Can pink pills cure her lack of sexual desire?

My dog Emma is in heat these days. She dreams about puppies and prepares a nest for them in her basket. Male dogs come galloping up to our house, tails high, owners behind them, short of breath and carrying an empty leash. Emma will mate at once, given the chance. She wants to, and she doesn’t care who the partner is, as long as he’s male. When she is not in heat, she sneers at any dog getting too curious of her behind. She does not want to mate. It’s simple.

Marianne and Svend are a couple a little over 50. Marianne’s desire for sex has disappeared completely. She never thinks of sex, has no sexual fantasies, no sudden nice feelings of warmth and heaviness in her pelvis. She and Svend have tried so many things: They have talked about what she likes and what usually turns her on, they have gone on a lover’s weekend, bought toys, watched porn. Nothing has helped. Svend doesn’t try to get close to her so much anymore and the good talks they used to have a getting more rare. Marianne is worried and sad. It’s not simple at all.

People have expectations about desire. They especially expect it to be there, ready to supply experiences, relaxation, wellness, intimacy, and happiness… Lust and a good sex life are seen as necessary ingredients in a good life.

Desire comes from many things

Words, pictures, touch, smell, thoughts and imaginations. What turns us on and how quickly and easily it happens has in part to do with where we are in life. Stress and busyness, disease, breast feeding, oral contraceptives, a partner who’s not as new and exciting as s/he used to be, pain – these are all desire killers. During puberty, when the libido hormone testosterone is high, the sex drive is intense and powerful. During old age spontaneous lust may have disappeared and can only be enticed forward by stimulation and fantasies.

Lack of desire is a widespread problem, with a negative impact on the lives of women and couples all over the world. Hence a great deal of money is at stake for a company who can bring a desire boosting pill on the market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now approved Addyi (flibanserin), the first product ever to get an official stamp as a preparation strengthening sexual desire. It’s so far only tested on women prior to menopause. It’s been called “Pink Viagra” or Viagra for women, which is misleading. Viagra (for men) only works if the man already wants to have sex. Addyi is for those who have no desire for sex.

Small effect, many side effects

Dosage is one pill every day, and if you don’t have any noticeable effect after 8 weeks, you should stop the treatment. The pill can have side effects. It can make you dizzy, sleepy and nauseated. The risk is greatest if you drink alcohol, so during treatment with Addyi, you should not drink alcohol at all. A new kind of Antabus, actually. And the effect is not something that will make you see stars and fireworks. The women in treatment get a handful more sexual thoughts and fantasies, but only 10% of the women think their sex lives get better. On average, they have satisfying sex once or twice more every second month. If that makes it worth the trouble (and the side effects) taking Addyi probably depends on how often you have sex in the first place. And so far, Addyi is only approved for women who have not yet gone through menopause.

So Addyi is no miracle. Maybe it’s not at all better for Marianne than other ways of improving desire. I will come back to that later.

What are the three best things about sex?

The three best things about sex…

… is a drink before and a cigarette afterwards, I remember somebody saying when I was young.

And some people certainly find that true. But is it good advice? What does alcohol and tobacco do to your sex life?

Let’s start with the positive thing: the drink. Alcohol and sex is not such a bad mixture. A glass of wine or a drink before sex may actually make sex better. It makes you relax and makes it easier for you to enjoy, to talk with your partner about what you like and and what you can do to please him or her. The surroundings, including your partner, become a bit more attractive. The effect may not be as dramatic as in this Tuborg beer-ad from 1994, but still noticeable.

Australian researchers have found that older women who drink a little alcohol have more sex than those who do not drink at all. Other research has shown  that the more people drink, the more likely is it that they will go home with somebody they met in a bar, and they are also more open to having a same-sex experience. So alcohol can be a good thing. Which doesn’t mean that having a glass of wine or two will automatically give you more sex, but having a generally more permissive attitude to the good things in life may.

But too much alcohol is not good, of course. You may do things you’re not at all proud of when the alcohol fog leaves you and you see clearly again. And many men have had the embarrassing experience that too many stiff drinks make them less stiff somewhere else. Alcohol may also make you so sleepy so you forget what you were up to and fall asleep instead – also quite embarrassing, if your partner has other intentions.

And now to the cigarettes

Theres not much good to be said about them, not when it comes to sex or general health.  Smoking definitely has a bad influence on sex – both before and after. Four out of five men with erection problems are smokers, and the more they smoke, the greater their erection difficulties. Smoking gives you arteriosclerosis, which makes your blood vessels lose their elasticity and become narrower. It’s like when water pipes get clogged up by lime scale and too little water gets through. When the blood vessels to the penis are too narrow, not enough blood comes through to produce the erection. Viagra and substances like that may help for a while, but not forever. The vessels may be so bad that even Viagra doesn’t help.

But men aren’t the only ones affected by smoke. Even young women who smoke have less blood flow to their clitoris, their vagina and labia than women who don’t smoke. That may mean that they feel less aroused and get less wet when they have sex.

And in contrast to the wine and the drinks, nobody becomes more attractive from smoking. On the contrary – you age faster, your skin becomes grey and wrinkled, and women who smoke go into menopause a couple of years earlier than non-smokers.


So, what are the best three things about sex? Maybe a drink before and a close and cosy talk in bed afterwards?