Addyi is no 'female Viagra': It could benefit men more than women

There's a 'female Viagra' in town and her name is Addyi. But if Viagra is from Mars, don't be fooled into thinking Addyi is from Venus. It's from another galaxy altogether.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drugs Administration of the United States of America approved a drug called Addyi, made by Sprout Chemicals, albeit with a 'severe warning'. Soon enough, the internet was swamped with articles hailing the arrival of the drug which had promptly been given the moniker of 'female Viagra'. In some sections of the world, a glorious toast was raised to the drug for being a definitive recognition of female desire in a cultural narrative dominated by concern for male sexual desire and health.

However, the truth is rather different. Viagra (sildenafil) is essentially a performance enhancer. Which means, it aids men where the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Basically it aids blood flow to the genitals. On the other hand, Addyi, made of a chemical named flibanserin, is meant to fire sexual impulses in the brain. A Reuters article notes, "It is similar to a class of other drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI's, that include antidepressants such as Prozac."

So, in lay terms, while Viagra helps men who want to have sex, Addyi or the so-called 'female Viagra' is supposed to incite desire in women who just don't want any sex.

While explaining how flibanserin works, Jezebel says, "Flibanserin works by gradually increasing the amount of neurotransmitters noradrenaline and dopamine into the cerebral cortex — essentially bumping up the motivation factor and making the prospect of sex more exciting." That is why, unlike Viagra, Addyi has to be consumed more on daily prescription, much like birth control pills.

Jezebel quotes Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research as saying, "Today’s approval provides women distressed by their low sexual desire with an approved treatment option."

 Addyi is no female Viagra: It could benefit men more than women

AFP.

However, there is a fundamental problem with equating a drug that makes 'the prospect of sex exciting' to a drug that helps a man, already excited at the prospect of having sex, have it satisfactorily. Addyi promises to be the saviour of women suffering from Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. While various surveys have revealed that some women are genuinely distressed at the absence of or low sex drives, the unwillingness to have sex can have many causes, some of which cannot be fixed by popping a pill.

For example, in a country like India, a pill which makes a woman want to have sex, stands the risk of being misused. Forget having the freedom to act on sexual desire, a majority of women in India don't even own their sex lives. And that's a problem that plagues even the social classes which can afford to purchase a pill like Addyi in India.

This New York Times article points out that, while Sprout has not come up with a price for Addyi yet, Cindy Whitehead, chief executive of the company said that the price should 'roughly' be equivalent to that of Viagra. Ten tablets of Viagra costs $400 in the US and is not meant for daily consumption. NYT reports: "Those pills are generally taken when needed, while Addyi is supposed to be taken every night before bedtime. That makes a direct comparison difficult. But 10 Viagra tablets, a possible monthly allotment, cost about $400."

Which means Addyi, if it makes it to India, won't be exactly the most affordable drug around and will remain beyond the access of many Indian women. However, the nature of the drug still provokes the question whether, in an Indian context, Addyi extends women greater power to claim ownership on their sex lives? Or does it, instead, extend men another tool to try aligning women to their own sexual demands? And does it completely shut down whatever little discussion there exists around the sociological factors that affect sexual impulses in a woman? In a cultural narrative that revolves around what men want, you can just hear someone say, "Arre, stop whining and take an Addyi,na."

An article on Slate appropriately points out that alongside the demand for a pill which will apparently 'fix' women's sex lives, there is a pressing need for a thorough consideration of other factors that deeply affect desire in women.

"For straight people in our society, sex is frequently built largely around male tastes and desires. Even the way we dress tends to reflect this, with women choosing clothes that are about highlighting their looks and sexuality more than men do. Male-centric porn is ubiquitous, but women have to dig around. Catering to female desire is still so unusual that when Hollywood makes a sex-filled movie for women, the sheer amount of hand-wringing in response nearly sends the planet spinning off its axis," Amanda Marcotte wrote for Slate in February this year, responding to allegations that a sexist conspiracy was responsible for delaying the approval of Addyi.

Apart from what Marcott points out, Addyi sounds like a perfect excuse for many men to not engage with issues that affect their female partners' sexual satisfaction and desire, because there's now a pill to "fix" them. Dr Anjali Chhabria, a renowned Mumbai-based clinical psychologist, tells Firstpost low sex drive in women often isn't an ailment that can be dealt with a pill, though there are men and women who seek such 'short cuts'. "It's great if there is a product that helps women enhance their sex lives, because many women do come to me seeking help," Chhabria says.

She points out that disinterest in sex or even failure to achieve an orgasm in a woman's case stems from various external factors. "In such cases, we always try to understand the couple, their emotional compatibility, the environment they are living in. We always counsel the couple to sort out their emotional or personality issues to enhance their sex lives." The danger is that for a man, Addyi can sound like something that will enhance his desirability without him needing to do anything about it.

Low sex drive or unsatisfactory sex, in Chhabria's experience with her patients, often has to do with their inability to communicate with their partners. "While there are men who come and complain that their partners are not participating in a sexual act the way they want them to, there are a variety of reasons why women don't. From body odour to her partner's behaviour, I have seen many factors affecting a woman's sex drive. There are many women who feel the man is putting her down, or doesn't like his behaviour, or how he treats her and that affects her interest in sex," Chhabria says.

Does she apprehend that a pill like Addyi may turn out to be an unhealthy 'quick fix'? "Most definitely. Everyone wants short cuts. For example how people want to fix insomnia with a pill, when the causes are deeper emotional or psychological issues."

As this story notes, it won't be long before Addyi leads to the manufacture of substitutes. Some of them maybe cheap and more affordable, like we have seen in the case of Pfizer's Viagra. The only way then to make sure that the pill doesn't become a means to compromise a woman's sexuality is to make it prescription only and hoping that doctors who prescribe the pill have been able to correctly gauge the need for it. More importantly, it shouldn't at all be promoted as a 'female Viagra' which makes it sound like something you pop on the night of your big Tinder date.

Updated Date: Aug 20, 2015 13:18:35 IST