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Can Medicine Boost Female Sex Drive?

Drugmakers are testing new drugs that may be able to produce increased sexual desire in women.
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What Is Desire? continued...

Another prominent sex researcher, Rosemary Basson, MD, of the University of British Columbia, Canada, agrees that the medical focus on desire is misplaced. Women and men "have multiple motivations to be sexual, and 'desire' -- as in urging 'lust,' 'horniness,' or 'drive' -- is only one of these reasons," she tells WebMD. Desire for sex can also be the desire to feel emotional closeness with someone, to please that person, or to feel attractive.

She points out that the definition of this "mental disorder" assumes that all women have a constant amount of sexual desire that is normal, like the pilot light of a stove. Just turn up the gas, and you're cooking. But there's no definition for what a normal level of desire is, so no one can say what's "low," Basson says.

Sometimes when the motive to have sex is something other than a physical drive, some women just can't get into it. "Even if she is trying to focus on any pleasurable feelings, her body is simply not responding and neither does her mind," Basson says. "It stands to reason that her motivation will sooner or later also drop." That's where she thinks medicine can help. It also happens to be the approach of researchers studying the drug bremelanotide.

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."

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