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Do Women Really Need Female “Viagra”

It might surprise you, but for some women, the Ginuwine Pandora station and a quick vape are not enough to get in the mood. Surveys have estimated that about 10 percent of women have something called hypoactive sexual desire disorder. It was with this condition in mind that the Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved Addyi, the first prescription drug to enhance sex drive in women green-lighted by the agency. (Street names: “female Viagra,” “pink Viagra,” “girl boner in a bottle.”)

Created by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, Addyi, known generically as flibanserin, was engineered to treat women whose lack of libido is causing them distress. Sexual pleasure is a critical part of emotional health, the premise seems to be, and if you’re not able to give and receive it, your psychological and physical well-being may be at risk. And given that men have a whole host of available drugs to better their sex lives, it seems about time women got their own magic pill, right?

Interestingly, Addyi is actually the first approved drug to increase libido at all. The drugs aimed at men, Viagra and the like, are intended to help men achieve an erection, not to increase horniness. Also unlike Viagra, Addyi is not a pill one takes an hour before sex to get going, but rather must be taken daily, long term, in order to see results.

The big question is, of course, whether a lack of sexual libido in women is an actual medical condition that needs to be treated. Surely a low sex drive is just as normal and ultimately natural as a high one. (Of course the first sex drug for women is aimed to increase libido. I’m sure many men would like to “fix” this “problem” in their partners.) At the same time, sex is an important component of a healthy relationship, and without it your relationship could suffer tremendously; for these people, the pill may offer hope.

The other big question is whether the drug actually works. Many people are saying it doesn’t, or, at least, that it doesn’t work well enough. Several pharmaceutical giants have reportedly attempted to make and sell such a drug, including Pfizer (which produces Viagra), Bayer, and Procter & Gamble, but they ultimately abandoned their efforts. The FDA previously rejected Addyi itself twice, in 2010 and again in 2013, citing marginal effectiveness and considerable side effects, including nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, and fainting, which can lead to serious injuries.

Following the rejections, campaigns like Even the Score have argued that it’s sexist to have so many drugs for men on the market but none for women. Now that the drug has been approved, critics are saying that the FDA was pressured into green-lighting the drug by a feminist lobby, and that the drug’s negative effects outweigh the potential benefits. Particularly strong opposition is coming from Leonore Tiefer, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine, who told Time: “I am very opposed to the drug and have been since it first went to the FDA in 2010 and it was rejected. Then it was rejected a second time. The drug hasn’t changed, the data hasn’t changed, and my opinion hasn’t changed. I think it’s a disaster. It’s unsafe and it doesn’t work. That is all a drug is supposed to do. Work and be safe.”

In any case, the drug will come with a label warning doctors and patients that combining the pill with alcohol can cause dangerously low blood pressure, and thus fainting. Because the pill must be taken daily, women on the medication would have to be cool with being basically sober. (To whom I would ask: Maybe the reason that you’re never horny is because you’re never drunk?)

The drug will be available starting in October. Which means that, very soon, many women may be making a tough decision: Would you rather be able to drink or be sober and nauseous in exchange for a minimally heightened sex drive? Having more options for ways to increase desire is a positive thing. But you might try a vibrator before jumping to the meds.

Karley Sciortino writes the blog Slutever.