescription is hitting the market — and this time, it’s pink.

On Aug. 18, the FDA approved the first drug to treat lack of sexual desire in women. The prescription has many names: Addyi, flibanserin, Ectris, Girosa. But it is most commonly referred to as “pink Viagra.”

This seems like an obvious feminist triumph. For years, nothing comparable was available to help women attain more satisfying sex lives.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Sheryl Kingsberg, a behavioral health doctor and biology professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, noted “[Addyi] validates women’s right to treatment for sexual problems and their right to sexual health … It validates that there is as much biology as psychology with regard to women’s sexual function, and this is the same for men.”

It’s true that women’s sexual health should be researched and treated in the same regard as men’s. But to compare Addyi to Viagra simply isn’t accurate.

Viagra targets a specific physical disorder: erectile dysfuction. The blue pill is taken when needed and works by stimulating blood flow to the genitals, allowing male users to perform sexually and act upon their arousal. Addyi, on the other hand, must be taken every night and stimulates serotonin receptors similarly to an antidepressant. It targets the brain, not the body, to create arousal that isn’t already there.

Unlike erectile dysfunction, female hypoactive sexual desire disorder, which Addyi aims to treat, is ill-defined and not well researched. The consensus, at least for Big Pharma, seems to be that the “disorder” is not craving “enough sex”.

The fact that the pink pill has been marketed similarly to men’s Viagra points to a problem with how we view female sexuality as a whole. By lumping together female hypoactive sexual desire disorder with erectile dysfunction, we liken lack of desire to a solely physical issue. We make women feel like they are unhealthy or broken, when in reality they’re simply not in the mood.

Scientists have understood for decades that sexual desire manifests in different ways. Two researched and very legitimate forms of arousal are spontaneous and responsive desire. Spontaneous desire, like it sounds, is a random craving that arises in anticipation of sex. Responsive desire is better described as “winding up”, or experiencing desire as a reaction to sexual activity.

Each sex experiences both of these in varying frequency throughout life. But, in general, men tend to experience more spontaneous arousal, while for women it could be completely healthy to only experience responsive arousal.

Addyi is problematic because it treats lack of spontaneous desire in women as a disease. It holds women’s libidos to the standards of men’s and plays into women’s insecurities when their own desires don’t mirror those of their partners’.

To further frustrate women, Addyi doesn’t even seem to be effective in mitigating the “disorder” it claims to treat. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The FDA’s analysis of the data showed that only about 10 percent of the research participants taking [Addyi] experienced ‘at least minimal improvement,’ while the remaining 90 percent experienced nothing at all.”

Perhaps the little pink pill would be more effective for 90 percent of women if it focused less on how often women want sex and more on ensuring that the sex they do have is enjoyable.

As it stands, the pharmaceutical industry is set to make millions on a prescription that doesn’t work for the people who need it. Despite its FDA approval, “pink Viagra” isn’t safe for its users. It dangerously convinces women that the only healthy way to experience desire is to experience it as often as their partners do.

Whatever color pill is next on the market, the only true feminist victory will come when pharmaceutical companies realize that both men and women are entitled to want sex as little or as often as they like.


Follow Hailey Dickson on Twitter.


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