Despite efforts by multiple pharmaceutical companies, the FDA still has not approved a drug to treat low sexual desire in women. For men dealing with sexual dysfunction, there are 24 approved drugs on the market (including, of course, Viagra). Just last week, the FDA sent Sprout Pharmaceuticals back to Phase 1 trials on flibanserin, a drug that's designed to treat Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) in women. It was developed 12 years ago. A drug has to pass Phase 3 trials to get approved.

Why won't the FDA approve a "little pink pill"? There are a few reasons, some of which are sexist. 

Female sexual desire is difficult to study 

Erectile dysfunction is easily defined as a medical problem with a medical cure. Arousal problems in women, however, are harder for doctors and researchers to understand. Some think low sexual desire is just a psychological issue. Sex therapist Jennifer Foust tells CNN that women often run into problems after having their first child, evidence that the issue may be situational. 

Researchers can't even figure out the best way to study female desire. Pfizer completely gave up on testing Viagra on women in 2004, claiming that the research was too complicated. The New York Times reported at the time, "For men, arousal almost always leads to desire. So by improving a man's ability to have erections, Viagra measurably affects his sexual function. But arousal and desire are often disconnected in women, the researchers found, to their consternation." 

Now, some doctors claim that low sexual desire in women can't be cured with a pill, since Viagra hasn't been proven to help women. But those studies weren't conclusive. 

Obviously, some doctors think that giving up on studying women's desire is sexist. Sheryl Kingsberg, the chief of behavioral medicine at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, tells The American Prospect, "Right now, we’re telling women that sexual dysfunction is all in their head, and that really isn’t fair. There’s some underlying institutional sexism at play."

Some doctors are actually worried about turning women into nymphomaniacs

In addition to underlying institutional sexism, blatant, medieval sexism is also at play. Dr. Andrew Goldstein, a gynecologist who's been involved with the development of flibanserin, told the Times in May,

You want your effects to be good but not too good. There was a lot of discussion about it by the experts in the room, the need to show that you’re not turning women into nymphomaniacs.

He says, "there’s a bias against — a fear of creating the sexually aggressive woman."

Some argue that decreased sex drive is just par for the course 

All of the studies involving Viagra-like drugs for women have involved women who are in long term, monogamous relationships. These are, statistically, the women who suffer from low sexual desire. So some doctors argue that not wanting to have sex with your spouse is just life — you shouldn't need a pill for it. Psychologist Mark D. White writes in Psychology Today that HSDD "seems to be following the same path as depression did several decades ago. There are a number of books, ... that accuse drug companies, in conjunction with 'Big Psych' ... of exaggerating the extent of depression in order to sell antidepressants." In this way, women's low sexual desire is pathologized to sell drugs.

The facts are these: no drugs are actually being sold. In addition to flibanserin, plenty of other drugs have been tossed around by the FDA, including Lybrido, Lybridos, and Bremelanotide. None of them have passed Phase 3 trials. Meanwhile, 50 million women suffer from some kind of sexual dysfunction, and some of them would like the 24 drug options that men have.  Leah Millheiser, the director of the Female Sexual Medicine program at Stanford University, tells The Washington Post, "I have patients who call me who meet true criteria for HSDD, [asking] 'Are we any closer? Is the drug out yet?' There is a need for it."

Photo by Michal Kowalski via Shutterstock.