Here’s a fun trivia item I bet you didn’t know: Before erectile dysfunction drugs for men hit the market in the ’90s, having performance issues “was very hush-hush and shameful to admit,” says Diane Todd Pace, Ph.D., a nurse and menopause specialist at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. In fact, the term “erectile dysfunction” didn’t even exist. Instead, guys were just called “impotent.”
But, thanks to this new terminology and the arrival of prescription therapies, men were finally given the vocabulary they needed to discuss their sex problems without blaming themselves. That’s why dudes have a decades-long leg up on handling sexual dysfunction.
Women, on the other hand, haven’t had easy terminology or potential treatment, so talking about sexual dysfunction has been taboo for us, according to Pace.
Now, that’s changing. But first, women need to recognize that having a few days when the last thing on your mind is a long, hot sex session is absolutely fine. “There are going to be lots of times when you’re just not interested in sex, and that’s totally normal,” says Lisa Chism, Ph.D., clinical director of the Women’s Wellness Clinic at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit. “The problem is when this keeps going for months and months.” And the difference is that it really frustrates you.
If you’re like, RT that’s so me, first of all, don’t panic. Second, let’s dissect what may be going on, how you can talk about it, and how you can fix it, too… just like the guys.
What’s a persistent lack of desire called?
When your libido—for your partner, for pleasuring yourself, for fantasizing about some celeb’s sexy new selfie—is missing for months and months and causing you frustration, this may be a real medical condition. If it’s not due to a health condition (such as a major surgery), an underlaying problem with the relationship, or medication you’re on (i.e. antidepressants), your doctor may want to talk to you about a condition called hypoactive sexual desire disorder, or HSDD.
With HSDD, “there’s a persistent loss of interest in sex,” says Sheryl Kingsberg, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and chief of behavioral medicine at MacDonald Women’s Hospital in Cleveland. In other words, if sex were food, it’s like you’ve lost your appetite. You may want to want to have it, you just… well, don’t—and it’s frustrating.
Sounds stressful, right? Well, it turns out that HSDD is common. In fact, approximately 1 in 10 premenopausal women in the US has it.*
We know that 91% of our readers feel as though sex is an important part of a relationship (thanks to a recent survey**), so we wanted to dig into this issue some more.
Alright, so what can be done about it?
The good news is that HSDD is treatable with medication, the newly FDA-approved Vyleesi® (bremelanotide injection), which is the first and only FDA-approved as-needed treatment for premenopausal women with acquired, generalized HSDD . Unlike previous drugs that had to be taken every day, Vyleesi® is self-injected with an autoinjector device at least 45 minutes before you want to have sex. It’s thought to work by restoring the chemical balance responsible for sexual desire and response, explains Pace.
Chism clarifies that Vyleesi® doesn’t function the same way as performance anxiety medications do for men. It’s been known for a long time that the brain is responsible for sexual desire. Women who have HSDD have an imbalance of neurotransmitter (chemical messengers) activity in the brain, resulting in low sexual desire.
Vyleesi® is believed to act on certain neurotransmitters, called melanocortins, to help improve sexual desire.
Why is addressing it the right move?
Get ready for this: Although approximately 1 in 10 women in the US is living with HSDD, only 5 percent of women know that HSDD is a medical condition.*** We want to change that.
“Women tend to blame themselves, but it’s not their fault,” explains James Simon, M.D., president of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. “It’s really a problem in the brain.”
Many women might intellectually know that having an illness, feeling stressed out, or taking certain meds can temporarily lower their sex drive, but at the same time, they’re fighting cultural expectations that they be ready for sex whenever their partner wants it, Kingsberg adds. When a woman isn’t, she might feel responsible, whether her lack of interest is temporary or more long-term, like with HSDD.
This is why medications like Vyleesi® are so important, Kingsberg says, although it’s just one method of treatment among others. Please note that Vyleesi® is not indicated for treatment of HSDD in postmenopausal women or in men and is not indicated to enhance sexual performance. Additionally, the most common side effects of Vyleesi® are nausea, flushing, injection site reactions, headache, and vomiting.
Kingsberg says she hopes that the sooner women realize that HSDD is both real and treatable, they will feel more open to talking about the issue. They’re not alone—and there’s help.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION
Vyleesi® is not for use in postmenopausal women or in men, and is not indicated to improve sexual performance. Don’t use Vyleesi® if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or known cardiovascular disease. The most common side effects of Vyleesi® include: nausea, flushing, injection site reactions, headache, vomiting. These are not all the possible side effects of Vyleesi®; please see Important Safety Information here.
Vyleesi® is a prescription medicine used to treat hypoactive (low) sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in women who have not gone through menopause, who have not had problems with low sexual desire in the past, and who have low sexual desire no matter the type of sexual activity, the situation, or the sexual partner. Women with HSDD have low sexual desire that is troubling to them. Their low sexual desire is not due to:
- a medical or mental health problem
- problems in the relationship
- medicine or other drug use
Vyleesi® is not for the treatment of HSDD in women who have gone through menopause or in men.
Vyleesi® is not for use to improve sexual performance.
Vyleesi® is not for use in children.
*Goldstein et al 2017/p1/para1/lines 1-4; Kingsberg et al 2015/p916/col1/para1/lines 13-16; p917/col1/para2/lines 11-13; p928/col2/para1/lines 1-8; Shifren et al 2008/p.972/para 6/lines 1-7.
**A survey of 1,868 sexually active women ages 25 to 49 was conducted by Women’s Health & Cosmopolitan, in partnership with a pharmaceutical company that sells a drug to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).
***Maserejian NN, Parish S, Shifren JL, Huang L, Gerstenberger E, Rosen RC. Healthcare utilization in women diagnosed with hypoactive sexual desire disorder: interim baseline results from the HSDD Registry for Women. J Women’s Health. 2010;19(11):2001-2009.