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Helping Women Get In the Mood

WebMD Health News

Dec. 20, 2001 -- Thanks to Viagra, millions of men now have a new lease on their sex lives. Alas, millions of women still aren't in the mood.

Studies suggest that almost half of women in the U.S. suffer from some type of sexual dysfunction, with low libido (or sex drive) at the top of list. Their therapeutic options are few, but that may soon change thanks to a growing number of researchers studying female sexual complaints.

In the past, women seeking medical help for sexual problems were likely to be told that it was all in their heads or that they needed to relax. But the perception that female sexual dysfunction is wholly psychological has changed.

Early last year, a classification system for female sexual dysfunction was adopted which includes four diagnostic categories -- hypoactive sexual desire, or low libido; sexual arousal disorder; orgasmic disorder; and sexual pain disorder.

"The categories will help define research, but there is still a lot of overlap between them," sex researcher and therapist Laura Berman, PhD, tells WebMD. "Most women seek help for low libido, but the truth is there could be all kinds of things going on that cause her to feel she has no interest in sex."

Berman co-founded the Female Sexual Medicine Center at the UCLA Medical Center with her sister Jennifer Berman, MD, who is a urologist. The sisters are among the leading researchers of female sexual issues and recently published a book on the subject titled For Women Only: A Revolutionary Guide to Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction and Reclaiming Your Sex Life.

Berman says low sex drive may stem from emotional issues, relationship issues, inability to reach orgasm, decreased vaginal and clitoral sensitivity, lack of lubrication, hormonal imbalance, or a host of other issues. Many women lose interest in sex or lose the ability to become aroused at the onset of menopause, and also experience sexual problems following hysterectomy and other pelvic surgeries.

At present, the only approved treatment for female sexual dysfunction is a sexual aide marketed under the name Eros-CTD. The handheld device provides suction to the clitoris and promotes engorgement and lubrication.

Studies evaluating the effectiveness of Viagra in women have been contradictory, but Berman says a widely publicized study finding it to be ineffective was poorly designed.

"Viagra definitely has a role for a certain population of women, namely those who experienced satisfying sexual response at one time but lost that satisfaction due to physiologic reasons," she says. "They feel good enough about themselves and their bodies and the person they are with, but they still have difficulty becoming aroused."

Although not approved for female sexual dysfunction, the hormone testosterone is increasingly being prescribed in both its oral form and as a topical cream. Testosterone is the hormone that makes men men But women have the hormone, too, in smaller amounts. Increasing testosterone levels is tricky, Berman says, because there is no clear consensus on what constitutes low testosterone in women. Topical nitroglycerin creams are also being studied in women who experience pain during sex.

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