The New Pill: Drug Promises to Boost Female Sex Drive

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration may approve a pill next month that could boost women’s sex drives.

Flibanserin, the drug made by German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, is already being called the “female Viagra” because its potential effects could change women’s sex lives much as Viagra did by treating men’s erectile dysfunction.

But even though flibanserin is being likened to Viagra, the two drugs work in very different ways, according to Dr. Marie Savard, “Good Morning America” medical contributor.

On the show this morning, Savard said flibanserin works on a woman’s brain chemistry, increasing her desire for sex, while Viagra increases blood flow to the genitals, increasing a man’s ability to perform.

Flibanserin was originally designed as an antidepressant, but it failed to make it to the market. It had an unexpected side effect, though, of increasing a woman’s libido.

That prompted the company to perform further studies for the drug’s usefulness in treating hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), a condition which Savard defined as an unexplained loss of sexual thoughts, desires and fantasies.

The condition can cause women significant emotional distress, she said.

A study of the drug focused on its effects upon premenopausal women. Participants who took a daily dose saw their average number of satisfying sexual experiences increase from 2.7 to 4.5 per month.

Savard acknowledged that two more experiences per month may not seem like a large number, but she said it would represent a big improvement for some women.

New Pill Could Be Big Business

By some estimates, the U.S. market for flibanserin could be $2 billion.

The potential for profit has led some to question not just the drug, but the disorder itself.

Critics have accused the pharmaceutical industry, including flibanserin drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim, of creating an ailment in order to cash in on the treatment.

The fact that every major study on the drug’s efficacy has been sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim has led to questions about the reliability of the research, Savard said.

Causes of Low Libido

Low libido may be caused by many different factors, Savard said.

Some of the causes of libido loss include hormonal changes — such as those that occur because of menopause or breast-feeding; stress or anxiety; and medications, such as blood pressure and antidepressant drugs.

Savard also said a new study reported that women who use birth control pills could be at a higher risk for sexual problems.

Women should work with their doctors to identify the actual cause of their loss of desire, Savard said.

ABC News’ Susan Donaldson James contributed to this report.

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