According to some estimates, about 10 percent of American adult women rarely have sex not because they lack the opportunity, but because they just can't seem to summon the desire.
But while ads for drugs and potions that promise to fix erectile dysfunction are everywhere, women's sexual problems so far have gotten far less attention.
That soon could change. The first proposed drug for women with low sex drive — what the scientists call hypoactive sexual desire disorder or HSDD — is undergoing clinical studies at centers around the country, including Meridien Research in St. Petersburg.
Dr. Mildred Farmer, who founded Meridien Research in 1990, talked to Personal Best about HSDD and the potential new treatment. Neither Farmer nor her company has a financial interest in the ultimate fate of the drug or the company that makes it.
What is HSDD?
At the most basic level, hypoactive sexual desire disorder simply means that a woman's desire for sex has diminished and is no longer considered "normal." Of course, what is normal for one person is not what is normal for another person. What we're concerned with is what is normal for you. Age and other factors can affect your level of sexual desire. But it's one thing to slow down. It's another thing to stop. The people that we're looking at are having intercourse less than once a month.
Some people might say that changes in sexual desire are just a normal part of life that shouldn't be considered a "disorder." Is this diagnosis controversial?
Well, everything's controversial as long as you have two people who have different opinions. So in that sense, there are very few areas of medicine that are not controversial. But is female sexual dysfunction scientifically controversial? There's a clear definition and description, so I'd say no.
Is any specific group more prone to HSDD?
No. Anybody is susceptible. It's not necessarily tied to age.
How is it diagnosed?
The whole diagnosis of HSDD is kind of a moving target. A few years — in fact, as recently as two years ago — the diagnosis was all about how decreased sexual desire affected your relationship. Now there's much more emphasis on how it affects you. Two years ago, if it didn't affect the relationship, it wasn't HSDD. But of course, if your partner has a stronger desire for sex than you do, that can affect the relationship, and then it also affects you.
Some woman may not mind losing their sex drive. How does that affect the diagnosis and treatment?
Establishing norms as far as what needs to be treated is controversial. What will matter is how much it bothers the individual. If it doesn't bother you, it's not a disorder.
All sorts of factors can affect sexual desire, including medications, fatigue and illness. Is someone who just hasn't been "in the mood" lately considered to have HSDD?
No. The diminished desire has to be present more or less constantly to constitute what we consider HSDD.
What's the new treatment that you're looking at?
It's called Flibanserin. It's a medication that was originally developed as an antidepressant. Thirty-five to 40 percent of people on antidepressants have some sexual effect. It turned out, in studies, that this drug wasn't especially effective at treating depression, but in the studies, people reported an upturn in sexual function and desire.
What's significant about this drug?
The only intervention for HSDD at this time is testosterone. What this study is looking at is the first nonhormonal treatment.
So could this be considered something like Viagra for women?
No. Desire and arousal are two different things. Viagra affects arousal. We're looking at desire. Arousal disorder is when you have difficulty maintaining physical desire or lubrication. Desire has to do with sexual thoughts and fantasies.
How does this study work?
There will be 1,800 subjects with HSDD at centers around the country. Half of them will get Flibanserin and half will get a placebo. In St. Petersburg we'll be looking for about 20 women. Participants will get some compensation, basically enough to cover travel expenses. There are some studies where you get paid a significant amount of money, but this isn't like that.
Who is eligible?
We're looking for women over 18, both premenopausal and post- menopausal, who are in a monogamous heterosexual relationship and think they might have HSDD. Call (727) 347-8839 for information.
Why only heterosexual relationships? Is HSDD specific to heterosexual women?
No, it isn't, and some people have objected to women in monogamous same-sex relationships being excluded from this study. But this is a very early study and it was decided, at this point, to focus on women in heterosexual relationships. It's a long process. There will be other studies down the road that could include women in same-sex relationships.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.