The Food and Drug Administration has been falsely accused of playing gender politics when it comes to the quest for a so-called “pink Viagra,” or a drug to treat lack of sexual desire in women, when the real issue is a lack of proof that a pharmacological approach would work, researchers say.
At issue is the EventheScore campaign, which has drawn more than 24,000 supporters to sign a Change.org petition that states: “Do you believe that women deserve equal treatment when it comes to sex? So do we!” This advocacy campaign cites “gender inequity” as a reason why there are “26 FDA-approved treatments marketed for male sexual dysfunction,” but none for women. That tally counts several forms of male hormone replacement drug testosterone as different drugs. It also includes Pfizer Inc.’s Viagra and four drugs that use the same approach for treating a problem with blood flow that can prevent men from acting on their sexual desires.
Figuring out what causes a lack of sexual desire in women, though, is much trickier than addressing this physiological issue, said Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher affiliated with the University of Victoria. “Viagra for men is about treating a plumbing problem,” while the cause of diminished sexual desire in women is often unclear and may relate to other issues in their lives, said Cassels, who also is an author of several books critical of the drug industry and a critic of the EventheScore campaign.
In comments made to the FDA ahead of an Oct. 27-28 workshop on female sexual dysfunction, several researchers argued that the EventheScore campaign is co-opting feminist rhetoric with an aim of getting the agency to lower its standards for drug approval. Sprout Pharmaceuticals Inc,, which provides money for the EventheScore campaign, has been struggling to win FDA approval of flibanserin for hypoactive sexual desire in women. This pill is intended to work in the same way as many approved antidepressants, altering the function of certain messengers in the brain known as neurotransmitters.
A better approach would be “finding a pill that will help couples talk to each other, take care of the children, and reduce the stress of modern busy lives,” said Carol Tavris, a psychologist and author in a comment on the FDA’s workshop plan.