Of fe­male de­sire

Could a fe­male ver­sion of Vi­a­gra re­ally un­lock the se­crets of the fem­i­nine li­bido?


Fa decade and a half, Vi­a­gra has helped OR OVER re­vive the flag­ging sex­ual ca­reers of many an im­po­tent man. Buoyed by its soar­ing suc­cess (it raked in US $1.7 bil­lion in 2014), mod­ern-day druids have been try­ing to brew a po­tion that would like­wise give back a woman her lost mojo.

So far, there is none in the mar­ket. Vi­a­gra was tried on women but in vain, as re­searchers re­alised that the fe­male li­bido is more mys­te­ri­ous and less tractable—it lies more in the mind than in the loins. Two drugs, Ly­brido and Ly­bri­dos, which tempt Eros by teas­ing both body and mind, have shown im­pres­sive re­sults, but they aren’t ready for the mar­ket yet.

How­ever, ear­lier this month, an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee of the US Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (fda) rec­om­mended the ap­proval of Flibanserin. If ap­proved, it might be­come the first li­bidopill for women to hit the mar­ket. Flibanserin is not ex­actly the “fe­male Vi­a­gra”. Erec­tile dys­func­tion is not about lack of de­sire; it’s more of a plumb­ing glitch, which can be fixed by rush­ing a flood of blood to the des­ic­cated mem­ber, which is pre­cisely what Vi­a­gra does. Flibanserin, on the other hand, kin­dles sex­ual de­sire by tweak­ing the bal­ance be­tween two mol­e­cules in the brain: dopamine, which cre­ates im­pulse and ex­cite­ment, and sero­tonin, which cre­ates calm and in­hi­bi­tion. An im­bal­ance be­tween the two could swing the pen­du­lum of de­sire to ei­ther ex­treme. The com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion was greeted with joy by a band of fem­i­nists called Even the Score (backed, in­ci­den­tally, by Sprout Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, the devel­oper of Flibanserin), who be­lieve that women, like men, should have ac­cess to drugs like Vi­a­gra in or­der to im­prove their sex lives.

Not ev­ery­one’s happy.For one, the pill’s abil­ity to stoke lust is less than mid­dling—while it in­creased the num­ber of “sex­u­ally sat­is­fy­ing events” by about one per month, its per­ceived im­pact on sex­ual de­sire was even more dis­ap­point­ing. Be­sides, Flibanserin comes with sig­nif­i­cant risks—low blood pres­sure, faint­ing, nau­sea and dizzi­ness, which are even higher for women who drink al­co­hol and are on the con­tra­cep­tive pill. For these rea­sons, fda had re­jected Flibanserin twice in the past.

So what ex­plains the com­mit­tee’s change of heart this time? Ap­par­ently, mem­bers of Even the Score in­sin­u­ated them­selves into the hear­ing and evoked the jury’s sym­pa­thy by paint­ing a sorry pic­ture of women suf­fer­ing from Fe­male Sex­ual In­ter­est/Arousal Dis­or­der (fsiad), as it’s called in med­i­cal par­lance. Whether Flibanserin will even the score will be known only on Au­gust 18 when fda takes the fi­nal de­ci­sion. Mean­while, me­di­as­cape is aflut­ter with ageold de­bates about the na­ture of fem­i­nine de­sire. What arouses it? What douses it? In what ways is fe­male de­sire dif­fer­ent from male de­sire? Is it sim­ply a prod­uct of the com­plex alchemy of the mind, or is it, as many scholars posit, a so­cial con­struct? Or is it a tango be­tween for­eign stim­uli and an im­pres­sion­able mind?

Many cu­ri­ous minds—Freud, Jung, Roland Barthes, Ger­maine Greer, Mar­i­lyn French, and of late, neu­ro­sci­en­tists—have tried to il­lu­mine the dark cave of fem­i­nine de­sire. How­ever, it con­tin­ues to elude com­pre­hen­sion. For in­stance, no one knows why de­sire fades in women while it con­tin­ues to throb in men.Is lack of in­ti­macy the trig­ger or, con­versely, does wan­ing de­sire cause in­dif­fer­ence? Per­haps it’s a cer­tain weari­ness or in­com­pre­hen­sion of the world.Or it could be the loss of a cher­ished idea about love.

In short, there is no dearth of the­o­ries and ther­a­pies based on them. Anx­i­eties about lack of de­sire are not easily as­suaged by sug­ges­tions like “it is fine to feel asex­ual some­times”, or that de­sire does wane with age. This, per­haps, ex­plains the lure of the pill and its vo­cal endorsement. In­deed, why bother so much about the in­tri­cate rea­sons be­hind flag­ging de­sire, when one can sim­ply pop a pill and celebrate the re­turn of Eros.


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