Sexual Desire, the Sexes and the FDA

Flibanserin, "the little pink pill" 
Guest post by Elaine M. Decker, social artist and columnist

I’ve recently begun watching PBS's To The Contrary with Bonnie Erbe on Sundays after the political talk shows. Erbe often has provocative topics and interesting female guests. One episode that caught my attention highlighted an example of sexual discrimination at the FDA.
The panel discussed a new drug, Flibanserin, seeking FDA approval. It’s designed to treat female sexual desire dysfunction, or Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder as the medical community labels it.

Do not confuse this problem with Hyperactive SDD, aka nymphomania, for which the male-dominated pharmaceutical companies appear to have no inclination to research corrective medication. Hypoactive SDD (or simply HSDD from here forward) is commonly experienced by women of a certain age, especially those who are menopausal, but there are other causes as well. Let’s face it. Menopausal women have nothing on female caregivers when it comes to a reason to lose your sex drive.

The company that makes Flibanserin has resubmitted its application for FDA approval of the drug. That would be Sprout Pharmaceuticals, by the way, an evocative name if ever there was one. Their website describes their drug as “a novel, non-hormonal treatment that has shown promise.” The most interesting part of the discussion for me was that the first time out of the gate, the regulatory agency declined to approve the drug because of its side effects. These include sleepiness, nausea and dizziness.

Why did I find this so interesting (you may be wondering)? For two reasons. First, it’s ironic that a pill designed to heighten arousal would cause conditions that are even better than a headache to use as an excuse for not engaging in sex with your partner. Second, (and this is what the panel homed in on), the drug that treats male HSDD was easily approved, even though its side effects include stroke and sudden death. I guess the FDA believed men would feel it was worth it to die with a smile on their face.

One To The Contrary panelist noted that women have more complicated bodies and brains. Hence, the development of a drug for female HSDD would inevitably take longer. Francesca Chambers claimed: "It’s been more difficult to come up with drugs for women because women are different than men. And this is actually a good thing, a compliment to women.” Yeah, right. I’m always a tad suspicious of the word “different” when it’s used to categorize women vs. men. It usually sounds like “inferior” to me.

More likely the FDA rejection notice read: “Women are complicated. They don’t need medication. They just need more time to get aroused. Come back to us when you’ve figured out how to address that.” Don’t hold your breath. Note to the FDA: why not install a hotline for women who are caring for chronically ill parents and spouses to call you. They’ll be able to give you an earful on what needs to change in their lives if they’re ever going to want (or have time for) sex again.

I haven’t been able to find photos of Flibanserin online, but it’s often referred to as “the little pink pill.” One would expect that to be the color of choice for the female alternative to “the little blue pill.” What my search for pink pills did turn up were photos of OxyContin, Naproxen, Clonazepam and dozens of other drugs, including several brands of Lisinopril. This is scary, since that’s one of the most popular blood pressure medications, including my own.

Flibanserin should probably carry a warning for hypertension anyway. After all, one drug group wants to help you lower your blood pressure, while the other is trying to get your blood pumping. A contraindication if ever there was one. In any event, the “little” pink pill had better come in a distinctive shape, to distinguish it from other pink ones. No doubt some chauvinistic developer at Sprout will suggest making it a heart. That’s too corny to contemplate.

As a former marketing and product development executive, I believe I have the perfect shape for them: round with a hole in the center, like a Cheerio. I didn’t see anything like that in my search results. Moreover, Viagra looks a lot like an arrowhead. The little blue and pink pills would thus become symbolic of the sex act itself. I should get royalties for this idea. With my luck, they’ll offer me a lifetime supply of their meds. I’m feeling nauseous already.

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