Can you remember a time when you’d never heard of Viagra? I’m sure the time frame existed, but the popular medication (or Cialis, or the numerous other FDA-approved drugs that boost male sexual performance) has always felt as available as something like Excedrin (albeit a bit more taboo). It’s commonplace, whether you use it or not. Now, try to think of the women’s equivalent to Viagra. Stumped? That’s not on you. The female libido has been understudied and misunderstood. But thankfully, that’s all starting to change.
A women’s version of Viagra isn’t entirely nonexistent, however. Flibanserin (aka “Addyi” or “the little pink pill”) was finally FDA-approved in 2015. It works a bit differently than Viagra, targeting desire rather than sexual performance (the mental rather than the physical), with more than 10% of patients reporting meaningful improvements to their libidos in clinical trials. Sadly, the biggest difference between Addyi and Viagra is that the former, which still has no generic equivalent, is rarely covered by insurance.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
What Doctors Have Gotten Wrong About Female Libido
It’s a frustrating symptom of an even more infuriating problem: the topic of women’s sexual health is woefully misunderstood and underserved.
“There are decades of progress needed with payers to recognize that women deserve sexual healthcare,” shares board-certified OB/GYN Dr. Lyndsey Harper. “The problems are not just in our heads… we deserve access to these medications.”
Lyndsey Harper, MD is a Board Certified OB/GYN, a Fellow of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and a Fellow of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. Dr. Harper is the founder and CEO of Rosy, an award-winning women’s health technology company that connects women who have sexual health concerns with hope, community, and research-backed solutions.
Low Sex Drive? You’re Far From Alone
Dr. Harper’s journey into the world of women’s sexual healthcare began in 2018 while working in private practice. Countless women began expressing the same concern: they didn’t feel like having sex with their partner—ever.
“My patients were needing a lot more support than I was trained to offer them,” Dr. Harper recalls. “I didn’t even realize I was missing such a vital part of women’s health in my training until women began sharing.”
The dominoes fell all at once as she began recalling medical school and residency. “I was like, Wait a minute… why don’t I know anything about women’s sexual health?” she thought. “And wait, why did I spend two weeks in an erectile dysfunction clinic in medical school? And why are there no FDA-approved [sexual health] medicines for women that are covered by insurance and there are 26 that are covered for men?”
A Shift in Women’s Sexual Health Studies
In 2019, Dr. Harper founded Rosy, a freemium app that has connected over 200,000 women with personalized solutions for sexual wellness concerns. As of 2023, more than 11% of the nation’s OB/GYNs recommend the Texas-based femtech startup, which has raised upwards of $4.2 million in funding.
And while there is much work to be done, Dr. Harper has noted a desire for change in the medical community since Rosy first launched.
“What we’re starting to see is the awakening of the medical community to the fact that there is this gap, which is leading to a lot more interest, which is leading to more people getting individually trained after residency like I did,” Dr. Harper explains. “Then we can train up future residents. Big shifts like this in medicine take decades, but I think in terms of awareness, excitement, and openness to the topic, we have made a ton of progress in the past four years.”
Reframing the Way We Think of Women’s Sexual Health
It’s not just the medical community that needs to reframe how it thinks about women’s sexual health, however. Dr. Harper points to a recently published article in The New York Times, “Women Have Been Misled About Menopause,” which discusses the ways in which menopausal women have been underserved. “It suggests that we have a high cultural tolerance for women’s suffering,” Rebecca Thurston, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, shares in the article.
“We accept things that we shouldn’t be accepting,” Dr. Harper adds. “But it’s not our fault. We just haven’t been given permission by society.”