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We May Soon Have Another "Female Viagra" On Our Hands

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Photographed by Jessica Nash.
It's been just over a year since Addyi, the first drug approved specifically to increase female libido, hit shelves. Addyi was supposed to be the first "female viagra," but thanks to weird side effects and questions about the drug's benefits, the reception has been pretty lukewarm, to say the least. Now, a new contender may be on the horizon.

The new drug, which currently goes by the name bremelanotide, has actually been in development for several years now. Research has shown that it activates receptors in the brain that are normally activated by a class of hormones called melanocortins. There's evidence to suggest this hormone system is normally involved in the brain's responses to sexually exciting stimuli, so the synthetic version may encourage those same feelings. And, as of this week, the Palatin Technologies announced that bremelanotide has made it through Phase 3 trials.

Similar to Addyi, bremelanotide is designed to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in premenopausal women — not just a general feeling of "low libido." Symptoms include issues with becoming aroused, not having interest in sex (and wanting to), trouble reaching orgasm, and experiencing some types of pain during sex. (Reminder: For women, the disorder is now known as "female sexual interest/arousal disorder.") However, unlike Addyi, which is taken in pill form every day, bremelanotide is only taken before sex via a self-administered injection.

However, there are definitely some reasons to remain skeptical. First off, the same major complication that exists with Addyi exists here: Unlike Viagra, these drugs are targeting psychological, rather than purely physical, causes of sexual dysfunction. That's a tough thing to do for a number of reasons, including the fact that it's normal for your libido to fluctuate throughout your life (and your relationship). Also, there are plenty of external factors that affect your sex drive (e.g. that annoying fight you had with your partner last night) that no drug can fix.

Plus, thanks to Addyi (a.k.a. flibanserin) we already know this is a uniquely complicated approach. Those who took Addyi in clinical trials saw an average increase of up to one "sexually satisfying partner event" more than those on the placebo. Meaning: Women taking Addyi only had about one more instance of intercourse, oral sex, or manual sex than those who didn't take the drug — which isn't very compelling. Plus, these women had to contend with a few pretty unpleasant side effects (such as dizziness and nausea), and they weren't allowed to drink alcohol.

So, while it's encouraging to see others pick up where Addyi left off, we're tempering our excitement for now.
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