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A New Focus on Female Sexuality

By Candace Hoffman
WebMD Health News

June 9, 2000 -- It made her feel as tingly as a high school girl, says the 44-year-old New York marketing executive.

The executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says she tried a topical Viagra cream because she sometimes experiences periods of lower sexual desire. The cream is applied 15 to 20 minutes before intercourse, and the result is "a tingly sensation in the vaginal area," she tells WebMD. "It made me feel like I was back in high school -- very erotic and arousing."

The idea that Viagra might be able to help women, following on the heels of its much-touted success in men, is bringing the topic of female sexual dysfunction out of the closet and into everyday conversation. So is the medical tag team of Laura and Jennifer Berman, PhD and MD respectively, who are helping to shatter the myth that women do not have the same sort of sexual responses, needs, and problems with desire and arousal as men do.

The Berman sisters have made television appearances on Larry King Live and other talk shows, and are often quoted in newspaper and magazine articles about female sexuality. At the annual Congress on Women's Health and Gender-Based Medicine, held recently in Hilton Head, S.C., they spoke about their recent work and women's sexual issues in general.

Laura Berman is a sex therapist who, with her sister, Jennifer, a urologist at the Women's Sexual Health Clinic at Boston University Medical Center in Boston, is exploring both the physical and psychological aspects of low sexual desire.

A recent survey looking at women ages 18 to 59 showed that 43% of women have complaints about sexual function, Laura Berman says. She tells WebMD that women need to tell their physicians when they feel that their sexual functioning is not what it should be.

"[If] it's something that's missing for them, they should ask their physicians about it -- whether it's complaints of lack of interest, whether it's lack of arousal, sensation, not being able to reach an orgasm, or the intensity of the orgasm," she says. This is especially true if the woman's sex life was OK before and suddenly changed.

Low desire, sometimes called hypoactive sexual desire disorder, is one of women's most common sexual complaints. To be considered a medical problem, according to the American Foundation of Urologic Diseases, this lack of desire must be "persistent and pervasive" and cause a woman personal distress. This last point, Laura Berman says, is most important -- "in other words, one woman's inadequate orgasm is another woman's dream orgasm."

The Bermans have been looking at what they say is a subset of low sexual desire -- low arousal disorder, which they define as an inability to achieve adequate lubrication, swelling, and sensation (separate from orgasm).

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