“Institutional Sexism” behind FDA’s Refusal to Approve “Female Viagra”

by Vins
Published: Updated:

 

In 1998, the introduction of the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra put many men at ease: Identified as a medical condition, erectile dysfunction (ED) was not their fault, it was common, and it could be treated with drugs. Since then, pharmaceutical companies have introduced over two-dozen ED treatments to the market. By contrast, women are still essentially told that any sexual dysfunction they experience is psychological. The causes of ED and other sexual dysfunctions can be psychological, of course, but increasingly studies identify biological causes, too.

In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Xiaflex after it was tested on fewer than 1,000 male subjects, and with the market warning that “penis rupture” was one possible side effect. In contrast, Flibanserin—a medication designed to enhance women’s libidos and sometimes called “female Viagra”—has been tested over four years on 11,000 women with positive and beneficial results.

Nevertheless, the FDA has required more tests before the drug can be marketed to the public. According to FDA, more data is necessary to assess the drug’s effect on women’s driving ability because Flibanserin may make women sleepy.

“Right now, we’re telling women that sexual dysfunction is all in their head,” says Sheryl Kingsberg, the chief of behavioral medicine at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “There’s some underlying institutional sexism at play.”  According to Anita Clayton, chair of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, “The FDA has set a very high bar to measure the risks and benefits of a medical treatment for [female sexual dysfunction], as if women do not have the capacity to make informed medical decisions.”

Sources:

Amelia Thomson-Deveaux, “Why Don’t We Have Viagra for Women Yet?” The American Prospect, February 18, 2014, http://prospect.org/article/why-dont-we-have-viagra-women-yet.

Anita H. Clayton, “The FDA, Sexual Dysfunction and Gender Inequality,” Huffington Post, February 7, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anita-h-clayton-md/the-fda-sexual-dysfunctio_b_4724459.html.

Student Researcher: Angela Olmanson (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)