On flibanserin: The story of how low desire is stigmatized.

The FDA has approved drug flibanserin for use combating women’s low sex drive. At first, this seems almost like a victory for women’s sexual health. After all, Viagra and drugs like it have been around for a long time. However, there have been serious concerns raised by the drug across the board.

The first glaring issue lies with the name that has been ascribed to it. “Female Viagra.” Flibanserin does not do what Viagra does for men. Viagra lets you get your dick hard. Flibanserin is actually an anti-depressant that is designed to treat women’s brains in order to help them enjoy sex. Specifically, it treats hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), also referred to as inhibited sexual desire (ISD). And honestly, I have to wonder why they did not go ahead and create a drug that has a more immediate sexual effect. Maybe something to help women who have gone through menopause to self-lubricate, for example?

But the real problem for me lies in the diagnosis of HSDD in itself. Millions of women are diagnosed with it every year in this country. HSDD is defined by the University of Maryland Medical Center as:

…a low level of sexual interest. A person with ISD will not start, or respond to their partner’s desire for, sexual activity.

ISD can be primary (in which the person has never felt much sexual desire or interest), or secondary (in which the person used to feel sexual desire, but no longer does).

ISD can also relate to the partner (the person with ISD is interested in other people, but not his or her partner), or it can be general ( the person with ISD isn’t sexually interested in anyone). In the extreme form of sexual aversion, the person not only lacks sexual desire, but may find sex repulsive.

So I have a problem with this on a couple of levels.

First of all, if someone has a low level of sexual desire, it’s not necessarily a problem that needs to be fixed. Just like some people sweat more than others or don’t like loud music in the mornings, some people just aren’t focused on or interested in sexual activity.

The fact that HSDD is included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) stigmatizes low sex drive and makes it seem as though people who don’t want to have as much sex as others are somehow dysfunctional. They’re not. And treating them as if they are perpetuates the myth of their stigma in their intimate sexual relationships and can lead to all kinds of issues inter-personally as well as within themselves.

Honestly, it seems to me that, by stigmatizing low sex drive, we are making it so that people perceive themselves as somehow not good enough for their partners, which leads to them seeking psychological help rather than accepting that they might not necessarily ever have a high sex drive and looking for a partner who doesn’t demand copious amounts of sex from them.

The cherry on top of this suck sunday? The side effects. Viagra’s side effects are, for the most part fairly minor, including such things as dizziness, headache, flushing, or stomach upset, the side-effects of flibanserin include low blood pressure, nausea, and fainting. And, unlike Viagra, which is taken only when needed, flibanserin is, at it’s root, an anti-depressant and must be taken daily.

So thanks, FDA, for pretending that you actually give a fuck about research into the sexual health of women. It’s clear that you don’t. I hope that no one takes this drug and it winds up banished to the annuls of history like the shitty, exploitative, damaging product that it truly is.

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