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SUNDAY JANUARY 27 2002
'Pink Viagra' on way for women
LOIS ROGERS, MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT
THE drug company behind Viagra is preparing to launch the first “orgasm pill” for women.
Preliminary results from trials of the new compound indicate that the makers, Pfizer, may have unravelled the mysteries of female sexual response and found a way of delivering a drug that will help thousands achieve a fuller sex life.
Pfizer confirmed last week that it is working towards the launch of the product and insiders said it could be brought to market in the next year. In contrast to Viagra, which is blue, the female formulation is being referred to within the company as “Pink Viagra”.
Surveys have indicated that 40% of women consider their sex lives to be boring, with older women worst affected. With the baby boom generation now in middle age, demand for the pink pill is expected to be substantial.
Interim results from trials on healthy women are likely to be discussed at a sexual health summit being organised by Pfizer in London next month. Results of a survey in 30 countries of the sex lives of 26,000 men and women over 40 will be revealed as part of a drive to raise awareness of the need for good sex in what it terms “the second half of life”.
A spokesman for the firm in New York refused to give details of the results from current trials ahead of publication later this year. However, he confirmed the findings were positive. The first controlled trial of the drug in British women is also under way, though it is restricted to women who have early symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease which damages the nerves.
The women are being given either the active drug or a placebo. Some who have been given active pills have enjoyed an instantly revived sex life, say sources close to the trial, which is being co-ordinated by the National Hospital for Neurology in London.
Viagra works in men by dilating the blood vessels in the sex organs and making it easier to achieve a stronger, longer- lasting erection. In women it also dramatically increases blood flow to the nervous tissue involved in arousal and orgasm. The new compound will be similar to the original but the recommended dose, as well as the colour, is expected to be changed significantly.
One 40-year-old, who tried the drug said she experienced her first orgasm in five years. “Wow, what a difference,” she said. “To say it is fantastic is an understatement.” A 55-year-old, who has MS, said: “You can feel the blood going to the genital area. You find yourself soliciting sex.”
Launched three years ago, Viagra has revolutionised the lives of thousands of men unable to maintain an erection. One in 10 men suffer from the condition. The treatment is only available on the NHS for men if they have been diagnosed with one of 14 conditions. However, large numbers of ordinary men have also discovered that Viagra can enhance their sex lives. Many persuade doctors to give them the drug on private prescriptions at £7.50 a tablet. A thriving black market has also developed on the internet.
Female sexual instinct, however, is vastly more complicated. At its simplest, researchers believe a woman’s response is a four-stage process involving desire, arousal, orgasm and satisfaction. Disruption of any of these stages affects the whole cycle.
A woman frustrated by her failure to achieve sexual enjoyment will have lowered libido the next time sex is on the agenda.
Studies reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that about a third of women aged between 18 and 60 said they were not particularly interested in sex, presumably because they do not find it fulfilling.
John Bancroft, the British-born head of the Kinsey Institute, a leading American centre for research on sexuality, is dubious about the drug’s effect on women: “It might work on a sub-group of women with physiological difficulties, but increasing the blood flow is not going to get to the heart of the matter in women.
“Mood and the state of their relationship with their partner are much more important factors in female sexual function.”