Big Pharm is trying to barge into our bedroom again. They did it with the little blue pill, Viagra, and now they are doing it again with the little pink pill, Flibanserin. While Viagra addresses blood flow, helping a man achieve a stronger, longer erection, the Flibanserin pink pill manages brain chemistry in an effort to increase serotonin. Developed by pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim (BI), the goal of this pill is to cure women of their low sexual desire. Clinically defined as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, HSDD is characterized as a lack or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity for some period of time. For this to be regarded as a disorder, it must cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulties and not be better accounted for by another mental disorder, a drug, or some other medical condition.
What about not better accounted for by normal relationship differences? Did BI miss the memo that sexual desire is relational? “Low” sexual desire is only defined in contrast to someone else’s apparent “high” level of desire. And even then, it only causes distress or interpersonal difficulty if the person with higher desire demands more sex.
Luckily, the FDA rejected BI’s proposal for the pink pill because the benefits did not outweigh the side effects of fatigue, depression and fainting spells. But beyond the physiological risks, the research study was rushed and poorly constructed. They sampled a small pool of primarily white, non-Hispanic, married, premenopausal women around the age of 36. Of the 5,018 applicants determined to have HSDD, only 1,388 were treated. Nothing was said about the 3,630 women who were not given treatment. Were all these women placed on placebos, or did a significant number of women drop out? And why were post-menopausal women left out of the study? Is the serotonin in their brains drastically different after they finish ovulating?
Moreover, the study perpetuates a disease-mongering model and creates a colossal threat to women. Essentially, the pink pill paints normal, healthy sexuality for women, thereby defining what qualifies as abnormal, unhealthy and, God forbid, low sexual desire. Women with so-called low desire must subscribe to escalating sexual standards and undergo lengthy pill-taking to normalize — and standardize — their brain chemistry in hopes that they will start pining for more penetration.
What if low desire is actually normal, and we are being pressured to adjust to a profoundly sick society? Though hypersexualized Hollywood pushes high desire as ideal, certain places in the East and Middle East attempt to restrain high sexual desire, as it is considered indulgent, sinful, and/or distracting from more meaningful life paths. Even in our own U.S. society 60 years ago, women with high sexual desire were considered “hysterical.” To be a lady meant restraining your sexual impulses. Today, an adequate female partner must act more akin to the sexually ravenous Samantha from Sex in the City.
But Samantha got cancer, and down went her libido. Because it happens. Our sex drive ebbs and flows with the struggles and stresses of life. Relationship dissatisfaction, for example, can cause a tsunami to hit sexual desire. Yet the medical solution of a potential pink pill only addresses one slice of an eight-piece pie, if that. Yes, solving issues related to hormones and neurotransmitters is important, but don’t forget touch and arousal, communication, safety, sensuality and challenging the social narrative of what qualifies as “satisfying sex.”
Most importantly, sexual desire is about intimacy — intimacy with yourself and with your partner. Can you stand in your own two shoes and continue to connect on deeper levels?
Doing so will create a greater potential for desire to develop.
In the meantime, ladies, if you need something pink to bolster your brain’s yearning for sex, plug in a seven-speed, battery-operated boyfriend. He never cares how often he gets action. He’s happy to serve when desire calls him to duty!
Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www. theintimacyinstitute.org.