Last October, the first medication designed to treat low sexual desire in women hit the market. Depending on who you believe, flibanserin (sold under the brand name Addyi) is either a safe and effective treatment for the most common form of female sexual dysfunction, or “a mediocre aphrodisiac with scary side effects.” To some, its approval by the Food and Drug Administration represented a long-overdue feminist victory for equality in sexual health; to others, it seemed like the product of a clever faux-feminist con carefully orchestrated by Big Pharma.
Originally tested as an antidepressant, flibanserin’s application as a treatment for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) had been rejected by the agency twice before, in 2010 and 2013. This time, the drug gained the support of a coalition of progressive women’s and health organizations, which launched a multi-pronged lobbying effort for its approval. The Even the Score campaign, which quickly joined forces with the drug’s then-owner Sprout Pharmaceuticals (Valeant Pharmaceuticals acquired Sprout after the FDA’s decision), charged the FDA with “persistent gender inequity” on the grounds that men had 26 FDA-approved drugs to treat their sexual dysfunction, while women had zero. Approving flibanserin, the campaign argued, would be one small step toward “evening the score.”