Take One Pill and Call Him Now: Are We Down with ‘Female Viagra’?


Dr. Feelgood says to call it flibanserin.

Dr. Feelgood says to call it flibanserin.

Are they still calling it the “female Viagra”? Yes. Is there still way too much hand-wringing and lip-quivering over the very idea of restoring the female sex drive for otherwise healthy women? Yes. But now flibanserin has full FDA approval. Yes! To celebrate, I’m republishing my original post on this groundbreaking drug.

By Alexa Day

My book, Illicit Impulse, is built on a “what if.”

I’d learned about the bonding hormone, oxytocin, which operates in a woman’s brain to create feelings of attachment to her sex partners. That seemed like a massive biological screw job to me. What if a woman didn’t want to feel attachment to her partner? What if she just wanted him for the night or the weekend? What if she wanted to evaluate him solely on his performance between the sheets?

What if she could take a pill to prevent the oxytocin bond from forming?

Well, I’m no scientist. But as a writer, if I can’t make an oxytocin suppressant, I can sure as hell make one up. And in my glorious ego-driven world, I quietly hoped that someone would create the oxytocin suppressant for real and change the world of casual sex forever, and you know, a girl can dream.

Last week’s news that an advisory committee suggested FDA approval for a little pink pill nicknamed “the female Viagra” briefly encouraged me. Western medicine doesn’t have a great track record with regard to women’s sexuality, and I honestly think the FDA would be happier if women would just stop complaining about whatever problems trouble us in bed. So this should be great news, right?

I thought so at first. But now I’m not so sure.

Let’s start with that nickname. I will leave aside my issue with its being derivative — as if we can only understand this within the context of Viagra. Let’s also remember that Viagra is already for women: women have taken it for quite some time to address low sexual desire. My larger concern is that Viagra and flibanserin actually do two totally different things.

Viagra treats erectile dysfunction by addressing the the actual biological architecture of the erection. It treats blood flow to the penis. To my knowledge, Viagra isn’t really about sexual desire — it’s about the ability to act on sexual desire.

Flibanserin treats low sexual desire (hypoactive sexual desire disorder). Vast numbers of women are troubled by the fact that they don’t experience sexual desire as much as they used to — or at all. We have any number of alternatives to address the biological ability to act on sexual desire, some of which are more effective than others. This drug aims to restore desire itself, the intoxicating blend of power and hunger and anticipation, and it can only do so by working with the brain’s chemistry.

If you don't want to wait on the FDA, there's always Impulse. Sure, it's still being tested, but it gets the job done.

If you don’t want to wait on the FDA, there’s always Impulse. Sure, it’s still being tested, but it gets the job done.

I’m not a scientist. You would laugh at my nightmarish welter of research notes for Illicit Impulse. But my presumption is that adjusting neurochemistry to reconstruct desire is more complicated than reconstructing the ability to act on that desire. The FDA’s advisory committee seems to agree, but they’re okay to move ahead anyway.

I think I’m okay with that, too.

I’ve read about the medical professionals who, until now, had nothing to offer patients who lived with low sexual desire. I know that doctors will work with those women to prescribe the drug responsibly. Most importantly, I know that we can only find answers if we move forward.

So I’m cautiously optimistic about this new drug. I just wish the media would stop referring to it as ‘the female Viagra.’

Is this a giant step for womankind? Let us know what’s up (heyo?) in the comments.

And follow Lady Smut. We won’t let you down (ha ha, heyo!).

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9 Comments

  • Madeline Iva
    June 7, 2015 at 11:48 am

    What I find fascinating is our modern culture’s refusal to ever even consider embracing asexuality as a positive choice. (Not a default setting for those who ‘can’t get any’ ‘don’t try’ are ‘wallflowers’ have ‘something wrong with them’ etc.) How horrible for women to sit around bashing themselves for not feeling sexual desire because *society* says that without being feminine and sexualized, being female is not okay.

    I mean, if a woman really wants her sexual desire back, then yes, it’s good that something can be done about it. But if they’re really perfectly happy without sexual desire, then I say let ’em be!

    Now with viagra — with men — the thing is this: if they are horny, but have problems sustaining erections then there is a blood flow problem to the smaller vascular tissues and you know what that means? Heart problems. I wonder how few men would need viagra if they addressed the issue through diet and exercise instead?

    • Alexa Day
      June 8, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      I guess I always thought of asexuality as more of an orientation than a choice. In any event, I thought that those who identified as asexual experience resistance to the imposition of constructs like medications that are intended to acknowledge sexual desire in any way. I personally don’t see asexual people reporting to their physicians for prescriptions for this stuff, but hey, society is weird.

      Guys who are filled with desire may have trouble sustaining an erection for any number of reasons — diabetes is one of them. But my hat is off to the woman who’s willing to wait for that guy to resolve a heart condition with diet and exercise. I myself don’t have that sort of time, but again, society is weird.

  • Elizabeth Shore
    June 8, 2015 at 9:20 am

    I see your point about the name. If Flibanserin treated the inability to produce vaginal moisture despite the desire being there then I suppose the “female Viagra” moniker would be more appropriate. As you say, restoring the ability to act on sexual desire. But fixing some frazzled synapses in the brain is a whole other ball ‘o wax and I think it needs a whole other name. If anti-depressant drugs treat those with depression, then maybe Flibanserin should be called the anti-Idon’twantsex drug?

    • Alexa Day
      June 8, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      So negative with all the anti and don’t. 😉 How about the pro-gottahaveit drug?

  • Kel
    June 8, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    I hate the name.

    Seriously. What a terrible name; they (the ubiquitous “THEY”) tell me that my brain is my most important sexual organ, that as a woman, my state of mind is important to the state of my body… that I don’t feel desire without all of me being engaged. So far, they’re pretty correct. I’m picky as all get out, so a mediation with a name that makes me think of 5th grade and spitballs in my hair doesn’t really do it for me.

    At all.

    But then, I’m probably not their target audience. Maybe if I was, I’d feel differently?

    • Alexa Day
      June 8, 2015 at 6:04 pm

      Who knows how they come up with these tongue-twister names? As for me, I’d call it ‘Alexa’s Little Helper’ if it got the job done. 😉

  • cpmandara
    August 23, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Christina Mandara and commented:
    It looks like the ladies might be getting a look in on the action after all…!

  • Kiersten Hallie Krum
    August 23, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    You’re right, it’s not all like Viagra and there’s a lot of concern about it effectiveness, or lack thereof, and potential high risk. Fibranserin has such alarming potential side effects that the FDA has mandated special certification and training before it can be prescribed by a health-care provider. Plus, of the women tested, only 10% showed any kind of “improvement” in their desire. But there’s millions of dollars riding on this drug and so the pharmaceutical company is seriously motivated in putting the best face on it.

    I think trying to chemically pinpoint what turns women on seems like an effort to reduce a woman’s desire to a math equation rather than being stimulated by a partner’s respect, attention, and effort. Sure, aphrodisiacs and drugs like ecstasy have been making women/people horny forever but this drug is supposed to address women’s desire, the attraction they’re not feeling toward a sexual partner, and it doesn’t appear to do it well. Perhaps what they really need is just a better partner.

    • Alexa Day
      August 23, 2015 at 4:55 pm

      Well, now I’m a little confused. Do the FDA and the manufacturers intend to limit the use of this stuff to women in relationships?

      Speaking for myself, I enjoy long, life-affirming intervals between partners, during which — thank God — I experience sexual desire in varying levels. At different points in my life, the various medications I’ve been on for one thing or another (thanks, law school) have flattened sexual desire, which made me feel more like a piece of wood than a fully realized human being. But meds came and went for me, and — again, thank God — I was restored to normal operations. For me, sexual desire is a birthright. It exists independently of partners and relationships. It is my blessing and my responsibility, not his. I’d hate to think that the FDA and the pharmaceutical folks want to reduce my sexual desire to Sleeping Beauty, but that wouldn’t surprise me an awful lot.

      At least there’s ecstasy. 😉

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