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Is There Viagra for Women?

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness

TL;DR

  • Viagra is used widely to treat erectile dysfunction in men but has never been found to work in the treatment of sexual dysfunction in women.
  • There are herbal supplements available, but there is not much science behind them. What works for one woman may not work for another.
  • It’s important to do your research and speak to your health care provider when looking at any form of treatment to help improve your sexual function.
  • There are other ways to treat low libido in women that do not involve taking regular pills, including sexual therapy using sensate focus.

If you feel your libido is lower than you would like it to be, or you’re not feeling your usual desire for sex, it might be tempting to look for a quick fix. After all, men have that little blue pill, Viagra, don’t they? So surely something must exist that can improve sexual arousal in women too?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that straightforward. Sexual function, and sexual dysfunction for that matter, work very differently in women than they do in men. Which means that something that works to treat erectile dysfunction in men, won’t necessarily have the same effect in women.

Allow us to explain…  

What is Viagra and why doesn’t it work for women?

Viagra is used in the treatment of erectile dysfunction<link to blog 3.1.2 Erectile dysfunction> in men. Put simply, it works by relaxing the muscles found in the walls of blood vessels to increase blood flow. This increased blood pressure causes the penis to harden and an erection results.

While in theory, improving genital blood flow could increase sensitivity and improve sex drive in women too, science has never really found evidence that this is always the case. Researchers spent years studying whether Viagra could work for women. However, in 2004, even Pfizer, the makers of Viagra, gave up testing, with the overriding conclusion that sexual desire works differently in women (1) than in men.

Is there a female alternative to Viagra?

Yes, there is a ‘Viagra-like drug’, Addyi (active ingredient: filbanserin). It was approved in 2015 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of female sexual interest/arousal disorder (FSIAD) in premenopausal women. And was designed to increase libido or sexual desire where the issue is deemed to be a sexual desire disorder and not linked to another medical condition, relationship issues or drug use. Prescription medications like Addyi should only be taken on medical advice from your GP, physician or another health care provider.

So what are the downsides of Addyi? Aside from the fact that reviews are mixed as to whether it is an effective treatment for sexual dysfunction in women, there are other reasons to consider carefully whether this is the right option for you. Firstly, this is a daily pill. Unlike Viagra, it must be taken every day, usually at bedtime, with results suggesting that on average women enjoy on average one extra day of sex per month. And what’s more, there are some fairly risky potential side effects reported. So much so that in 2015, the FDA forced the manufacturer to re-label the drug to make clear the risks of hypotension and syncope and the dangers of mixing Addyi with alcohol. Other common side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and insomnia. So all in all, this ‘female Viagra’ is seen as pretty controversial.

Nevertheless, the rise of alternative medicine and the idea of using a herbal supplement or dietary supplements to stimulate desire for sex, can be particularly appealing to many women.

Considering supplements?

There are several herbal remedies on the market that claim to boost sex drive, balance hormone levels and even impact orgasmic function in women. Our verdict? Proceed with caution! Many of those that are sold by seemingly reputable companies have absolutely no basis in scientific research. One popular one, launched recently, is called DTF and sold on Gwyneth Paltrow’s multimillion dollar Goop wellness website.

Described as a “supplement to support women’s sexual desire, arousal and mood”, DTF contains fenugreek and saffron extract and professes to help shift women’s sex drives into gear. Unfortunately, since its inception, Goop has been up against a number of law suits over "false health claims" and "deceptive marketing" which should definitely set alarm bells ringing.  

Our advice? If you’re tempted to buy supplements online, at the very least educate yourself. Read and investigate the list of ingredients, look into the company and find out whether there is a reputable expert behind the claims.  

Can supplements work to increase libido?

As with anything, you’ll find anecdotal evidence, or hearsay stating that certain supplements have worked for certain people in certain circumstances. And it’s probably true. Chinese medicine and natural remedies have helped people for centuries, but there is no substitute for professional health advice. If you want to go down the route of herbal supplementation, visit a herbal medical specialist and discuss your options. They will look at your individual situation and work with you to find the appropriate supplements for your condition. 

The problem in treating sexual arousal disorders or sexual desire disorders with one product, is that this is a complex issue. Multiple factors contribute to a woman’s sexual response. Factors such as age<link to blog 3.2.2>, medical conditions, menstrual cycle<link to blog 3.2.1> , medication and anxiety. Without investigation and treatment of these underlying causes, taking drugs or supplements will be merely masking the true issue.

The other factor to take into account is time. Many supplementary products suggest you should take them for a period of time before you see results. For example, Paltrow’s DTF should be taken “daily for 2 months” before you see an improvement in your sex drive.

It’s our opinion that that period of time could be better spent understanding what’s behind your sexual health issues, investigating your options with a qualified healthcare professional and undertaking some form of sex therapy.

So what’s the answer?

From our experience, in most (if not all) cases, a sex therapist will prove more effective in increasing libido than either prescription medications or herbal supplements. And it will help to resolve many of those underlying factors too.

Sensate focus, for instance, uses touch-based exercises to promote sexual connection in a way that reduces anxiety and increases desire organically without the focus on sexual intercourse. Our Blueheart app, takes the fundamentals of sensate focus and, after an individual assessment, offers you a personalized program designed to help increase libido and rekindle lost intimacy in a relationship. All in the comfort of your own home.

And that thing we mentioned about therapy working quicker than supplements? Efficacy studies run by our Principal Researcher, Dr Laura Vowels, found that in just 2 weeks of sensate focus therapy with Blueheart, people felt 105% more satisfied with the amount of physical intimacy between partners. They also felt 72% more physically connected and 70% more satisfied with the amount of touch between partners.

It’s always worth remembering though, there is no replacement for sound medical advice. If you’re concerned about loss of libido, we would always recommend you see your doctor or medical practitioner to discuss your options.

1. Goldhammer, D. and McCabe, M., 2011. 'A qualitative exploration of the meaning and experience of sexual desire among partnered women', Canadian journal of human sexuality, vol. 20, no. 1-2, pp. 19-29.
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