Why No Pill Can Make Women Want More Sex

Let's talk about sex!
Image via Wikipedia

If only.

Life would be so much simpler if all those women who only vaguely remember the last time they had sex could just pop a pill, as the makers of flibanserin, aka female Viagra, are so hoping.

Every woman knows it’s not that quick or easy.

Loved this example from a story in The New York Times:

Boehringer has also sponsored medical education classes for doctors and nurses about hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

In one course, released online in May, a quiz asked doctors to diagnose the condition of a 42-year-old working mother who takes care of three children and her own sick mother, and who had no desire for sex. (Her husband is mentioned only in passing.)

The correct answer? Schedule a follow-up visit to evaluate whether she has diagnosable hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

Gotta love the dogged persistence of Boehringer-Ingelheim, makers of such popular drugs as Mirapex (about which I wrote, whose bizarre side effects can cause sexual addiction). Think of all those frustrated, sex-less women dying for the Big O. Profit city!

Truth is, you can pop a fistful of pills and still lie there dead to the world….because, reality intrudes. Recession, unemployment, underemployment (yours, your kids’, your spouse’s or partner’s), college tuition bills, kids back home after college, your illness, your spouse and/or parents’ illnesses…

None of which makes you want to rip off your panties and chase your man around the bedroom. Many men these days are so whipped from even trying to keep their job, let alone find a new one, they’re not up for much either.

And, like it or not, some men are simply really lousy in bed. Their wives married them and some stay with them — for the kids, for the emotional security, for the lifestyle, for the companionship. But not, sad to say, for their horizontal abilities. (When in doubt about women’s ability to pretend everything’s great in bed to soothe male egos, rent “When Harry Met Sally” and watch her faking an orgasm in a very public place.)

No pill can make a man into a better lover. So a pill that rewires a woman’s brain to want more sex basically gives sexually lame men a Hail Mary pass, ignoring the deadening effect of their too-fast, too-slow, inept or inattentive lovemaking. Great!

19 thoughts on “Why No Pill Can Make Women Want More Sex

  1. I’m not sure it’s fair to blame the nearest man any time a woman is experiencing some sexual dysfunction. Sure, there are reasons a woman may be too busy or tired for sexual activity (but too stressed? Sex is great for stress.) But if a woman actually isn’t overworked, underemployed, run ragged by her kids, and has an entire stable of perfectly awesome lovers lined up at her door and still can’t summon any arousal due to some organic pathology, then surely there’s a place for pharmacology there?

    I mean, by your argument we might have just as easily dismissed Viagra by saying “men don’t experience sexual dysfunction; it’s just that their 50-year-old wives aren’t very sexy.” Partners of people experiencing sexual dysfunction already grapple with unfair feelings of inadequacy. Maybe we could not pile it up on them?

  2. Ms. Kelly,

    It is important to note that Viagra does not increase the male sex drive, it causes a physical reaction in the blood vessels of the penis to allow the tissues there to become engorged with blood, i.e. become erect. A man with no sex drive can take Viagra and get an erection, he just won’t want to anything with it.

    I mention this not just to be pedantic, although of course I do enjoy being pedantic, but because it illustrates the tremendous confusion and complexity of human sexual response. You are entirely correct that there can be many reasons men and women may have reduced libido. However there are people who have adequate libido but are unable to become physically aroused. There are who can become physically aroused but unable to achieve organism. There are people who are physically aroused and capable of achieving orgasm but may or may not be psychologically aroused.

    There may indeed be a class of people who should otherwise be able to be sexually aroused but for some biochemical imbalance cannot be. Maybe for them some little pink pill is indeed the solution. However, there are so many other things that can produce the same symptom but not have the same bio-chemical basis, that the pill would be useless.

    Like so many other situations, it is so easy to just prescribe a pill instead of understanding the underlying problem.

  3. One of these days, I can only hope, we will stop messing with our hormones and brains and remember that people get old, men lose testosterone after awhile, woman lose interest sometimes, and that it is a perfectly NATURAL process. How does that saying go? Don’t &%$# with Mother Nature? Keep tinkering with a woman’s sex drive and she’ll fulfill her needs; it just won’t be with the man who thinks she needs to be tinkered with.

    1. jake brodsky

      Well, I suppose that we should just expect people to lose their hair when they grow old. I suppose we should expect to gain weight, have vision problems and all that. And while we’re at it, let’s just do away with cosmetic surgery.

      The point is that these things can enable people to feel better about themselves, to make life more interesting, and to keep a youthful outlook.

      It is a good cause. However, we’re playing with the fires of brain chemistry here. This drug may end up being very similar to a chemical “love potion.” If and when it is discovered, I expect that it will be abused right away.

      The very thought creeps me out…

    2. Diseases like AIDS, smallpox and cancer are “natural”, too. It’s fairly natural to die in childbirth. For that matter, non-life-threatening conditions, like gingivitis and tooth decay are natural, too (naturally speaking, you’re not meant to survive into adulthood with even most of your teeth.)

      Maybe we should remind you to not fuck with Mother Nature when you’re about to step foot in a hospital or dentist’s office?

      People are playing this like it’s nothing but an issue of addressing men’s needs. But women want to have sex, too! I know, it sounds unbelievable. But true story! Amazingly there are even women called “lesbians” who want to have sex with each other, with no men involved at all.

      Inability to generate arousal isn’t a self-correcting problem, contrary to what some are saying. People want to have sex even when they’re not aroused – they may not want to have sex just then, but they want sex to be a part of their lives. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I think it is unreasonable to tell people with a sexual dysfunction “huh, sorry, we’re not even going to try to fix what’s wrong with you, you’re old and ugly and bald and therefore you deserve it. I guess you’re fucked. Or, actually, not fucked.”

    3. Hello Suzanna Stracener,

      Sex is what separates us from the animals. No other species of animal on Earth has nearly as much sex as do human beings. Every other species only has sex, by which I mean intercourse until orgasm, when they are ready to conceive (“in heat”, “in rut”, &c). When the female is ready to get pregnant she may have lots of sex but once she does get pregnant (or not conceive and goes out of estrus) she will not have sex again until she is again in estrus. Similarly, males do not have sex except when arouse by the signals, including but not limited to pheromones, sent out by females in estrus. Indeed, human beings are the only species where it is really difficult to determine if the female is even in estrus, in most species it is very clear and all females are in estrus at the same time.

      Human beings are in almost constant state of “sexual preparedness” and generally have sex if they can at just about any time or place. Sexuality is somehow central to what makes human beings unique in the world. It is an extremely important aspect of most human beings lives. Many older people report that when their libido has gone, they very much miss having it. Not even necessarily sexual intercourse itself, just the libido, the sexual energy, that sense of the possibility of sex. Sex is a really big deal for human beings. There is just no way around it, it is very important to peoples sense of who they are.

      There are whole industries and professions built around this very human desire. Maybe that is bad, maybe it is good but either way it is a fact of life that cannot be ignored.

    4. voxoctopi

      I’d certainly hope it wasn’t with the tinkerers; if these scientists were having sex with their subjects it’d be a gross ethics violation.

      Natural processes aren’t always right. It’s natural for a third of babies to die in childbirth, and for us to die before we hit 40, but because we are willing to tinker with nature we have longer, happier, more fulfilling lives with less unnecessary heartbreak. Thinking that Mother Nature knows best is called the “naturalistic fallacy” and I pray that no one who could benefit from medicine (including this medicine, if it’s ever made useful) makes that mistake.

  4. Caitlin Kelly

    “But if a woman actually isn’t overworked, underemployed, run ragged by her kids, and has an entire stable of perfectly awesome lovers lined up at her door and still can’t summon any arousal due to some organic pathology, then surely there’s a place for pharmacology there?”

    Justin, sure, if a woman wants to pop a pill, who I am — if not the FDA? — to stop her? Let’s be slightly more realistic and assume that very few of us, at any age or quality of employment, have access to an entire stable of perfectly awesome lovers — its address, please?!
    I resent the idea that a pill is a panacea.

    As women know (and men often hate) the key sexual organ for a woman’s sexual arousal is not genital — but her brain. Is she happy? Relaxed? Feeling happy in her body and size and accepted and valued by her partner? That’s a long enough list as it is.

    I hate the word “dysfunction.” Let’s reframe it — and de-mediicalize it — and call it by perhaps its much more truthful (but less marketable) name – frustration! If you don’t want sex (and yes, good sex is very stress relieving) you’re probably pretty fed up without the lovely release of a regular orgasm. But this also makes me wonder if these women are trying (or not) masturbation so they can have some fun.

    David, all good points.

    Suzanna, I agree. The focus of the pharma guys is on pre-menopausal women, so the menopausal plummeting interest (it’s said) in sex is not at issue here.

    Sex indeed was once top of my mind. Given the state of the economy and my health and that of my aging parents, not so much.

    I also think “sex” is a pretty vague term.

    1. I resent the idea that a pill is a panacea.

      I’m not saying it is, but you seem completely dismissive to the idea that a pill is any help at all.

      I assume people are smart enough to not identify sexual dysfunction until they’ve exhausted the other possibilities (including exhaustion.) Especially given the stigma attached to sexual dysfunctions. Men with ED frequently begin by saying “oh, I’m just tired”, “it happens to every guy sometimes”, “I’m sure I’ll be ready next time”, “we just need some time away to relax”, and the like. Seeking a diagnosis of an actual organic dysfunction is almost literally the last resort.

      As women know (and men often hate) the key sexual organ for a woman’s sexual arousal is not genital — but her brain.

      I’m down with that. But to say that something is in “the brain” is not the same as saying that it’s all in the mind. For one thing – those are the same thing. Depression is more than just feeling sad – frequently it has a physical, organic basis. Even if the source of the depression is a life circumstance, the feeling creates a physical reality. (The function of arousal is probably the most immediate example of the physical consequences of a purely mental phenomenon.)

      The brain is a sex organ, sure – but more importantly it’s an organ, and its dysfunction can frequently have a physical basis.

      I hate the word “dysfunction.” Let’s reframe it — and de-mediicalize it — and call it by perhaps its much more truthful (but less marketable) name – frustration!

      But that’s not what we’re talking about. You’re conflating two phenomena that are actually very different. Men who experience erectile dysfunction aren’t “frustrated” – well, I suppose they are as a result of their ED – they’re not stressed out, they’re not run ragged by their kids, they’re not distracted or saddled with incompetent, uninspiring lovers – they have an organic disorder that prevents physical arousal, just as some women do.

      Those people don’t need a vacation, they don’t need a sitter, they surely don’t need a bunch of blame dumped on their equally-suffering partner – they need treatment for their physical, medical condition.

      But this also makes me wonder if these women are trying (or not) masturbation so they can have some fun.

      This simply isn’t an avenue for women with actual, physical dysfunction, much like how masturbation isn’t an avenue for men with ED. The problem isn’t that the sex in their lives isn’t very arousing, the problem is a physical condition that prevents arousal.

  5. geekysarah

    This brings me back to the study published last month about the effect of oral contraceptives on a woman’s libido:


    One of the demographics of women who got bad side effects from the ‘make me horny’ pill are the one who take such oral contraceptives. So my take away from this whole thing is that if you want to have control over your reproduction and still have a great sex life, the pills would make them somewhat mutually exclusive. That sucks no matter how you look at it.

  6. Caitlin Kelly

    jake, that’s my point.

    When I wrote about Mirapex — a drug made by the same manufacturer who is now pushing flibanserin — I learned a lot about brain chemistry and what happens when you stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain, in that case boosting dopamine production which allows Parkinsons’ patients to move freely again.

    But a small number of people taking Mirapex also suffered the most bizarre, uncontrollable and confusing side effects — addictions to shopping, gambling and sex — all things that made them feel good, normally, but with the dopamine added to their brain chemistry became totally compulsive. I’ve reported many stories in my career, and this is one of the most scary and haunting. I saw the emotional and financial damage to the women I interviewed.

    Brain chemistry is not to be messed with! If things go wrong, as they can, it’s not nearly as clear why or when, to the patient or the physician.

    Sarah, depressing indeed.

  7. Caitlin Kelly

    Giles, I get it! I have been a medical writer so I am quite aware what Viagra does and what it is used for. It helps a man obtain and sustain an erection.

    I am also very aware that some men can’t get an erection because they have diabetes or pre-diabetes and this is affecting their circulation. I am quite aware of medical issues affecting sexuality and its physical expression.

    As much as you think I am dismissing your arguments (when I am not) I am still not thrilled with any hugely profitable rush to medicate women into wanting sex when the many complex and inter-related reasons they have little interest are likely *not* serotonin based.

    Everyone knows that a lack of interest in sex (or anything pleasurable) is one symptom of depression. I am not dismissing that.

  8. Caitlin Kelly

    voxoctopi, what’s what everyone thinking I am opposed to Western medicine or the use of any pharmaceutical aids to health and longevity? I said nothing of the sort and recently spent six weeks on very powerful oral steroids, so I’m hardly anti-medicine. If it helps, great.

    I *am* anti women’s sexuality being messed with for profit. But, hey, it works.

  9. Caitlin Kelly

    Justin, I love your name…If I ever had a son, I’d name him St. John (Sinjun) which is probably why I never had one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s