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A New Focus on Female Sexuality

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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."

So instead, she reduced the amount of medication she was taking for the panic disorder, and her sexual function has since improved.

Vasoactivate drugs such as Viagra continue to be studied in the U.S. to determine which women will most benefit from them, Jennifer Berman says. Maybe a drug like Viagra is not the same magic bullet for women as it is for some men, but perhaps in combination with other drugs or hormones, it may still have its place in the female sexual pharmacopia. Researchers also are looking at testosterone pills and creams for women.

In their clinic, the Bermans use actual physical measurements to help assess sexual problems. Jennifer Berman measures genital blood flow, vaginal pH (the pH increases with sexual stimulation), inner vaginal pressure changes, and how well the genitals perceive movement. Of the latter, she says that often, women complain of "feeling asleep" in their vaginas or labia.

These measurements are important because assuring a woman there is a physical reason for her lack of arousal or desire takes away the "it's all in your head" aspect.

When taking these measurements, the Bermans go so far as to choose erotic videos that are more appealing to women. Those shown to men usually have little if no effect, they say. The main difference, Laura Berman says, is "they actually have a plot."

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