Do women want a sex-drive drug?

A pharmaceutical company claims to have a truly effective sex aid for women, one that affects the brain and not just the genitals.


Page Rockwell
May 20, 2006 3:58AM (UTC)

If you could take a drug to become aroused -- not just to facilitate the hydraulics of arousal, as Viagra and other vascular sex aids do, but to actually make you horny -- would you?

I ask because MSNBC is reporting today that New Jersey-based Palatin Technologies says it is developing an aid that does just that. Bremelanotide, as the wonder potion is currently known, "stimulates the brain, rather than the genitals," or so the company says. The drug, which is a fast-acting inhalant rather than a pill, seems to work on men and women, but it's presented as being primarily for women, as a counterpart to Viagra et al. and as a potential cure for so-called female sexual dysfunction.

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The controversy over FSD (which many consider to be that old canard "frigidity" with a new, pseudo-scientific title) is nothing new -- and, for that matter, the idea for faster-acting, inhalable sex drugs has been around a while too. And previous products claiming to address the problem haven't exactly caused the pharma-sexual revolution the industry has been hoping for, partly because the vascular approach to arousal hasn't worked as well for most women as it has for male Viagra fans.

Since the whole news story seems to be based on a Palatin press release, there's no way to know at this point whether the project will pan out as promised. But if it does, the drug could hardly come at a weirder time for women's health and sexuality in America. The country can't agree on such apparent no-brainers as access to emergency contraception and vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases; how will we cope with a female mojo maker? Will women have to be diagnosed as dysfunctional to get it? (Hello, hysteria.) Will it be covered by insurance? Will it be available to teenage girls? What happens when 1 million doofy teenage boys get the brilliant idea to spray girls in the face with it? (Answer: Given how inhalants work, probably nothing, but this seems like just the kind of "Saved by the Bell"-type scenario that the religious right would freak out about.) Or when Tommy swaps Susie's albuterol inhaler with a bremelanotide inhaler right before volleyball practice?

And will it be the end of foreplay?

In short, the prospect of an effective female sex-drive drug raises a lot of questions that male sex-drive drugs haven't. (Or at least regular Viagra hasn't caused the kind of furor that that "female Viagra" is likely to cause.) The arrival of such a drug could be a wonderful thing for many women, but the complexity of society's attitudes toward female sexuality almost guarantees controversy.

So what do Broadsheet readers think? Can't wait to try it, or would you give it a pass? And -- bremelanotide being a patently terrible name -- what do you think the company should call it?


Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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