March 4, 2010

A Little Pink Pill? Medicalizing Women’s Sexuality

Women's sexual response is one of the latest things to be medicalized by the pharmaceutical industry...find out what this is doing to women's sexuality.

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Rates of women’s sexual problems vary depending on the study methodology and the type of sexual problem (ranging anywhere from 5% to 43%). However, one thing is clear, many women are experiencing sexual problems and many have been left to wonder “where is our little blue pill?”

Scientific Evidence

As one would expect, after the success that came from treating erectile dysfunction in men with Sildenafil Citrate, commonly known as Viagra (more than 17 million men in the USA alone have prescriptions for this drug and it brings billions of dollars to pharmaceutical industry), researchers began searching for a female version of the little blue pill. The effect of this particular drug has been studied in women with mixed results.

A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that Sildenafil Citrate does not directly improve women’s sexual desire and orgasmic problems, yet a study conducted by researchers in California found that it does. The main difference between these two studies was that the one with positive findings was financially supported by a number of pharmaceutical companies. This is one glaring example of why it is important to be skeptical of research conducted that may involve some conflicts of interest, particularly when a great deal of profit is at stake.

Research has also been conducted to find an alternate drug to treat women’s sexual problems, again with mixed (but potentially biased) results. Overall, there has been little scientific evidence to suggest that a pharmaceutical solution to women’s sexual desire, arousal, or orgasm problems exists. That doesn’t mean pharmaceutical-sponsored research will not continue to search for this type of solution to women’s sexual problems.

The New View

The New View of Women’s Sexual Problems is a group of professionals that has been formed in response to the medicalization of women’s sexuality. Their slogan is “sex for our pleasure or their profit?” There are books and a website available that contain valuable information about this movement and women’s sexual problems.

The New View supports the idea that women’s sexual problems are more than medical. They have to be taken in the context of sociocultural factors, partner and relational factors, psychological factors, and physical factors.

This multidimensional view of women’s sexuality results in a much more holistic approach to sexual problems. Certainly some women may benefit from a pharmaceutical solution, but it is unrealistic to think that a pill can be used to solve a problem that may stem from something unrelated to physiological response.

For more on the process of medicalization, watch:

Big Bucks, Big Pharma: Marketing Disease & Pushing Drugs

For more information on the New View’s response to the medicalization of women’s sexuality by Leonore Tiefer, Ph.D. (one of the leading advocates for the New View and co-editor of the book “The New View of Women’s Sexual Problems”), check out this video.