Dec 282010
 

From the top hat:

What happens when a woman takes viagra?

Short answer: not a lot.

Really what happens is you increase blood flow to erectile tissues. And what happens when you increase blood flow to erectile tissues? Again, not a lot, due to the non-congruence of women’s physiological sexual response with their perceived/emotional sexual response. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, go read the post. Really. It’s important.)

Sexual arousal medications have AMAZINGLY HUGE placebo effects, so it’s perfectly possible – between 15-40%, I’d estimate – that a woman taking viagra would experience an increase in desire… but she’d experience that taking two aspirin if her doctor assured her it would “increase her libido.” (Of course that effect is now diminished for you, because you’ve read this and know it’s bullshit.)

We know viagra isn’t effective in increasing women’s sexual desire because you can bet your bippy that Pfizer has tested it and tested it and tried to find an effect, and they can’t. It’s been 11 years since it was first produced, and still no effect has been proven.

This is one of the drums I bang all the time: medication isn’t effective, and there are behavioral, attitudinal, and experiential things you can do to increase desire/arousability for women.

Can it harm a woman? Well no one knows for sure, of course. I’m gonna say globally probably not, taken rarely and at low doses, unless you have the conditions that are contraindicated for men. And all medications have the potential for side effects or health risks; because it’s not approved for women, the research on these effects and risks is limited, to put it mildly.

So what happens when a woman takes viagra? Well most likely it DOESN’T increase her sexual desire.

Emily Nagoski

  4 Responses to “top hat question 6: women and viagra”

Comments (4)
  1. “(Of course that effect is now diminished for you, because you’ve read this and know it’s bullshit.)”

    I know that new studies are terribly unreliable, but there’s some evidence to say that maybe so and maybe not

    http://blogs.plos.org/neurotribes/2010/12/22/meet-the-ethical-placebo-a-story-that-heals/

    Summary: A new study came out where a group was given a placebo pill for IBS and told that it was a placebo and there was still a strong effect. Take from that what you will.

  2. My partner has experimented with Viagra perhaps half a dozen times, and done this mostly during a time of huge changes in libido and the ‘texture’ of her orgasms associated with menopause. The results have been mixed, but have ranged from generally positive to over-the-top.

    What’s been most striking for me (she hasn’t been aware of it each time till I’ve pointed it out) is the unprecedentedly huge clitoral engorgement most of the times — swollen, hard and persistent for an hour or so.

    Her clitoral engorgement is strongly correlated with her turn-on and her orgasmic response most of the time, and that’s been true in spades with Viagra. Is there also a placebo effect? Most likely, but the direct physical impact, her lack of any awareness of it until she’s stimulated or told, and the way hard clit tracks to hard comes and a much greater likelihood for ejaculation — all of that makes me think that, at least for this one woman, Viagra is having a significant impact.

    I also agree with the first commenter that the research record is more mixed than simply negative, though weakly so. My read is that (a) women’s interior furniture around orgasm is complicated, complicated, complicated, and (b) that for at least a small percentage of women, erectile drugs can have an impact on their sexual experience beyond the placebo effect.

    • Yes for something like 10% of women, very approximately, it seems like it’s genuinely effective. If drug companies could predict which 10%, they could get the drug approved for them specifically, but to the best of my knowledge there are no reliable variables that distinguish those women from the other 90%.

  3. Mild quibble. Just the other day I was gently thumped by a commenter for conflating the intended effect of the botanical substance Zestra and the intended effect of pharmaceutical Viagra on this very issue in one of my posts. Point being that it’s no surprise that Viagra doesn’t increase desire in women since it also doesn’t increase desire in men. All it does is make it easier to get an erection when you already have desire.

    But that really is just a quibble. The effect Bill Nobel describes sounds likely, and sounds welcome and delightful for his partner and himself, and it might even describe some of the positive experiences other women report… without invalidating your point about the non-congruence between symptoms of physical arousal and desire in women.

    I’m mildly curious about Zestra. It’s manufacturers say passes clinical tests that indicate it increases desire in women in a statistically significant way. Since a lot of people really do confuse arousal (what Viagra does) and desire (what Zestra is said to do) I wonder if any similar trials have been conducted on men to see if Zestra might increase our desire.

    From a stereotyping perspective that sounds like coals to Newcastle but evidently as men age our libidos can also decline. This decline can be masked by a couple of things Viagra being one and the social message that in one-on-one relationships men’s desire is the measure of all things. But for the partners of older women, or at least of those women who blog bitterly about their partner’s lower libidos, a little help in that department might be more welcome than expected. For that reason if no other I’d be interested to see trials assessing its effect on men.

    By the way, Emily, happy New Year to you and yours. I’m so glad I found your blog this year.

    figleaf

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