Thus far, drug companies havent been able to develop an effective treatment for female sexual dysfunction.
Thus far, drug companies haven't been able to develop an effective treatment for female sexual dysfunction. Boonchuay1970/Shutterstock

The New York Times reports:

...[A] female libido pill that had been twice rejected by the F.D.A. achieved a surprise success on June 4, when a panel of experts recommended the agency approve it. ... Advocates who support the libido drug, flibanserin, say they believe it has the potential to improve the lives of millions of American women and strongly reject the charge that they were in any way co-opted by the [pharmaceutical] company.

Since the blockbuster success of Viagra, drug companies have been trying to come up with a similar wonder drug for women. But "female sexual dysfunction" is not as clear-cut as erectile dysfunction; it's an umbrella term for a whole host of issues, including low sexual desire, "sexual arousal disorder," "orgasmic disorder," and sexual pain. In other words, there are all sorts of non-physiological reasons that could contribute to "female sexual dysfunction," which is probably one of the reasons why drug companies have been unable to find a cure-all.

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So how is flibanserin different? For starters, it is not the women's version of Viagra, notes Forbes. (Attempts at a simple physical solution—to simply increase blood flow to the clitoris—have failed to fix the problem.) "Instead, flibanserin acts selectively on brain receptors to restore to women what they consider their previously normal level of sexual desire."

But as Coco Jervis of the National Women's Health Network points out, the marketing around flibanserin has framed the issue as one of gender equality, while simultaneously promulgating misinformation related to female sexual dysfunction. Among Jervis' critiques: that the claim that 43 percent of women suffer from female sexual dysfunction is inaccurate and based on outdated science, that there is no norm of female sexual function, that female sexual dysfunction is not a defined disease category, that the standard for FDA review of male impotence drugs should not be the same for FSD drugs, and that drug companies aren't actually interested in women’s sexual concerns. "[A]lthough the FDA should be held accountable for gender equality, it should not compromise the safety of women’s health by approving a drug that is not effective and not safe," Jervis writes.

The FDA will make its final decision on whether to approve flibanerin on or before August 18, 2015.