Pharmaceutical companies have long hunted for the “female Viagra,” tempted by the untapped profit potential of sexually unfulfilled women. According to the American Medical Association, 43 percent of women have a low sexual drive. Early attempts at “pink Viagra” included nasal sprays and testosterone patches, which largely failed because they didn’t address the psychological and physical aspects of female arousal. (In contrast, Viagra focuses on a specific physiological malfunction in males, erectile dysfunction, by improving blood flow to the genitals).
The early success of trials of Lybrido (and its close relative, Lybridos) indicate the holy grail of female libido might have been found, and could be available as early as 2016, depending on FDA approval. Both aim to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD)—a lack of sexual fantasy, desire for sexual activity, and difficulty with the actual act of sex—as defined by the newest edition of the psychiatric diagnosis manual, DSM-5.
The quirkily named company Emotional Brain, based in the Netherlands and U.S., is developing both drugs. Coated with testosterone, the precursor to dopamine, Lybrido also contains sildenafil, which dilates blood vessels and enhances blood flow to the genitals. The other drug, Lybridos, stimulates the female brain with the anti-anxiety medication buspirone, which raises serotonin levels, promoting a sense of well-being and boosting arousal in those who have lower sex drive because of commonly-prescribed antidepressants.
I understand concerns about the drugs, namely that low libido is often caused by non-physiological/psychological conditions, like a lack of communication between partners or general boredom in a relationship. Medicalizing female desire (or lack thereof) might convince women that all their intimacy problems can be solved with a pill, when it actually needs additional counseling and work on communication skills.
But other concerns are just silly, including those who fear “female Viagra” might unleash a nymphomania epidemic. Andrew Goldstein, who is conducting the U.S. Lybrido/Lybridos study, says in a popular New York Times piece, “You want your effects to be good but not too good…There was a lot of discussion about it by the experts in the room, the need to show that you’re not turning women into nymphomaniacs…There’s a bias against—a fear of creating the sexually aggressive woman.” The writer of that article, Daniel Bergner, says, “More than one advisor told me…that the FDA would reject an application out of concern that a chemical would lead to female excesses, crazed binges of infidelity, societal splintering.”
“Good, but not too good?” What exactly does that mean? It’s sad—and ridiculously sexist—that similar arguments came up during the battle to approve the contraceptive pill for women, back in 1960. What is so terrifying about women taking responsibility for improving their sex lives? Ah, because it puts all of civilization at risk if women run wantonly amok (wink). No such concerns were raised about Viagra, which, incidentally, is almost always covered by insurance. Will Lybrido be covered as well?
All personal opinions aside, the name itself “Lybrido” is quite good. It suggests the purpose of the pill—to increase libido—which is refreshing for an industry that specializes in obfuscating product functions and benefits in their name. (Anyone remember what Qnexa is for?) The “lybri” word-part suggests “liberty” or “freedom of,” and the word itself is easy to say and remember. The name flows smoothly, evoking “lyric,” and sounds light and airy, like a libretto. Its male counterpart, Viagra, is one of our personal faves as far as names go, evoking virility, vitality, and abundant flow (Niagara). The name’s memorability no doubt propelled its early success, accounting for 92 percent of the global market for prescribed erectile dysfunction pills in 2000. Its one of those names that deeply permeated pop culture and has remained top-of-mind ever since.
However, the Lybrido/Lybridos distinction is just confusing. It’s not immediately apparent why and how the Lybridos medication is different. To be as clear to customers as possible, the Lybridos name should directly communicate its functional difference. Perhaps a name like “Lybrido-E” or “Lybrido-Em” (for “emotion”) could work, just as Claritin-D communicates that it contains the decongestant pseudoephedrine to differentiate it from Claritin.
Besides this quibble, we quite like the name “Lybrido” and are excited that this could be the “female Viagra” that many have long sought. We appreciate that someone is taking female desire seriously and gave the drug a name that resonates with its target audience. Finally, a giant leap for the libido of all humankind.
Overall grade: B+