Better than a pill? Sexual health expert Debby Herbenick offers tips for stoking arousal, desire
Although people have long searched for aphrodisiacs, it wasn't until Viagra was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration -- and then prescribed to millions of men -- that the so-called "race for a female Viagra" began. In the 12 years since, various pharmaceutical companies have tried and failed to create medications to treat "hypoactive sexual desire disorder" (HSDD; clinically low sexual desire) among women.
This June, as was widely reported in the media, the FDA considered an application from German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim to have its drug, flibanserin, considered for approval to treat HSDD. After a review of the data, an FDA staff report and an FDA advisory committee recommended against approving the drug (the FDA typically follows such recommendations).
There were various reasons for these "no-votes" -- among them, the suggestion that the side effects didn't outweigh a fairly small benefit. After all, in double blind placebo controlled trials, women who were on the active drug only experienced about 0.8 more sexually satisfying events per month than women who were taking the placebo. I started saying (only half joking) that through my work as a sex educator, columnist and author, I might be more effective than flibanserin! After all, like many sex educators, I've found that giving people accurate information about their bodies and sexuality can help them to have more pleasurable, satisfying sex.
Fortunately, there are many natural ways that women (and men, too) can enhance their sexual desire and arousal, without taking any type of drug. For example:
- Get a good night's sleep. Whether you're suffering from sleep loss due to job stress, a new baby or a persistent pet, the effects are the same: you may feel grumpy and exhausted with sex being the last thing on your mind. Try to create a peaceful sleep environment, use your bed only for sleep and sex (not work or television) and talk to your healthcare provider if your sleep struggles continue. Sexual desire thrives under conditions of rest and relaxation.
- Be mindful. Preliminary research has found that mindfulness exercises may help some women to enhance their arousal by teaching them to focus on the present moment including their own bodily sensations, the scent and feel of their partner, and their emotions. I wrote in more detail about mindfulness and sex for Psychology Today here.
- Take care of your health. Some medical conditions are linked to sexual problems including low desire, erectile problems and difficulties with vaginal lubrication. Make sure to visit your healthcare provider for an annual wellness exam and make an appointment with your doctor any time you experience ongoing health problems (including sexual health problems).
- Care for your relationship. Desire difficulties are sometimes linked to relationship problems. What may seem like a small problem -- for example, feeling resentful about always being the one to empty the trash -- sometimes builds up to larger problems. Some research suggests that couples who share power (such as with household chores) are more likely to be sexually satisfied. If you'd like to meet with a counselor or therapist about your relationship, find one through the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (aamft.org) or the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (sstarnet.org).
- Stop smoking. Researchers have found that nicotine is linked with lower arousal responses among both women and men. As many women and men look to their body to clue them into whether or not they're feeling up to sex, this could play a role in desire, too.
- Be playful. Research conducted by our team at The Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University found that vibrator use was associated with more positive sexual function for women and men. More than half of women and nearly half of men had used vibrators (most of men's use was with a female partner). Reading erotica or dressing in sexy lingerie can also help people to get in the mood for sex.
Learning about sex can help people to feel better about their sexuality and can also suggest new ways of enhancing desire, arousal and satisfaction. Check out my book, Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction, for additional tips about enhancing desire and arousal, introducing toys to a partner (or using them yourself), and ways to have a better sex life through positive lifestyle changes. You can also download our Kinsey Confidential podcasts for free to hear real questions about sexual concerns as well as our responses.
Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a research scientist and associate director at The Center for Sexual Health Promotion in IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.
To read more Active for Life blogs by Debby Herbenick visit http://newsinfo.iu.edu/cat/page/normal/464.html.