Female Viagra: Good, Bad, or in Between?

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A white prescription pill bottle with a pink pill next to it. TEXT READS: “Addyi (flibanserin) tablets 100 mg 30 tablets Attention Pharmacist: Dispense the accompanying Medication Guide to each patient.”

Last week a drug named flibanserin – brand name Addyi – was approved by the FDA ([U.S.] Food and Drug Administration). Normally people do not pay much attention to the mundane workings of the FDA. Flibanserin, however, has many people abuzz, especially women, since it is the very first drug approved to treat sexual dysfunction in premenopausal women; it is being hailed as the “female Viagra.” This is good news for women! Men’s ability to perform sexually and achieve orgasm has long been prioritized over women’s sexual performance and ability to achieve orgasm, both socially and medically. At last, women with sexual performance difficulties have the option of an FDA approved, libido boosting, prescription medication.

Many women and feminists are taking this as a sign that expression of female sexuality is becoming socially acceptable, that women should embrace their sexuality, and that strong sex drives in women are valid and healthy. I agree! I think this drug is long overdue. If there is medical research and federal funding designated to enhance men’s sexual experiences, the same should be done for women. It is about damn time societies began acknowledging the existence of women’s sex drives and stop teaching women to repress their sexual desires. Instead, female sexuality should be celebrated.

Yet at the same time I am rejoicing over this long deserved medical resource for women, I am also feeling a little apprehensive. I am concerned flibanserin will be used in ways that could further harm women. First, I believe I could easily be [mis]used as a band-aid for more serious physical or mental health issues. Sometimes, sexual performance problems are merely symptoms of more serious health conditions. The danger here is, due to patriarchal pressure placed on women to please men sexually, women may be encouraged, coerced, or even forced to take flibanserin by male partners who believe they are entitled to sex regardless of women’s well-being. Thus potentially serious illnesses could go undetected and untreated.

Medical professionals admit that reduced sex drive is sometimes caused by mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. Such mental health problems could go undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, if flibanserin is used as a band-aid for the symptom of poor sexual performance among women. People suffering from mental illnesses already tend to be dismissed, even in the medical community. If used unethically by healthcare providers, Flibanserin could end up masking existing mental illnesses in women.

Second, flibanserin could potentially serve as a tool to further control women’s sexuality and women’s bodies. Instead of creating a society where women are free to express their sexuality in whatever way they feel comfortable (which is how this drug should be used), flibanserin could actually be used to suppress women’s sexuality. This might seem counter-intuitive, but consider the following scenario: Rather than empowering women to experiment sexually, explore their sexuality on their own terms, or voice their sexual preferences to their partners, male partners, society at large, and even healthcare professionals may push flibanserin on women in order to “fix” female sexual performance in ways that benefit men. In other words, this drug could be used as an ON button. Male sexual entitlement could thus be satisfied via artificial enhancement of female libido. In such a scenario, women would not have greater sexual autonomy or higher quality sexual experiences. The patriarchal society – which includes patriarchal interpersonal relationships and a patriarchal healthcare system – would simply have “appeased” women’s sex drives in the hope of maintaining the sexually submissive position women currently occupy. (Please note, I am not saying all women play the submissive role in the bedroom. I am referring to the socio-sexual position of women relative to the socio-sexual position of men.)

Similarly, flibanserin could be [mis]used as a way of getting through sex that might not be emotionally, psychologically, or physically comfortable for someone. Failing to achieve orgasm is often a result of nothing more than bad sex. This can stem from lack of an emotional connection, lack of physical attraction, a past traumatic sexual experience, or poor technique on her partner’s end. While women should feel comfortable telling their male sexual partners that they aren’t enjoying the sex, that they don’t want to engage in sex at the moment, or that they want to stop the sex they are currently engaging in, this is often not the case. Many women do not feel comfortable saying these things, in part, due to the unwritten patriarchal rules of sex – i.e., that men are ultimately in control of sexual interactions. My concern here is, flibanserin might become a “quick-fix” to bad sex. If men can tell their female partners to just take a pill and get over it, medication becomes just one more tool to fulfill male sexual desires at the expense of women’s sexual autonomy. Granted, the problem of male sexual entitlement already exists, but a drug like flibanserin could potentially exacerbate it.

Third, I am concerned flibanserin will be suggested/prescribed to asexual women. The medical community largely fails to recognize asexuality as a valid sexual orientation or identity. People who are asexual are often assumed to be sexually defective; if they could just get their hormones in balance, their libido boosted, or find the “right partner” they would desire and enjoy sex just like the rest of us “normal,” “healthy” people. This way of thinking erases asexual identities and invalidates the experiences and feelings of asexual women.

To be clear, I am not opposed to flibanserin. In fact, I think it is about damn time women have access to a sexual performance enhancing drug. I think it can and will be used by women to improve their sex lives and make sex more enjoyable. I think flibanserin can and should be used to increase sexual pleasure for women, to help women experiment sexually, and to celebrate and normalize sexual appetites among women. However, I am also apprehensive about the potentially negative uses and effects of flibanserin. The existence of this drug is not a magic pill that will suddenly fix the inequitable socio-sexual power dynamic between men and women.

Advertisements

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s