Viagra for women

Two experimental products aim to jump-start women's desire.

Published August 21, 2008 7:36PM (EDT)

As Mary Roach, the author of "Bonk," told Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski in April, "Viagra for women" is the current holy grail of sex research. Though Viagra may help to restore arousal in women taking antidepressants, the drug hasn't been shown to do much for their unmedicated counterparts. So what's a desireless lady to do?

Two new products, both currently in the experimental stages, are attempting to answer this long-standing question. Procter & Gamble has just purchased a skin patch, developed by Noven Pharmaceuticals Inc., that dispenses testosterone to spark women's sexual desire. P&G is already marketing a similar patch, Intrinsa, in Europe. BioSante Pharmaceutical Inc. is conducting late-stage studies of the other product, a testosterone gel known as LibGel. (Huh. Like "women's lib"?)

I know I'm supposed to be jumping-up-and-down excited about this, but actually, the entire discussion makes me a bit tired. Can you see the LibGel commercials now? As with hormonal birth control, tampons and basically any other product targeted exclusively to women, I'm expecting a bombardment of LibGel ads touting the newfound freedom and fulfillment available for ladies to purchase. (Of course, Viagra commercials are equally gross for preying on men's insecurities about their masculinity.)

I also can't help wondering how these products will fit into our country's current healthcare crisis. Since female sexual dysfunction isn't as obvious a diagnosis as male erectile dysfunction, will doctors and pharmaceutical companies push the patch and gel on women who may have different medical or psychological issues preventing them from wanting and enjoying sex? Will we discover, too late, that long-term use of testosterone products has unexpected ill effects on women's health? And will insurance companies cover these prescriptions, the same way many cover Viagra but, notoriously, not hormonal birth control?

Oh, I know -- I'm being cranky. In theory, I'm all for products that will help ladies get their groove back. But I'm also so thoroughly suspicious of pharmaceutical companies overmedicating us and advertisers exploiting women's liberation that I'm not ready to jump wholeheartedly onto the bandwagon just yet.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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