‘Female Viagra’ Is Here, But Don’t Go Running to Your Doctor

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Addyi, the little pink pill. Photo: SproutPharma/Splash/Corbis

Controversial female sexual dysfunction drug Addyi became available on Saturday, but rushing to your doctor to get a prescription might not be worth it for the vast majority of women. For those not following along, so-called "female Viagra" was rejected twice by the Food and Drug Administration, but after additional studies and a lobbying campaign that claimed sexism, the agency approved the medication in August. "The little pink pill" became the first-ever drug for treating low sexual desire in women that's not explained by a medical or mental-health condition or prescription meds.

Yet, libido is a tricky thing, and Addyi is unlike Viagra in a few ways. Erectile dysfunction drugs improve blood flow to the genitals so a turned-on man can sustain an erection; some are taken as needed and others are daily. Addyi, generic name flibanserin, is a daily pill that targets the brain to help women feel aroused in the first place (it was originally developed as an anti-depressant). Sexperts, however, believe that women often experience desire in a responsive rather than spontaneous fashion, and might confuse a lack of everyday arousal with having low libido. In that case, a drug like Addyi might not be necessary, especially when you consider the side effects, which include dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, insomnia, and dry mouth. Sexy!

Addyi can cause fainting when used in conjunction with alcohol and certain prescription meds, so the drug carries a black-box warning telling women they can have exactly zero alcoholic drinks while taking it. Doctors must be certified to prescribe it and patients must sign a form saying they understand the risks of taking it. 

And fainting aside, the drug might not do much. In a clinical trial, women taking flibanserin had about one more “sexually satisfying event” per month and rated their desire 0.3 points higher on a 6-point scale compared to women given a placebo. When researchers accounted for placebo effect, only 8 to 13 percent of women said the drug helped them. Addyi is far from perfect, but experts are hopeful that it could lead to the development of better desire drugs — for women and men — in the future.

While the little pink pill hit pharmacy shelves on Saturday, it remains to be seen when the marketing blitz will come. Manufacturer Sprout Pharmaceuticals had previously told the FDA they wouldn't advertise directly to consumers for 18 months, but CEO Cindy Whitehead said they would "revisit" that plan following a staggering $1 billion buyout from Valeant Pharmaceuticals two days after Addyi was approved. Unless we get more data by the time those (likely uncomfortable) commercials come out, women should remember that Addyi is not a magic libido pill.