Viagra for women, now a reality?

Women’s libidos are about to get a shot in the arm thanks to a drug the US Food and Drug Administration approved Friday. The drug, called ‘Vyleesi,’ treats low sexual desire through an auto-injector women use 45 minutes before having sex

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  • The drug, often referred to as the ‘female Viagra,’ works by increasing dopamine in the body, a hormone that creates a feel-good sensation.
  • It is meant to treat the roughly 10% of premenopausal women who have low sex drives, whose condition is officially known as ‘female hypoactive sexual desire disorder.’
  • On June 21, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Vyleesi, a libido drug being hailed as the new ‘female Viagra.’

“There are women who, for no known reason, have reduced sexual desire that causes marked distress, and who can benefit from safe and effective pharmacologic treatment,” Hylton Joffe, director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s Division of Bone, Reproductive and Urologic Products, said in a statement.

The drug is administered as a shot into the abdomen or thigh using an auto-injector at least 45 minutes before anticipated sexual activity, with the FDA recommending patients not to take more than one dose within 24 hours or more than eight doses per month.

Side effects reported during clinical trials included mild to moderate nausea lasting no more than two hours and mostly occurred over the first three doses, Amag Pharmaceuticals said. About 40% of patients in clinical trials experienced nausea.

Vyleesi has emerged as a white horse in comparison: the drug has not been found to interact with alcohol and is injected 45 minutes prior to sexual activity by using an auto-injector pen in the abdomen or thigh.

Though the drug is linked to Viagra in its end goal, and though both drugs are taken on an as-needed basis (Vyleesi should not be used more than once every 24 hours and more than eight times per month), the similarities stop there.

Viagra treats erectile dysfunction, a specific physical mechanism, while Vyleesi treats sexual desire, a complex coalescence of social, emotional and physical factors.

According to Dr Lauren Streicher, director of Northwestern Medicine’s Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause, the drug “turns (the) off switch to on.” Bremelanotide is a melanocortin, a peptide in the brain that increases dopamine and inhibits the release of serotonin.

“The brain is such an important part of female sexuality,” said Amanda Atkins, a licensed Chicago therapist who works with women on sexual issues. “Female Viagra stimulates arousal in neurotransmitters in the brain, and it doesn’t control blood flow to the vagina in the way that Viagra does.”

Streicher emphasised that in her view, the drug is a net good; there are no severe side effects other than potential nausea, and individuals with high blood pressure are warned away. This is not to say, however, that the drug would be step one on a patient’s treatment plan. Libido, according to Streicher, is “multifactorial.”

Beyond the physiological, underlying causes of a lack of libido might include a history of trauma, medication, depression or stress; and treatments for HSDD only apply to women who actively want to address their lack of sexual desire. Vyleesi is not a perfect solution — according to Streicher, it won’t work for all women. But luckily, neither is it a coercive one.

Still, Dr. Sheena Hoffmann, a Chicago clinical psychologist, worried that the drug might interfere with the processes she ordinarily uses to examine and treat a lack of female sexual desire. During her training, Hoffman said, she learned a model of integrating emotional, nonsexual and sexual touch into struggling relationships.

The three prongs serve as steps that build upon each other, meaning that a woman should be heard emotionally before moving to physical touch, then should feel safe before moving to sexual touch. Too often, Hoffmann said, women are trained to see any physical contact from their partners as an initiation for sexual contact, which, she said, “cuts intimacy off at its knees.”

Taking a middle ground, Atkins likened the drug to treatments for depression. While some patients can function with a combination of therapy and lifestyle changes, others need medication. This discovery would, however, typically come after working with a therapist to address the root causes of the problem.

A woman who enjoys sex when she has it but never desires it, and is in an otherwise loving relationship, might be a good candidate for Vyleesi.

“We have to think about what are women bringing into relationships in terms of sexual expectations, body image,” Atkins said. “A pill just cannot fix all of it. But in the right situation, it definitely can help.”

Source: Chicago Tribune