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Disease-mongering of female sexual dysfunction

A Bloomberg story reminds us that 6 years ago journalist Ray Moynihan in the British Medical Journal called female sexual dysfunction (FSD) “the freshest, clearest example we have” of a disease created by pharmaceutical companies to make healthy people think they need medicine.

Now that the Boehringer Ingelheim drug company has announced results of a trial of its female libido drug, flibanserin, the disease-mongering is in full bloom again.

Some journalists injected some skepticism – like Susan Perry of in her article:

“The bitter irony of the FSD controversy, says the Guardian’s Ottery, is “the disempowering message that women who are having sexual problems are all ill.”

For women, one of the primary causes of loss of sexual desire is “relationship issues,” she says, “so feeling empowered to communicate what you want could be crucial in resolving this. Nevertheless, some women will want a magic bullet solution to their sex life problems. It is a tempting idea in our time-poor lives to pop a pill and not take the time to work out the root cause of issues and address them.”

As I said, get ready for more annoying commercials.”

And get ready for more annoying news stories. The Newark Star-Ledger bombed on the story, in our reviewers’ opinions:

• No cost data was provided for flibanserin. But an estimate of the potential U.S. market, up to $100 million in sales, was given. Those sales estimates had to be based on some price assumptions. What where they? It doesn’t seem that you should provide the one number without providing the other.
• This story misses the mark by failing to address the larger issue of whether acquired hypoactive sexual desire disorder in pre-menopausal women is a condition being promoted by pharmaceutical manufacturers to create a market for a new drug and to sell more drugs.
• This article cites very little medical or scientific evidence. The story should have noted that more reliable information would have come from more rigorous research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
• No adverse effects of the drug were reported in the story. Safety data reported indicates that potential side effects include dizziness, nausea, fatigue, somnolence, and insomnia.
• Most of the benefits reported in the story were described in general, lay terms: having more sex, wanting more sex and experiencing less distress related to lack of desire. The story should have placed any benefits in context and noted that while results were statistically significant the medical or individual significance appears to be quite small. For example, the story should have noted that women taking flibanserin had an average increase of 1.7 “sexually satisfying events” over the course of 6 months compared to an average increase of 1 event in women taking placebo.

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