Medical: New drugs aim to make women feel sexier
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in women is a matter of much debate
Scripps Howard News Service
One of the more dubious notions presented in all the ads for erectile-dysfunction drugs aired lo these many years — motorcycle-riding, soaking tubs in the wild or dancing up the stairs toward the bedroom — is that the women are always interested in having sex.
For millions of women, the right moment might well be — never.
Whether this represents a medical problem that can be corrected remains much in debate and a multibillion-dollar issue for pharmaceutical companies hoping to bring a "cure" to market.
While it's easy to oversimplify the situation, sexual dysfunction for men has pretty much been defined as a physiological problem with blood flow, often addressed by assorted techniques, devices or pills.
For women, medical science seems well on the way to deciding that the chief obstacle to sexual interest, if not performance, is in the brain.
Officially, it's classified as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), and the condition has been getting lots of attention in various women's magazines and Web sites, and the general media is flush with the thought of a little blue pill for women.
Still, the notion that 10 percent to 20 percent of women suffer from low sexual desire to the point that it represents a mental disorder is viewed with suspicion by many sex therapists, who see countless reasons for women not to be in the mood, from poor health to stress to issues with weight or body image, to name a few. And guys can suffer from the same mood-breakers.
Scientists have been studying the brain as sexual organ for at least 50 years, although only with advances in brain-imaging techniques have they begun to peer into specific structures to see what regions light our fires. Recent research has focused, for instance, on regions of the brain involved in self-awareness being suppressed in women complaining of low sexual desire.
Researchers have been looking for ways to flip the switches of desire for several decades now, with solutions ranging from electrical stimulation to hormone injections. Although testosterone is usually associated with male sexuality, women produce it, and respond to it, as well, and both sexes produce less of it with age.
The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any drugs to counter low libido in women, but doctors have been writing off-label prescriptions for various testosterone pills, creams and gels to the tune of about $2 million a year.
An Illinois drugmaker, BioSante Pharmaceuticals, has been doing clinical trials of a testosterone gel it calls LibiGel to treat HSDD in postmenopausal women, reporting last year that women taking the drug had three more "sexually satisfying events" per month than did women who were given an inactive form of the gel. "Sexually satisfying events" can range from actually having sex to simply being aroused or having fantasies, researchers say.
LibiGel trials continue to meet FDA goals for safety tests, and the company hopes to apply for approval to market the drug later this year.
A second drug is being developed by German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim, which also happens to be underwriting assorted efforts to raise HSDD awareness. The drug is called, for now, flibanserin, and it is thought to work by reducing serotonin levels in the brain, essentially reducing signals from areas of the brain that inhibit feeling desire.
So far, the drug trials have focused on pre-menopausal women (average age 35) in long-term relationships who have been diagnosed with HSDD. Using several scales, the company reported this week that North American women taking the drug experienced an increase of slightly more than one event per month versus women taking a placebo, and that they felt this change represented a "meaningful benefit"to them.
However, there was no significant difference between those getting the active drug or a placebo among women in a European trial reported last fall.
If the drugs are approved for market, no doubt many women will try them. But like millions of men who have tried erectile-dysfunction drugs, many may also find that the prescription for romance is more complex than advertised.
Contact Lee Bowman at BowmanL@shns.com
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