Six years after Viagra revolutionized sexual ability for men, many women are still hoping for their turn. To date, the FDA hasn't approved a product to boost female sex drive.
It's no small problem. A low sex drive is the most common sexual complaint made by women -- up to 30% to 40% of them, according to Sandra Lieblum, PhD, director for the Center for Sexual and Relationship Health at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.
Throughout the ages, various potions and contraptions have pledged relief, but the discerning have wondered if the so-called remedies are truly love liniments, or merely snake oil.
Just because someone makes a claim about boosting female libido, it doesn't mean that it's true, says Beverly Whipple, PhD, RN, FAAN, vice president of the World Association for Sexology. "We have to make sure that the claim is being made on scientific evidence."
Yet, even if something appears to work in scientific research, there is the concern that just being part of a study to improve a women's sex drive might itself have a suggestive effect on libido; it's called a placebo effect.
"It has to do with women's expectancies and hope that any intervention will prove beneficial," says Lieblum, noting that anticipation can also change behavior. "Any woman who goes into a trial to improve libido is motivated to be more active."
The power of placebo is so strong that many health experts look only to double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to prove a product's effectiveness. In these studies, a group of subjects receive a real drug, while another set gets a dummy substance. Neither the researchers nor the participants know which the real medicine is.
Apply this criterion to the dozens of aphrodisiacs for women out there, and the number of suitable elixirs dwindles down to possibly one or two that work for some women. Even with the best of studies, expert opinion varies on what works best for female libido.
There is a consensus, however, on just how intricate female desire is. "Women's drive is so complex that biology is only one factor that drives sex drive," says Jean Koehler, PhD, a licensed family and marriage therapist in Louisville, Ky., and past president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.