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Can Women Take Viagra?

A man and woman cuddle in bed

When a woman is unhappy with her sex life, it is known as female sexual dysfunction (FSD).  FSD is not an illness, although it is a problem which can cause great distress. Many women have problems with sex at some stage in their life.  FSD can affect around one-third of young and middle-aged women, and around half of older women.

Signs of FSD can include:

  • Low sex drive
  • Problems with orgasm
  • Pain during sex

It could also be a combination of all or some of these signs.  The term FSD is usually used when the problems a woman experiences have been going on for six months or more.  Some women with FSD say that their sex lives have always been unsatisfying enough to cause them unhappiness or distress.  Whereas for others, it can come around because of illness, life experiences (during pregnancy, after having a baby, stress), with ageing or for no apparent reason. It may occur in every situation (and with every partner), or only in some situations or with some partners. It may resolve by itself, or it may need help.  To identify the reasons behind sexual dysfunction, both physical and psychological factors should be considered, including a woman's relationship with her partner.

Viagra is a well-known drug for treating erectile dysfunction in men but what about the effect of Viagra in women?  Firstly, it’s important to point out that Viagra is not suitable for women and is only licensed for use in men.  However, it’s an area of great interest to many people as there have been many articles in both women’s magazines and popular newspapers.

It has been suggested that Viagra may increase sexual pleasure in women.  We know that Viagra works in men by increasing the blood flow to the penis.  In women it’s thought that Viagra could increase blood perfusion to the female genital area, increasing lubrication and aiding orgasm.  This theory has led to research into women taking Viagra.  The studies have mainly focused on the treatment of FSD.  However, the medical trials to date have failed to produce significant evidence that Viagra works for women.

One explanation is that Viagra will not increase a woman’s libido or sex drive.  As explained above, low sex drive is a significant symptom of FSD.  The main reason why Viagra is not licensed in women is there is a lack of knowledge and evidence to support the theories.  As there has never been a large enough medical trial to investigate the effect of Viagra in women, the authorities cannot say that Viagra is safe for women nor comment if Viagra really is effective in women.

Flibanserin

Flibanserin is licensed in the USA for the treatment of female sexual dysfunction, although this has been controversial. It has been called 'women's Viagra' which is very misleading as it actually acts on the brain (while Viagra acts directly on the blood flow to the penis).  Flibanserin was developed as an anti-depressant and boosts sexual desire by balancing chemicals in the brain.  It encourages sexual excitement and reduces feelings of inhibition.

The evidence is not strong and points to, if anything, only a small increase in sexual activity in women taking Flibanserin.  Side effects of Flibanserin include dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and fatigue, and cannot be taken with alcohol or grapefruit juice.