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Hardwired for Sex?

by Dr. Barb DePree MD

Critics of the quest for “pink viagra” -- the elusive drug to increase female sex drive -- often argue that depressed libido isn't medical condition (like erectile dysfunction) that can be “fixed” with pharmaceuticals.

But a recent study by medical doctors at Wayne State University suggests that there may be measurable physiological differences between women who suffer from what researchers term “a distressing lack of sexual desire” and those who have a “normal” sex drive.

MRI scans of women viewing video clips that alternated between erotic scenes and nonsexual content found that areas of the brain that normally light up when thinking about sex remained dark in women with low sex drive, while other areas that usually don’t show activity lit up.

According to Wayne State’s Dr. Michael Diamond, who presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine last month, these brain pattern differences may provide the first “significant evidence” that, for some women, lack of sexual desire is a physiological disorder. One that could possibly be treated by meds -- pink or otherwise.

Although the study sample was small, and researchers have yet to understand exactly how these different regions of the brain relate to sexual arousal and response, for me these findings support the need for further research in this area. And raise hope that there eventually may be a medical option for women suffering from chronically low levels of desire.

We may find that some women are just wired differently and can benefit from a drug that improves their interest in sex, the way some people with ADD benefit from drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that improve their level of focus and concentration. Of course, some ADD patients prefer not to use medication and are able to make other adjustments that allow them to function well in their daily lives. And, if we do develop a “pink viagra,” it won’t be the solution for every woman. I’ve found that pain-free sex and a communicative partner can do wonders for the libido.

But I’d love to see the day when taking a desire-enhancing medication is a choice that a woman can make for herself. And studies like this one and the further research it will inspire move us closer to that goal.


  • They measured brain activity on 26 women in this study, 19 of which had been diagnosed with HSDD.

    I’m encouraged that research continues and understanding in this complex arena may bring additional options to women.

    barbdepree on

  • Curious – you say small study. How small? Based on the amount that I’ve read about women and sexual desire, we need a lot more evidence before one can even start to draw conclusions about hope.

    Liz on

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