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A New Focus on Female Sexuality

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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).

One of the biggest problems in treating female sexual dysfunction is the fact that so many factors are involved -- the physical aspect, relationship issues, self-esteem issues. "You can't just send a woman home with medication," Jennifer Berman says.

This may be one reason why Viagra does not seem to hold the same promise for women as it does for men. But in their research, the Bermans say, they have found that Viagra does work well for a certain group of women, especially those who don't suffer from syndromes associated with chronic sexual abuse.

They studied 35 women, 23% of whom had unresolved sexual abuse issues, and assessed them in terms of vaginal lubrication, quality of sensation, ability to reach orgasm, and sexual satisfaction. Viagra appeared to bring about improvements in all areas in 60% of the women who had no unresolved problems related to abuse, and in 29% of those with chronic abuse issues.

Still, the drug is not for everyone. A 48-year-old New York health writer, who spoke to WebMD on condition of anonymity, had a bad experience.

"I have panic disorder, so I take medications for that, and as a side effect of that medication, I experience delayed orgasm," she tells WebMD. Her doctor suggested Viagra in pill form.

"So I tried it," she says. "It was a very unpleasant experience. My blood pressure dropped. I got a killer headache, and my face turned bright red, and I had panic attacks -- all without an orgasm."

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