Can Medicine Boost Female Sex Drive?
Drugmakers are testing new drugs that may be able to produce increased sexual desire in women.
What Is Desire? continued...
Michael A. Perelman, PhD, is a consultant involved in the clinical trials on
bremelanotide and co-director of the Human Sexuality Program at Presbyterian
Hospital and Weil-Cornell Medical School in New York City. He explains how the
drug might work in terms of setting the "tipping point" for sexual
arousal lower. He thinks the drug should be used together with counseling to
help with emotional problems that inhibit desire.
"I'm interested in helping people respond more to the right kind of
stimulation from the right person when that's just not happening naturally for
them, in the way that they would like, or that it used to," he says.
The Market for Desire
If one of these drugs eventually wins approval, the drugmaker probably spend
millions to advertise it. it's hard to imagine that it would be discretely
recommended by licensed sex therapists as part of a comprehensive approach to
women's sexual problems. Instead, ads will urge women to "ask your doctor
if it's right for you."
Millions may go ahead and do that.
"I think it's impossible that it won't sell a lot," Tiefer says.
"I don't see any way around it."
The size of the potential market for these drugs is debatable because
estimates of how many women could be diagnosed with the disorder vary widely.
Would you believe up to 43% of women have low sexual desire? That figure comes
from a survey published in the January/February 2005 issue of the
International Journal of Impotence Research. It got a lot of play in the
early publicity for Intrinsa, and it is still cited often. Those offering it as
evidence of a vast epidemic have been sharply criticized, however. The survey
from which it came asked women if they ever lacked interest in sex but not
whether it caused them any distress. The survey also found that lack of
interest in sex was linked to age and depression.
Other research has come up with different numbers. Survey results published
in 2003 in the British Medical Journal show that about 10% of English
women reported "lack of interest in sex" lasting at least six months in
the past year.
A survey by John Bancroft, PhD, former director of the Kinsey Institute,
published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003, asked women not
only if they lacked interest in sex, but also if it caused them distress
personally or if it caused distress in their relationship. About 7% of the
women reported having "no sexual thoughts" in the past month, but less
than 3% said they didn't think about sex and felt distress because of it.
On the one hand, it's probably not true that nearly half of all women have
sexual dysfunction. But on the other hand, sexual problems are not wholly
invented by the pharmaceutical industry.
"It's really important to recognize that people really do suffer,"
says Lisa Schwartz, MD, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover,
N.H., who researches harms vs. benefits in medical treatment. "It's just a
question about what the solution to that suffering is, how to acknowledge that
suffering in a way that's helpful -- and it's not necessarily by putting it in
the medical care system."