FDA Says No to 'Female Viagra,' Yes to Mornings-After Pill

The little pink pill gets voted down after it fails to increase sexual desire

It's been a big week for women’s sexual health. A drug that promised to ignite sexual desire in women is getting put on the back burner by the FDA. Meanwhile, the FDA cleared the way for a pill that gives women a few days more wiggle room in preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex.

On Thursday, FDA advisers recommended that the agency approve the “morning-after” pill ella, which can prevent pregnancy up to five days after unprotected sex. One day later, an FDA panel rejected the much-anticipated “female Viagra” drug flibanserin, stating that the drug failed to offer any real boost in sexual desire.

Though the FDA doesn’t have to take the recommendations of its advisory panel, it usually does. Ella, which is similar in chemical makeup to the abortion drug RU-486, will give women a few extra days to get to the pharmacy after having unprotected sex. The morning-after pill that’s currently available works up to three days later, and is available without a prescription from your pharmacist. There is no timeline yet on when the FDA will make a final decision on Ella. But it seems likely that it will be approved.

Meanwhile, the FDA’s rejection of the drug flibanserin for low female libido means women will not be popping a pill any time soon to boost their sex drive. Clinical trials showed that women taking flibanserin had slightly more satisfying sexual encounters, but no real increase in desire—meaning, the sex may have been better, but women weren’t any more inclined to have it. In order to gain approval, flibanserin had to demonstrate an ability to make women more interested in sex even when they were not engaged in sexual activity. The advisory panel was not convinced; it voted ten to one against flibanserin, saying it was not much better than a placebo. Women taking the drug, originally designed to be an antidepressant, also reported significant side effects, including dizziness, nausea, depression and fatigue.

Before Friday’s vote, the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, which owns the drug, caught flak for trying to market its drug through a sponsored Discovery Channel documentary about female sexual disorders, an “educational” web site, and a celebrity endorsement by Lisa Rinna, who suffered from low sexual desire. With men’s erectile dysfunction drugs pulling in nearly $2 billion a year, Boehringer Ingelheim stood to make a serious profit, had flibanserin been approved.

The American Psychiatric Association classified low sexual desire in women as a condition—hypoactive sexual desire disorder—in 2002. But some critics believe that pharmaceutical companies created the disorder in order to capitalize on the normal ebb and flow of women’s libidos. What constitutes a low sex drive in women is still largely subjective. Some women will lose interest in sex for physical reasons like being unable to orgasm or because they find sex painful. Others have more psychological roots, such as feeling unconnected to their partner. With so many varied causes, it’s hard to know whether a pill will have the same passion-fueling effect on women as Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs have on men.

Though there may not be a magic pill, there are other options for women with a low libido. Research shows that even lifestyle changes can make a difference. Regular physical activity, and losing weight if you’re overweight, for example, can each help improve body image and sexual desire. And the side effects of these prescriptions are all good.

Would you use “female Viagra”? Chime in below!

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