The FDA Just Approved "Female Viagra" To Help Women Suffering From Persistent Low Sexual Desire — Here's Everything You Need To Know

Great news for women everywhere: On Tuesday, the FDA announced its approval of flibanserin, the first-ever medication to help premenopausal women with acquired, generalized Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), low sexual desire that causes distress. Though it has been called the "little pink pill," flibanserin will officially go by the name Addyi when it's on the market. Its approval is a landmark decision for women's sexual health — for too long, women suffering from a recurring low sex drive have lacked a female equivalent to long-standing male arousal drugs like Viagra.

Cindy Whitehead, CEO of Sprout Pharmaceuticals (the company behind Addyi), tells Bustle that her passion for helping women who suffer from low sex drive inspired her to push for the long-awaited approval of flibanserin, which is the first drug of its kind.

"I’ve met, spoken with and read letters from hundreds of women over the years who have HSDD (hypoactive sexual desire disorder) and have heard too many times about the great distress it causes in their lives and their relationships. Women who experienced low sexual desire for years and when they’ve turned to their doctors for help, were either offered no solution or understanding or pointed to off-label products that didn’t get to the root of their biological problem. These women talk about their wonderful spouses, their beautiful, happy families, but they feel a hole in their sex lives and want to want again."

While many factors affect your sex drive, women who have a persistent, unexplainable inability to experience sexual desire are often left questioning themselves, despite the fact that HSDD affects a shocking one in 10 women. It's a disorder that is not widely understood or talked about, and until now had no medical treatment.

I spoke with Whitehead to find out everything women need to know about HSDD and Addyi, which is expected to hit the market on October 17 (which, fittingly, is Sweetest Day) of this year.

Who Can Take Addyi?

The little pink pill isn't a catch-all fix for low sex drive: It's only for premenopausal women suffering from HSDD. In common terms, this means a persistent low sexual desire that causes distress, and that isn't caused by other factors such as medication, psychiatric disorder (like depression), or another medical condition. Whitehead hopes that the introduction of Addyi as a treatment option will enable "any woman in a committed, healthy relationship who has had persistent low sexual desire and been distressed by it [to] now feel more comfortable having an open conversation with her doctor."

What Are Common Misconceptions About HSDD?

Whitehead says that not every woman with low sexual desire has HSDD. While HSDD has been medically recognized for 40 years and can be reliably diagnosed by a healthcare provider, it’s also natural for sexual desire to go up and down at different points in a person’s life. If you're simply going through a "lull" or understand how outside factors (like your kids or crazy work schedule) may be affecting your sex drive, you don't have HSDD. This example Whitehead gave provides an excellent picture of HSDD: If you're on an idealistic vacation, you're relaxed, you're very attracted to and in love with your partner, and you still aren't experiencing sexual desire, the resulting distress and frustration are signs that you're suffering from HSDD.

How Does The Pill Work?

In Whitehead's words: "Addyi targets the key neurotransmitters, or chemicals, in the brain, that impact the sexual desire. Specifically, Addyi is believed to have a positive effect on chemicals involved with sexual excitement (dopamine and norepinephrine) and negative effect on chemicals involved with sexual inhibition (serotonin), which equals a pro-sexual response." In a study of over 11,000 women, Addyi showed a 53 percent improvement in women's desire for sex, a doubling in their number of "satisfying sexual events," and a 29 percent reduction in their distress related to their sex drive.

Is It Similar to Viagra?

Although many have been quick to dub Addyi “female Viagra,” Whitehead says it actually works very differently: "While Viagra impacts blood flow to the penis in men and is taken when needed, Addyi works in a woman’s brain and is taken every day at bedtime." In other words, it's designed to increase your arousal over time, rather than offering a one-time fix like male Viagra.

What Are The Risks?

Addyi’s most common side effects are dizziness, nausea and sleepiness. Like any other drug, it may not work for everyone: Whitehead noted that if you're prescribed Addyi and take it for eight weeks and feel no improvement to your sexual desire, it's unlikely that it will ever work for you.

Has There Been Backlash To Addyi?

According to Whitehead, you can't discuss sex without expecting some backlash and differing viewpoints. While both biology and psychology play a part in sexual arousal for men and women, it's common to attribute a man's problems to biology while explaining away a woman's lack of desire with psychology. For instance, if a woman says she is having trouble getting turned on, a common response might be "go read 50 Shades of Grey" instead of "go to the doctor to see if there's a real medical problem." The truth is, men and women are both complicated when it comes to sexual health. Whitehead hopes that the approval of Addyi will change the way we address women's sexual health in America.

"My hope is that we help the millions of women living with HSDD and open the door for future medical advancements in women’s sexual health. Just like men, women deserve the option to talk to their doctor and make the decision for themselves about if treatment is right for them."

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Images: Courtesy of Sprout Pharmaceuticals (2)