The Pink Pill Gains US FDA Approval

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By Urvashi Singh

The first ever drug designed for lack of sexual desire among premenopausal women has gained approval from the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Addyi, a flibanserin drug manufactured by Sprout Pharmaceuticals has been designed for premenopausal women suffering from a condition that is formally known as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Order (HSDD). This condition is prevalent among female populace around the globe, but remains relatively undiscussed on larger public platforms due to being rooted in matters of female sexuality.

Despite working differently as compared to Pfizer Inc’s Viagra for erectile dysfunction among men, Addyi has been nicknamed the “female Viagra” is to come with a prominent boxed warning due to the potential dangers that this drug holds for people suffering from liver impairments, as well as those taking certain steroids. The drug is feared to dangerously effect blood pressure levels and cause fainting if taken with alcohol. A consumer watchdog group in the United States has linked Addyi’s side effects as a potential cause for it to be suspended from the market in the near future. However, few believe in the authenticity of their foresight. Moreover, Palatin Technologies is creating a rival drug to combat HSDD, which, unlike Addyi (which activates the brain’s sexual impulses by selectively inhibiting serotonin), will attempt to activate certain neurological pathways in the brain. Several experts believe that the US FDA’s approval of Addyi marks the start to a blockbuster manufacturing trend among rival companies. They also concur that Addyi’s clinical studies are rather promising. While several medical factions speculate the drug’s benefits versus its risks, Addyi’s entry into the market holds a very different meaning for feminist worldwide.

Termed by the National Consumers League as “the biggest breakthrough in women’s sexual health since the advent of ‘the (contraceptive) pill’… it validates (and legitimises female sexuality as an important component of health”. Clearly, issues relating to sexuality, such as sexual impulse, desire and gratification are more comfortably discussed when related to men as compared to women. Pfizer Inc’s Viagra pill for male erectile dysfunction in 1998 highlighted the issue considerably, whereby erectile dysfunction came to be accepted as a medical condition that wasn’t just associated to stigma and ridicule, but also to a meaningful solution. Similarly, the oft-neglected and seldom addressed issue of hypoactive sexual desire disorder among women seems to have a solution after all. Medical solutions for issues relating to sexuality not only provide relief to the patients suffering from dysfunctions/ disorders, but they do so while authenticating the problem’s scientific and medical roots, thus divorcing it from too much social speculation that masters the act of conjuring. This is not to say that the problem is no longer stigmatised, but finding a medical solution to the problem saves the patient’s psychosis from delivering themselves to meaningless speculations by the society, which would have otherwise caused serious damage to their personal esteem and self-worth.

Societal factors in a country like India are still coming to terms with the reality of medical conditions that hamper or impair sexual aptitude even amongst males, which is seen as one of the biggest causative factors behind character assassinations among Indian men. A man in India might find nothing more insulting and offending than being called unmanly due to his diminished sexual prowess or a lack thereof. As issues relating to sexuality are stigmatised, so is their discussion. Now, consider the same situation amongst the less-privileged gender, whose open redressal of the issue is feared to tamper with matters relating not just to individual self-images of women, but collectively to family and communal honour. In such situations, the advancement of drugs catering to female sexuality-related problems comes as a great relief to patients suffering from these conditions who, on identifying medical-backed researches that diagnose their problems, are saved from social prejudice and meaningless norm-identifications. More importantly, this approval also paves way for a larger number of the world’s female populace to find equal sexual gratification as their male counterparts, hence ridding themselves of the oft-quoted drudgery associated with the act.

When it comes to mainstream manufacturing of such drugs in India, a key consideration is that of pricing and affordability. Another is that of the rigorousness and selectiveness with which medical practitioners prescribe this drug. As optimistic as its gender dimension promises to be, it is equally important that health faculties worldwide maintain stringent rules and regulations dominating drug prescription and directions of use to its patients, with precisely laid-out guidelines around the drug’s prognosis. Leaving this responsibility to the discretion of global and national drug administrations, the symbolism of the US FDA’s approval of Addyi is significantly empowering in matters of female sexuality and desire.

Power to Pink! 🙂

News courtesy: Clarke, T. and Pierson, R. (2015). For Lack of Sexual Desire: US FDA approves ‘female Viagra’, but with strong warning. Indian Express (August 20th)

Author: Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

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