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Female Viagra: Is there a need for it?

Posted on 17 September 2015 .
Tags: ELSA, sex, sexual function

Last month the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ‘female Viagra’. The pill, marketed under the name ‘Addyi’, is designed to treat women who suffer from Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), a flagging or absent libido, an issue typically linked with premenopausal women or those aged 45-65. The drug, expected to be worth $1 billion (£640m) to Valeant Pharmaceuticals following their acquisition of the product, is likely to be available in the US at certified pharmacies and prescribers before the end of 2015.

The number of prescriptions for Viagra (and generic versions of the drug) among men has almost doubled in the past decade, but how likely is it that a little pink pill would be welcomed by English women?

We know quite a lot about older women who suffer from HSDD from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. In Wave 6 (2012/2013) of the survey a set of questions on sexual health and wellbeing, including questions on frequency, enjoyment and desire for sexual activity were introduced. We found that one in three (33%) women aged 50-59 felt their libido had decreased in the previous year and one in four (25%) felt their ability to become sexually aroused had also lessened during this period. However, ELSA shows that men tend to be more concerned about losing their sex drive than women, so we may not see the same demand for Addyi as we did for Viagra.

What’s the catch?

Although it’s known as the ‘female Viagra’, Addyi works in a very different way. Unlike Viagra, which can be taken as needed before engaging in sexual activity, Addyi must be taken every day. It was initially rejected twice by the FDA for lack of effectiveness and side effects including dizziness, fatigue and nausea and users are recommended to abstain from drinking alcohol.

What are the alternatives to a medication of this kind?

ELSA finds that poorer health is associated with lower levels of sexual activity and desire, so an improvement in general health may help to boost libido without the need of the little pink pill. And the NHS recommends treating low sexual desire in menopausal women by improving general well-being and energy levels.

Of course every situation is different and a GP can recommend treatments applicable to each individual depending on sexual and social history. Possible treatments include hormone replacement treatments - which can improve sensation - and sexual therapy.

We are yet to see if Addyi or a similar product will be approved for use in Britain but it’s likely that there will be a significant minority of British women keeping their eyes on developments across the pond.

The Wave 6 ELSA data is available to download from the UK Data Service website http://ukdataservice.ac.uk/

 

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