Sildenafil – sold under the trade name “Viagra” – might be the most well-known pill on the the market, and while almost everyone knows that it’s used to treat sexual disorders like erectile dysfunction, not everyone knows how it works. Viagra does not cause sexual arousal in men. It only works if the man is aroused, and, in that case, it helps that arousal along by managing the chemistry, that causes a man to get erection. Specifically, it maintains the levels of messenger cyclic guanosine monophosphate that stimulates erectile tissue.
But sexual dysfunction works a little differently for women. Though some are physical, many female sexual disorders come down to mental and emotional factors leading to disinterest in sex and an overall low sex drive, properly called hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Arousal and disinterest in sex are still somewhat unknown to scientists, although they do know that the brain’s circuitry is involved.
One theory is that low libdo results from an inability to switch off the frontal parts of the brain that manage everyday tasks, mundane things like remembering to go to the post office or resolve a problem at work. With these frontal parts switched on, the reward circuitry that managed motivation and pleasure are left inhibited. And this means women can’t really get into sex. But there’s a weird silver lining.
The female pill is called Flibanserin, and it’s currently pending approval by the FDA. Flibanserin was designed as an antidepressant, but while women in a clinical trial didn’t notice a change in mood; they did find themselves more interested in sex. It was dropped as an antidepressant and refocused to treat women’s waning libido.
This drug, it seems, tweaks the balance of key neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin, either normalising levels or compensating for imbalances to bring these circuits back to optimal levels, disengage the frontal circuits that inhibit sex drive. And while the women who tried it didn’t see a massive result, they still noticed a positive trend.
Of course, measuring an improvement is pretty hard. It seems women don’t have a lot of sex on average, just three times per month. During the trial, women on Flibanserin had about 2.5 sexual events in four weeks while women not on the drug with low sex drive had just one and a half sexual event per month.
There are other factors that affect a woman’s sex drive, like self-esteem issues and disinterest in a relationship, and these aren’t necessarily things that should be dealt with medically. And sex drive does wane with age though this does vary between individuals. Some women experience a marked drop in sex drive after menopause while others may experience a renewed sexual awakening. But if a younger woman is in an otherwise loving relationship, Flibanserin, if it passes by the FDA, could be the boon for women that Viagra has been for men.