On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the injectable drug Vyleesi to treat women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder. The prescription drug, which will hit the consumer market in September, aims to boost affected women’s libidos by activating the brain’s receptors that play a role in feeling sexual desire.
“As part of the FDA’s commitment to protect and advance the health of women, we’ll continue to support the development of safe and effective treatments for female sexual dysfunction,” Dr. Hylton V. Joffe, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s Division of Bone, Reproductive and Urologic Products, said in an FDA press release.
Vyleesi is the second drug the FDA has approved for hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. In 2015, the FDA approved Addyi for hypoactive sexual desire disorder as well. While Addyi is a pill meant to be taken daily, Vyleesi users are supposed to inject the drug at least 45 minutes before having sex.
Both Vyleesi and Addyi are for women who have not yet gone through menopause and work through a similar mechanism. Their side effects can include nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, and they have also been shown to increase a users’ blood pressure.
According to The Society for Women’s Health Research, hypoactive sexual desire disorder affects an estimated 1 in 10 women.
The condition can be diagnosed when a woman’s lack of sexual desire is so distressing to her that it interferes with her relationships and personal life. Distress is an important factor in diagnosing hypoactive sexual desire disorder, since some people with low libidos might not feel distress or experience relationship problems, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) website.
“[To diagnose it] we would ask about the past and if the level [of sexual desire] you’re experiencing now is different from the past,” Rachel Wright, a relationship therapist and cofounder of the Wright Wellness Center, told INSIDER. “Then, we would ask if you’re bothered by [the new lower sex drive]. It’s very subjective compared to other diagnoses, like a panic attack.”
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder – which can also affect men, though this medication is for women only – has many potential causes. It may be a byproduct of libido-reducing medication or another illness, but it could also be the result of being in an unhealthy relationship or poor communication, according to Wright.
“Women’s sexual desire is so complex, not even the best scientist will understand fully what’s happening with low libido. It can be a symptom of so many things, just like fatigue,” Wright said.
Addyi and Vyleesi have both been called “female Viagra” because of their uses, but Wright said this moniker is misleading since hypoactive sexual desire disorder is a complicated condition rooted in the brain rather than a mechanical issue. “Viagra is about treating an in-the-moment issue and an operational functional thing, whereas Vylessi is actually about overall desire, not in-the-moment performance,” Wright said. “It’s a symptom of a larger issue.”
Since identifying the cause of low sexual desire can be so complicated, prescribing a drug like Vyleesi may be nothing more than a Band-Aid for a bigger relationship-related problem that takes a lot of work, not an injection, to deal with effectively. “If somebody can take a pill versus doing that hard work of therapy or talking about what’s going on, people will do that,” Wright said. “This feels a little like a slippery slope, especially if someone is in an unhealthy relationship and responding to that by not being interested in sex.”
In that case, Wright recommends talking to your partner about why you’re not interested in sex like you used to be. It can be awkward at first since societal messages can make women feel shameful about sexual health problems, but doing so could lead to a discussion that better prioritises your sexual needs in the long run.
Wright said the majority of her patients who experience low libido feel that way because of an underlying issue like childhood sexual trauma or resentment toward their partners. Discussing how you feel in a scenario like this may serve you better than a drug.