A new antidepressant really turns women on

Flibanserin, designed to fight depression, turns out to be a poor antidepressant but a great libido booster in women who report low sex drives, new studies find.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

To all the men (and women) I've ever heard complain about the female libido, it's time to take the batteries out of your high-tech remote-control sex toys.

Flibanserin appears to be a highly effective libido booster in women who report low sexual desire, three new trials find. Simple Insomnia/Flickr

Flibanserin, a drug originally designed to fight depression, turns out to be an ineffective antidepressant but a highly effective libido booster in women who report low sex drives, according to results pooled from three separate clinical trials. (It's long been thought that antidepressants suppress sex drives, so it makes its own strange sense that a poor antidepressant might not have the same suppressing effect.)

"It's essentially a Viagra-like drug for women in that diminished desire or libido is the most common feminine sexual problem, like erectile dysfunction is in men," reports John Thorp Jr., a principal investigator in the studies and the McAllister distinguished professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

It's not terribly surprising that flibanserin was not originally designed to boost the female libido, since this is a notoriously complicated task compared to the notoriously uncomplicated approach in men of simply regulating blood flow. More surprising is that these are purported to be the first trials ever to test a female libido therapy in the brain; one would think that all the scoffing women do about men thinking with their "other" heads would indicate women's tendency to do that sort of thinking with the head that sits on their shoulders.

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder, a bulky arrangement of syllables that risks causing the very thing it names, affects anywhere from 9 percent to 26 percent of women in the U.S., studies show. But that doesn't mean you should throw away those high-tech sex toys and run to your local pharmacy; flibanserin is still an investigational drug, available only to those women who've agreed to participate in clinical trials.

The trial results were presented by principal investigator Elaine E. Jolly from the University of Ottawa in Canada on Monday at the Congress of the European Society for Sexual Medicine in Lyon, France.

All three trials were funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, a manufacturer of flibanserin. That means until further studies are done without BIP funding, these results should be viewed with a level of skepticism; developing the first successful female libido booster could be a way for the company that designed such a poor antidepressant to save face.

That brings me to a final point: since women who do not suffer from hypoactive sexual desire disorder might be just the type to enjoy such things as sex toys and libido boosters recreationally (some women take Viagra for fun), one wonders what effect, if any, flibanserin will have on them.