Female Viagra: Expanding Women’s Health Dialogue

Women like to have sex, believe it or not.

Although society often tells us otherwise, it is completely natural for women to desire sexual relationships — it comes with being human. But since moral women are often portrayed as virgins, it has become commonplace for women to shy away from the topic of sex in an effort to appear pure and decent.

These standards for women have made it extremely difficult to talk about sexual distress, such as hyposexuality, a sexual disorder in which one has extremely low libido. Dissatisfaction with one’s sexual life is much more common in women than men — this is often a result of our negative perceptions of what it means to be a sexually active woman. A study conducted by Dr. Jan Shifren, a leading researcher in sexual distress from Harvard University, suggests that women are less likely than men to initiate conversations about sex with their physicians and are even less likely to discuss sexual problems with their partners or professionals. As a result, women’s problems are never fixed and we fall into this unfair cycle in which our desires are continually censored by society.

This disparity between men and women has been the driving force behind why female hyposexuality has recieved little limelight until last year, when the FDA approved the first “female Viagra,” also known as Addyi. This pill has been extremely controversial. The FDA had disapproved the drug twice before its approval in June 2015, and many called these decisions sexist. At the same time, many scientists were upset about the approval of Addyi, pointing to the adverse side effects of the pill. Addyi has been experimentally observed to cause dizziness, low blood-pressure, fainting, congenital abnormalities, and mammary gland cancer. To many people the dangers of Addyi outweigh the sexual pleasures that women would get out of it.

The controversy behind the female Viagra is certainly not uncalled for, but what baffles me is that I do not see Viagra receiving so much contention, despite having similar side effects to Addyi. Most people consider male hyposexuality sorrowful and support the use of Viagra. Yet such consideration is not given to women.

This is not only inequitable but marginalizes women and forces them to simply stay quiet about their sexual desires. For this reason, I believe the conversations about hyposexuality that Addyi has brought forth are necessary for creating a more gender equal community.
Something that may hinder this open conversation, though, is the fact that Addyi will likely not be promoted on television the same way that Viagra is. Viagra commercials are often nostalgic and show a virile older man whose erectile disfunction is hindering him from leading a fulfilling life. It makes one feel bad for him, if not relate to him. However, such depictions of women are rarely shown in the media. Older women are never seen as desirable or even worthy of sex. Old age seems to always point to a decline in a woman’s sexual drive — many people believe that it is a reality that women should just accept.

Conversely, men are not forced to accept the fact that old age often means erectile disfunction; as a matter of fact, we are actively trying to help them, as seen through Viagra commercials. Hyposexual women should be getting this same sympathy.

There is certainly a long way to go before the conversation about sexual satisfaction for women becomes commonplace in our society, but hopefully Addyi will allow for this to happen within a few years. No gender will feel embarrassed to talk about their sexual disorders and dissatisfactions, and just as importantly, no gender will feel marginalized for psychological issues that are out of their control.

Sharmin Shanur is a first year cognitive sciences major. She can be reached at sshanur@uci.edu.