Why you should care

About one-third of women report having low libido — but unlike men they can’t just pop a pill. Help may finally be on the horizon.

Having trouble getting in the mood? Candlelit bubble baths and Barry White still not helping? Men looking to recover their mojo can pop a pill. But ladies with low libido have a harder time of it. There are no FDA-approved drugs to boost sex drive in women, even though an estimated one-third of women have a lack of interest in sex. But help may be on the horizon.

Drugs like Viagra and Cialis treat impotence by increasing blood flow to the penis, which creates an erection. But libido is more complex in women. Besides physical arousal, psychological factors — such as emotional well-being and the quality of the relationship with their partner — play a big role. So scientists are developing drugs that also act on brain signaling.

Men looking to recover their mojo can pop a pill. But ladies with low libido have a harder time of it.

Dutch-based company Emotional Brain is testing two pills called Lybrido and Lybridos. The first targets women who have more trouble getting physically aroused, while the second is meant to treat those whose primary struggle is experiencing psychological desire. Both are designed to modify the balance between dopamine, the brain chemical that promotes pleasure, and serotonin, which fosters self-control.

Women with low libido who self-injected bremelanotide reported significantly more ’sexually satisfying events’ than those who took a placebo.

The pills are coated in testosterone, which helps the body produce lust-inducing dopamine. When the coating dissolves, it reveals a delayed-release tablet. In Lybrido, the tablet increases blood flow to the genitals. In Lybridos, however, it suppresses serotonin, which raises dopamine levels. Women would pop a pill about three and a half hours before sex.

A clinical trial involving 200 women wrapped up in May, with side effects that included headaches the next day and flushing of the face and neck. The results aren’t published yet, but Emotional Brain founder Adriaan Tuiten describes them as “very, very promising.” A larger trial is already planned, and if all goes well, the drugs could go on sale in the U.S. and Europe in 2016.

Meanwhile, New Jersey-based Palatin Technologies is testing a drug called bremelanotide, which stimulates melanocortin receptors, proteins that also mediate brain pathways involved in the sexual response. The drug might work by lowering the “tipping point” for sexual arousal according to Michael Perelman, a co-director of the Human Sexuality Program at Presbyterian Hospital and Weil-Cornell Medical School in New York City.

African American woman on left, eyes closed cuddling with Caucasian man whose back is towards camear.

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A Phase 2 clinical trial involving 327 women with low libido found that those who self-injected bremelanotide with a syringe about 45 minutes before sex reported significantly more “sexually satisfying events” than those who took a placebo, University of Virginia researchers reported in June. Side effects included nausea, headaches and facial flushing. A Phase 3 trial scheduled for early next year will test administering the drug with a single-dose, disposable auto-injector, which operates like the EpiPen used to treat severe allergic reactions.

Instead of injecting libido, why not sniff it?

Instead of injecting libido, why not sniff it? Trimel Pharmaceuticals’ Tefina is testosterone in the form of a nasal gel for the roughly 25 percent of women who can’t achieve orgasm. Testosterone dilates the blood vessels, like Viagra. But it also “has effects on thoughts, desire and fantasy,” said Susan Davis, a professor at the Monash University department of medicine in Australia who leads Trimel’s trials of Tefina. Women would use an applicator to place the gel on the inside wall of their nose one to four hours before doing the dirty.

The gel was shown to be safe in a Phase 1 clinical trial . Trimel is now recruiting 240 women for a Phase 2 clinical trial, which is scheduled to finish next March.

“We anticipate [Tefina] will work like Viagra for women,” Davis said in a statement. “We have previously shown that for women with low sexual interest, testosterone therapy not only improves sexual desire and arousal but also enhances a woman’s ability to reach orgasm.”

But some worry that these drugs represent big pharma creating conditions in order to “cure” them. “What used to be merely a lull in passion is now a disorder that — surprise! — can be treated with a pill, which drug companies are only too happy to provide,” Mark White, a chair in the department of philosophy at City University of New York, blogged on Psychology Today. The dry spell may actually result from relationship problems that should be addressed in other ways, like counseling. Others worry that pathologizing normal losses of desire will reinforce the patriarchal expectation that women have a “responsibility” to please their male partners.

Some worry female arousal drugs could be rejected for fear they may create legions of sexually aggressive women.

Some scientists worry that the FDA may reject applications for female arousal drugs out of fear that they may create legions of sexually aggressive women. ”You want your effects to be good, but not too good,” Andrew Goldstein, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Washington, D.C., who has conducted trials for Lyrbrido and Lybridos, told the New York Times . “There was a lot of discussion about … the need to show that you’re not turning women into nymphomaniacs.”

If any of these drugs do hit the market, they’ll generate hysteria alright. But whether it’s a sex-crazed zombie attack or a normal human desire for sex will be a matter of perception.

OZY went to the streets to hear people’s reactions:

Video:

Sex Drugs, and Melissa Pandika

Participate: If you’re interested in enrolling in the clinical trial for Tefina, contact Candace Johnson at c.johnson@medpace.com or (513) 579-9911 ext. 2559.

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