BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Health  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Medical notes
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 10:22 GMT
Sex drug could help women
Viagra tablets
Viagra doesn't work for most women
A new approach might be on the verge of producing an effective sex drug for women.

Unlike Viagra, the male impotency pill which acts on the sexual organs, the drug given to women in this study acts on the brain.

The results were astonishing

Ian Russell
Tests carried out by Ian Russell, a specialist nurse at Dumfries and Galloway NHS Trust, have produced promising results.

His work is featured in the BBC Two Science programme Horizon.

Ten women suffering from reduced sexual desire were treated with a drug called apomorphine.

Apomorphine is active in the brain where it mimics the effect of one of the brain's main chemical messengers, dopamine.

Lack of desire

Problems with desire are the most common complaint reported by women who seek help for sexual problems.

Ian Russell
Ian Russell is excited by the results
At the end of the 18 week study eight out of the ten women reported an overall improvement in their sexual response, including increased desire.

"The results were astonishing" Russell told Horizon.

Ever since its launch in 1998, scientists have been investigating whether Viagra could work for women too.

Viagra was the first oral treatment for male erection problems and has been used by more than 20 million men worldwide.

Enzyme reaction

Viagra works by blocking the action of a key enzyme in the pelvis.

This increases the blood-flow to the penis following sexual stimulation and it is this extra blood-flow that makes patients with erectile dysfunction more likely to achieve and maintain an erection.

However, clinical trial results have revealed that apart from small subgroups of women, like those with very specific problems associated with vaginal blood-flow, Viagra will probably do nothing for the majority of women with sexual problems.

The reason seems to be that, despite the physical similarities between male and female genitalia, there are crucial differences in our sexuality.

In men, blood-flow to the penis is at the heart of the sexual response.

However, research has shown that for women, vaginal blood-flow can have little to do with feeling aroused.

Experiments in Amsterdam by Clinical Psychologist Ellen Laan have shown that blood flow to the vagina increased while women watched pornographic material, despite the fact that many didn't report feeling 'turned on'.

It seems that in women feelings of arousal and desire are much more to do with the response of the brain than that of the sexual organs - and this could explain why drugs that act on the brain may provide an effective treatment for female sexual problems, such as loss of desire.

Sex on the Brain

Despite the encouraging initial results from Scotland, scientists remain cautious about Ian Russell's findings.

"We will have to wait until we have controlled, double blind studies before we know" said Professor Julia Heiman, clinical psychologist at the University of Washington.

Russell agrees and has begun a much larger clinical trial to investigate. This should be completed next year.

Horizon: Sexual Chemistry will be screened on BBC Two in the UK on Thursday at 2100 GMT.

See also:

03 Jan 03 | Health
08 Feb 03 | Medical notes
03 Jul 02 | Health
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |