Judy Norsigian on a Drug Aimed at Curing Women With a Low Sex Drive and Other Health Concerns

By Christine Cupaiuolo — November 24, 2009

A recent Time magazine story looks at the decade-long search for a drug to cure women with low sexual desire — a so-called female Viagra. A German pharmaceutical company thinks it’s on the right track with flibanserin, a drug originally developed as an antidepressant (it didn’t work for its intended purpose). Filbanserin is undergoing clinical trials to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).

Our own Judy Norsigian is quoted in Time, expressing caution:

Certainly, there may be women who will do better after taking flibanserin, says Judy Norsigian, executive director of the women’s health advocacy Our Bodies Ourselves, based in Cambridge, Mass. But she thinks the diagnosis of HSDD unnecessarily medicalizes women’s sexual lives. Attempting to treat low libido with a pill ignores the fact that many women’s level of desire is deeply affected by everyday life stress and interpersonal relationships. Add to that a cultural milieu that at once promotes shame and ignorance about women’s sexuality while wildly inflating their expectations for sex.

In many cases, says Norsigian, the proper solution to a lack of sexual desire would involve a number of non-drug approaches, such as therapy, mind-body techniques and getting partners involved in the solution. “That could be equally successful while at the same time not exposing women to the [potential] long-term adverse effects of drugs,” says Norsigian, who suggests testing drugs like flibanserin against drug-free therapies. “Moreover, the non-medication approaches often address root causes for lack of libido and thus reflect a prevention approach that is usually much wiser.”

During a recent event hosted by the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s Midwifery Program, Norsigian raised similar questions about whether women are receiving the best and safest treatments. She also discussed examples of how mixed, inaccurate or incomplete media coverage can make it difficult for women to navigate their health options and to understand the risks involved with some procedures. The Reporter, Vanderbilt Medical Center’s weekly newspaper, covered Norsigian’s talk.

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