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One for the team

Across the world the search continues for solutions to the top ranking sex problem facing women – loss of desire. Drug companies are seeking a pink Viagra, a drug to boost female libido. The stakes are high with some surveys suggesting over half of all women experience fading of desire in long-term relationships. Marital distress is inevitable when women lie in bed at night dreading the hand creeping towards them.

The latest cabs off the rank are Lybrido and Lybridos, explains Daniel Bergner, whose book What Do Women Want? – Adventures in the Science of Female Desire will be published next week. These new drugs are very sensibly targeting activity not just between women’s legs but between their ears. Writing recently in The New York Times, Bergner describes research on the biochemical ingredients governing sexual desire, the balance between the lust-inducing dopamine rush produced by testosterone and the inhibiting effects of serotonin. Lybrido has a testosterone coating that melts in the mouth before the woman swallows a delayed-release tablet containing a Viagra-like substance which increases blood flow in the genitals. In Lybridos, the Viagra-like molecule is replaced by an anti-anxiety medication which suppresses serotonin.

Initial trials from both drugs are looking good and are soon to be presented to the Federal Drug Authority which is likely to require larger trials. If all goes well, these new drugs will hit the market around 2016, no doubt to be snapped up by huge numbers of women. An Adelaide professor ran a trial for another libido-enhancing drug and had women contacting him from all over Australia, desperate to get on board.

Yet many others won’t be interested. For every woman keen for a solution to her lost libido there are others who wouldn’t dream of popping a little pink pill to enhance sexual desire. There are plenty of women happy to shut up shop, simply refusing to have sex – expecting their husbands to just suck it up.

Controversy surrounds the clinical definition of low libido in women (Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder) which only includes women who see their diminished drive as a problem i.e. it causes them personal distress. Only 10 to 15 per cent of women meet the criteria for HSSD – while surveys that include women not bothered by their low libido can hit nearly 60 per cent. The Sex in Australia survey of nearly 20,000 people found 55 per cent of women reported low desire.

Does it really make sense to dismiss low desire if the woman regards it as no big deal? If a couple visited a therapist with the woman complaining the man was a premature ejaculator, the fact that it didn’t bother him wouldn’t be regarded as grounds for ignoring the problem. Surely the impact of any issue detracting from a harmonious sex life deserves proper attention.

This is not to suggest low drive women are obliged to consider drug treatment. But many regard it as outrageous to even suggest there is any obligation on the woman to consider her partner’s needs. A few years ago when I published research on desire in The Sex Diaries, howls of protest greeted my suggestion that women might sometimes ‘just do it’ since new Canadian research had shown desire can kick in once lovemaking commences, leading to sexual pleasure for women. “Bettina Arndt – Rape Cheerleader!” shrieked one blogger, ignoring the fact I’d always said men too must ‘just do it’ if they are the ones rejecting their partners.

The crazy thing is women do so much to please their partners. They cook lavish three-course meals and spend hours searching shopping centres for his favourite Y-fronts when a ten minute bonk every so often would make their man a lot happier than a lot of the things they do for him. It’s not as if making love is such a big ask – it’s not like cleaning an oven. A female doctor wrote to me saying she tells her female patients, “It’s not root canal therapy!”

There’s a lesson here for young men choosing a long term partner. They shouldn’t just go for the sexiest chick hoping the tap won’t ever turn off. As Daniel Bergner explains, there’s solid evidence is that whilst most couples in new relationships start off with equal lust for each other, after a few years female drive often goes into a dive, leaving male desire far higher. A man would be far better off finding a woman who sees it as part of her responsibility to keep sex on the agenda, maybe even one who wouldn’t baulk at sometimes popping a little pink pill. The truly lucky man is blessed with a sexually generous woman, one who believes in taking one for the team.