Sexual Health: Revving Up Women's Sex Drive (cont.)

Apply this criterion to the dozens of aphrodisiacs for women out there, and the number of suitable elixirs dwindles down to possibly one or two that work for some women. Even with the best of studies, expert opinion varies on what works best for female libido.

There is a consensus, however, on just how intricate female desire is. "Women's drive is so complex that biology is only one factor that drives sex drive," says Jean Koehler, PhD, a licensed family and marriage therapist in Louisville, Ky., and past president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.

Besides biology, the following factors can affect female libido:

  • Quality of the relationship
  • Attitudes of upbringing
  • Support of peer group
  • Quality of touch and sex
  • Understanding of partners
  • Age
  • Illness
  • Use of medications
  • Emotional well-being

Trouble with one or a combination of these factors can affect women's sex drive. Such loss of interest in sex is medically identified as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).

There are some popular products that have either been designed or tested to treat HSDD.

Viagra

Despite rumors and various advertising claims to the contrary, there isn't a female Viagra out there.

"We know that Viagra doesn't work in women," says Whipple.

"Women are not minimen," Whipple explains. "We are different than men in what we want, what we desire, what feels good to us, and we're also different at the biochemical level."

Female sexuality is, indeed, so much more complex than male sexuality that even after several scientific studies involving about 3,000 women, Viagra-maker Pfizer hasn't been able to come up with conclusive findings. Earlier this year, the company announced it was ending research of Viagra in women.

But this does not mean there isn't hope for some women. Research is ongoing on several other products for female libido.

Testosterone

Two large studies presented at scientific meetings this year show the testosterone patch Intrinsa, made by Procter & Gamble, can increase sexual activity in 50% to 70% of women.

The participants, though, only include a select group of women with HSDD.

"Every study we've done so far on the testosterone patches in the public domain is just involving women who have had their ovaries removed (surgically menopausal), and they're all estrogen-treated before we add the testosterone," says Jan Shifren, MD, director of the Vincent Obstetrics and Gynecology Service Menopause Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who is involved in testosterone studies. "So despite estrogen therapy, they still have decreased sexual desire."

Women who have had their ovaries removed are good candidates for testosterone therapy, since the ovaries are a major source of testosterone as well as estrogen, says Shifren. "In these women, it was like we were restoring levels back to what it would have been had they still had their ovaries."