Opinion

Developing ‘female Viagra’? Start above the shoulders

Renee James Contributor

In My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins posed this question “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” How about this for starters, Professor? Because if we were, we couldn’t tell you what time your dentist appointment is a week from Thursday, how much money is due to summer camp for the field trip to the zoo, where we store the serving platter we use twice a year and the name of the plumber we used once in 1998. Because if we were, we’d attend “Ballerina Camp” every spring, while you went to Baseball Fantasy Camp. Because if we were, we’d hold the remote while we watched television.

More answers may be found in a few related news stories, recounted in recent and not so recent headlines.

A few years ago, Pfizer discovered one major difference between men and women—at least when it comes to sexual activity. You ready? Here it is: Women think too much. Scientists conducted research that involved some 3,000 women over the course of eight years, in an attempt to develop a “female Viagra” that would address the needs of women suffering from female sexual arousal disorder. They acknowledged that diagnosing women “involves assessing physical, emotional and relationship factors, and these complex and interdependent factors make measuring a medicine’s effect very difficult.” Translation: Getting the blood pumping in all the right places isn’t quite enough.

At the conclusion of the research, Dr. Mitra Boolol, the team leader, defined the crucial sexual organ in women: the brain. Translation: If a woman doesn’t make an emotional connection, all the nerve endings in the world can tingle like madmen, and at the end of the day, it won’t make any difference at the end of the day.

Then again, women may be more like men than we think, at least according to an article in the Times last fall. Many women who want an active, satisfying sex life turn to doctors or pharmacists in order to “keep up” sexually with the men in their lives. Absent Viagra, what do women get?

Well, we get creams, injections, sprays and lubricants, including the colorfully named Zestra from Sempre Labs. But according to Susan Kellogg, Ph.D, as quoted in this story, “even if a product helps arousal, that is not the same as desire, and rekindling desire is the most complex challenge…”

But please note: all the women profiled in the Times article were involved in relationships. They felt a connection, and wanted to explore the relationship sexually because they cared about the man involved. They weren’t looking for help in case they got lucky one night.

Seeing a pattern here?

This past week, an FDA panel of experts recommended rejecting the latest attempt at “female viagra,” when it withheld approval for flibanerin, a depression drug that caused some positive side effects on women regarding their overall level of sexual satisfaction. Those benefits just weren’t significant enough to gain FDA endorsement.

I don’t have the data that Pfizer, Sempre Laboratories or Boehringer Ingelheim has to back up my response to all this. I understand the concept of research, testing a hypothesis and reaching a conclusion about a theory. But with only my gender to guide me, and with all due respect to scientists and credentialed researchers, I going on record with this response: Duh.

Attempting to manufacture that elusive creature called “desire” through a pill for women was flawed from the start. Memo to sex researchers: There’s a reason many, many women from all corners of society read romance novels. Don’t believe me? Study the book sales statistics every year or hop online to Ravenous Romance, where women download short stories and romance novels every single day.

Female viagra already exists. A back rub. A cup of tea or a glass of wine after a long day. Handing over the remote control one evening. (Okay, that’s over the line.) But there’s one little catch. Ideally, this all happens while we’re still hours away from turning down the covers for the night.

I may be wrong. The good news is Pfizer admitted that while some useful information emerged from their research, there’s still work to be done on the issue of female sexuality. But they’re concentrating their studies and effort a little higher; above the shoulders, in fact. It might not be a bad idea if we all start there.

Renee James writes social commentary and keeps track of the things that mystify her on her blog: It’s not me, it’s you, found at reneeaj.blogspot.com. Her email address is raaj3@msn.com.