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Drug May Boost Women's Sexual Desire

Study Shows Flibanserin Increases Satisfying Encounters for Women With Low Libido

How Flibanserin Works

Exactly how flibanserin improves sexual desire isn't known for sure. "We think it modulates neurotransmitters involved in sexual functioning," says Michael Sand, PhD, MPH, director of clinical research and team leader, flibanserin, for Boehringer Ingelheim.

''It interacts with [neurotransmitters] serotonin and dopamine in the central nervous system," Thorp says.

Originally studied as an antidepressant by Boehringer Ingelheim, the drug didn't prove effective for depression. But when researchers noticed reports of improved sexual desire in some participants, the research changed focus.

As for critics, Thorp acknowledges that ''there are multiple criticisms [of the studies] that are justifiable. One is the whole measurement issue and how do you quantify an objective response? That's particularly hard when the disorder is subjective."

He notes, too, that the placebo group also saw improvement. "There was a big placebo effect,'' he says, noting that attention from a concerned doctor may also contribute to improvement in the sexual functioning of women with HSDD.

Second Opinion

"The data look good," says Kathleen Segraves, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a sex therapist who reviewed the data for WebMD. "But only clinical experience and actual practice will reveal how clinically useful the effect is."

Case Western Reserve was one of the U.S. study sites for flibanserin, but Segraves was not involved in the study.

The real world, she says, is different from clinical trials. For instance, in the study, each woman kept an e-diary to assess her level of desire daily. That exercise may have kept women focused on the problem, Segraves says, and perhaps more motivated.

To call flibanserin the female Viagra, however, is incorrect, she says. "Viagra is a vasodilator. It only makes the penis hard, it doesn't work on the desire of a man. It may give him more confidence. It gives him a reliable erection. It inflates the penis. He still needs to have desire."

The differences in the number of satisfying sexual encounters may seem small, Segraves says. But it would probably not be considered small by the women who have the condition, she says.

"You have to remember these women have lost desire over time and for some time. You have to remember these women [with no sexual desire] are very distressed by it. If you go from zero to one, you're pleased as punch, because you were flat-lining before."

Some wonder if developing a pharmaceutical for women’s lagging desire is more about business than pleasure. "We need to address multiple factors that underlie sexual desire," says Gina Ogden, PhD, a sex therapist in Cambridge, Mass., and author of The Return of Desire.  Of the development of flibanserin, she says: "I think the focus is more to line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies than to address the real and multiple factors involved in women's sexual desire." A woman's desire, says Ogden, is influenced by many factors, including her feelings about sex, what sex means to her, and what types of intimacy she prefers.

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