‘Female Viagra:’ Long overdue or Big Pharma overkill?

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune.

Addyi, better known as “female Viagra” (though it’s not a very accurate comparison), is either a long-overdue acknowledgment that women’s sexual health matters as much as men’s, or the latest attempt to make women feel broken about sex.

Depends whom you believe.

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in mid-August, Addyi (pronounced add-ee) is designed to treat “generalized hypoactive sexual desire disorder” (HSDD) in pre-menopausal women.

“It’s for women who’ve known a different level of desire,” Cindy Whitehead, CEO of Sprout Pharmaceuticals, told me. “Women who had a different normal before, and they’re bothered by it, and they want to do something about it.”

Sprout manufactures Addyi (also known as flibanserin), which is a nonhormonal pill that women can take once a day, unlike Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs for men that are designed to be taken only in advance of sex.

“Women are pretty clear they’re not on-demand creatures,” Whitehead said. “The media loves to call this female Viagra, but that’s the point at which we start the real conversation on how this is different for women. Desire is a state. This goes back to making sure those brain chemicals are aligned in a way that allows desire to take hold.”

The drug, Whitehead says, increases the brain’s levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which increase sex drive, and decreases the brain’s levels of serotonin, which can slow sex drive.

But critics of Addyi say the drug is overkill.

“The misrepresentation that everybody should be having (sex), needs to have it, wants to have it, has a problem if they don’t have it, is to change, really, what sexuality is into more of a medical thing,” Leonore Tiefer, a psychologist at New York University, told National Public Radio earlier this year. “I think that’s a terrible direction for knowledge, for understanding, for society.”

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