Fight Over 'Little Pink Pill' Raises Sexism Questions

A drug aimed at boosting women's sex drive is in a heated FDA-approval battle.

ByABC News
May 21, 2014, 1:28 PM

May 21, 2014— -- It’s called the “little pink pill,” a tiny tablet that could have a huge impact on treating female sexual dysfunction. If it’s approved, it would become the first drug of its kind on the market.

But that’s a big IF.

The drug Flibanserin is locked in a heated battle for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raising controversial questions about why there are so many sexual enhancement drugs available for men and zero for women.

Cindy Whitehead, the founder and COO of Sprout Pharmaceuticals, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based company focused on producing only Flibanserin, has been fighting for FDA approval for the drug for three years.

“There are 25 approved drugs for some form of male sexual dysfunction, but still a great big zero for the most common form of FSD [female sexual dysfunction],” Whitehead said. “No matter how or why we got here, we're here, and we've got to come up with a solution for it.”

Flibanserin is more than curing a weak libido. It’s specifically for treating Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, or HSDD. Gynecologist and sexual health crusader Dr. Lauren Streicher explained that HSDD goes much deeper than just a low sex drive.

“[HSDD] is a very specific problem in a woman who doesn’t think about sex, she doesn’t fantasize, she doesn’t desire sex,” Streicher said. “What makes it different is that it’s distressing to her. This has a negative impact on her. She’s worried about it, she’s frustrated.”

According to the International Journal of Women’s Health, as many as 1 in 10 women suffer from HSDD. While many doctors agree HSDD is a problem that should be addressed, there are no medical treatment options.

Whitehead believes Flibanserin is the solution to solving female sexual dysfunction, but said it’s not accurate to call the drug “female Viagra” because it doesn’t work in the same way that Viagra does for men.

“Viagra is a blood-flow issue, a mechanical issue, and Flibanserin works on key chemicals in the brain,” she said.

Scientists have known for years that a woman’s most significant sexual organ is actually her brain, which is what makes female desire disorders so hard to treat.

Flibanserin is taken daily at bedtime, but it’s not a hormonal supplement. Instead, the pill manipulates certain chemicals in the brain to achieve desire.

To test it in clinical trials, Whitehead said it was important to find women who genuinely suffer from HSDD, and not just boredom.

“There's a diagnostic questionnaire that physicians go through, and they really can pretty quickly get to whether or not this is a relationship dynamic or something that's happening biologically,” she said.

Amanda Parrish said that’s exactly what she was facing. A mother of four from Nashville, Tenn., Parrish said she used to have a smoldering sex life with her husband, but over time, things cooled off. She said the problem wasn’t with him, but with her.

“I felt like even though we were close and having a great relationship there was something that wasn't extremely gratifying,” Parrish said. “There was something just not there, so I was in search of something that would make that happen.”

Feeling pressure to be a so-called “wholesome soccer mom,” Parrish said she never discussed the issue with her friends but had a feeling she wasn’t alone.