If you’re a regular reader of the MiddlesexMD blog, you might think I’m a broken record on the topic of the dearth of pharmaceutical tools to address hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). That’s because I am. I don’t know how else to respond to where we are, except to keep talking about it, to make sure we’re all sufficiently aware—so we can all be clear, when the subject arises, about what we want and need.
As I encourage us all to recognize, women’s sexuality is complicated from the start, and becomes more so as we enter perimenopause and menopause. Our sexuality is an intermixing of the physical, psychological, and emotional. It often takes some experimentation for women to get back on sexual track, sometimes because it’s not clear whether a physical problem is in the lead or it’s really stress or a relationship issue that’s diminished desire.
In that experimentation, I prefer, as a physician, to start with the simplest steps first. That may mean adding a lubricant or a vibrator to a woman’s bedside table; it may mean using dilators for a time. But also as a physician, I appreciate knowing that there are pharmaceutical options in my repertoire, too, to help a woman get unstuck.
So I follow the news about drugs in development, and about their progress in getting approved for use by the FDA. Earlier this summer, I received an update from the Board of Directors of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH). They wanted to be sure that we’d seen an ABC News story on Flibanserin, which is still stalled out on appeal, subject to additional study.
“No single drug will ever be a cure-all in sexual or most other conditions, let alone effective for 100% of appropriate patients,” the ISSWSH statement read. “But that is never the standard by which biopsychosocial drugs are approved.” The news story also questions whether the standards for drugs for women’s sexuality are different from those for men. It compared side effects of dizziness, sleepiness, and anxiety to those listed in “iconic Viagra commercials, such as nausea, diarrhea, and the risk of erections lasting over four hours.” The reporter suggests that the bar seems higher for drugs for women.
I’m not in the room for the FDA discussions, so I don’t pretend to know whether there’s bias at play. I simply point out that there are 25 FDA-approved medications for men’s sexual dysfunction, and none that address HSDD for women. None. As a physician, I’m conscious of that void whenever I’m talking to a patient who misses her sexual self.
What do we do? Keep talking about it, even if we sound like broken records. And, if you haven’t already, you can sign on to the ISSWSH Wish Petition. The number of names listed does help to communicate the importance of this issue to women and the men who love them—as well as to the health care providers who serve them!
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.