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Why the Fight for 'Female Viagra' Matters | Commentary

By Lori Weinstein Female sexual dysfunction has been overlooked for way too long. Despite being recognized as a medical condition for more than three decades, despite the fact that millions of American women suffer from its effects and despite the approval of more than two dozen drugs for men’s sexual dysfunctions, women living with hypoactive sexual desire disorder — women’s most common sexual complaint — still have zero FDA-approved medical treatment options to discuss with their doctor.  

The 75,000 donors, members and supporters of the organization I lead, Jewish Women International, are dedicated to protecting the fundamental rights of all women to live in safe homes, thrive in healthy relationships and realize the full potential of their personal strength. Unfortunately, like women across America, we have watched as men in this country have been studied and treated first across the board. Whether it is heart disease, sexual dysfunction or one of a long list of other medical conditions, until recently all the scientific research has been done on men, and medical treatments have won approval and been marketed first to men.  

Sexual dysfunction is certainly no exception.  

That’s why this month’s decision by a Food and Drug Administration Advisory Committee to recommend approval of what would be the first-ever medical treatment option for HSDD was so historic, and so overdue. If it receives final approval from the FDA in August, the drug Flibanserin would be the first in what we hope will be a pipeline of medical treatment options for the 1 in 10 women living with HSDD.  

Just as men enjoy today, women deserve the opportunity — and the option — to discuss a full range of treatment options for their sexual dysfunction. And in the case of HSDD, providing women with that opportunity means providing access to medical options to treat what is clearly a biologic condition.  

Let me be clear, we don’t believe that Flibanserin will work for every woman. But extensive trials involving more than 11,000 women found the drug increased their desire, decreased their distress and increased their number of sexual events. Importantly, the drug has shown minimal side effects compared to those for male sexual dysfunction, in fact compared to most drugs, period. It is more than time to trust pre-menopausal women with this condition, and the health practitioners who advise them, to decide if this is right for them. For those for whom it doesn't work, we give women credit that they will terminate use. We underscore that Flibanserin does not make women hypersexual, but restores them to where they were prior to the switch turned off.  

There are critics for this drug that argue it is not effective or that the side effects are too great, but the FDA advisory committee disagrees with them. It is simply unreasonable that these misinformed critics would deny deserving women a scientifically proven treatment and FDA review. The FDA has already identified female sexual dysfunction as a critical area of unmet need for approved medical treatments. At the FDA Patient-Focused Drug Development Workshop last fall, many women and their family members shared the devastating impact of female sexual dysfunction on relationships, marriages and lives.  

Over the past year, we’ve seen a steady drumbeat of support for women’s sexual dysfunction treatment options. In March, 11 members of Congress urged the FDA “to continue your focus on providing women with safe and effective treatments they need and deserve.” Last year, four congresswomen voiced their concerns about the lack of sexual dysfunction treatment options for women. And in recent weeks, both Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and David E. Price, D-N.C., sent individual letters expressing their concern with the disparity between drugs approved to treat men’s sexual dysfunction and those approved to treat women’s.  

If approved, Flibanserin will go a long way to restoring self-esteem, healthy sex and loving relationships that have been undermined by hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Approval in turn provides an important step towards opening a pipeline of investment, research and discovery to fortify the availability of new and effective treatments for HSSD for both pre- and post-menopausal women. If not approved we fear the pipeline of drug development for what FDA recognizes is an unmet medical need - will go dry.  

Women have waited long enough. It's more than time to act. Women deserve nothing less.  

Lori Weinstein is CEO of Jewish Women International.  

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