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Female Viagra is finally on the market, but how well it works is yet to be determined

Third time’s a charm when it comes to female Viagra. After two failed attempts for approval, the longstanding male dominance of the sex drive-boosting market has finally been broken, and as of Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved female Viagra. The approval comes with a caveat, however — a strict risk management and awareness program must be instituted alongside the drug to ensure that users are fully informed on the associated dangers of the medication. Still, many view this as a huge victory after months of lobbying and fierce debate about what some see as sexism in the drug industry. Now, women, as well as men, will be able to medically treat low libido.

While it’s called female Viagra, the drug in question, flibanserin, works nothing like Viagra. The newly approved medication actually works on the brain, influencing levels of dopamine and serotonin that may help increase sex drive. By contrast, Viagra increases blood flow to the male genitalia, assisting with erectile dysfunction.

As a separate issue, flibanserin comes with significant side effects, which have twice before hindered its approval. In particular, doctors are concerned with the incidence of low blood pressure, fainting, nausea, and dizziness among users.

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The prevalence of these side effects, medical experts add, is only made worse by the relatively unremarkable documented effects of using the drug. According to the FDA, the positive effects of flibanserin in actually increasing a woman’s sex drive were “numerically small but statistically significant.” In clinical trials, women who received the drug reported only marginally higher levels of desire when compared to women who received a placebo, with a difference of 0.3 on a scale ranging from 1.2 to 6. The consumer representative on the FDA’s approval committee, Michele Orza, actually voted against the drug’s approval, saying that women “deserved better.”

While it may not be a perfect solution, the decision is being hailed as a step in the right direction when it comes to female sexual empowerment. As Katherine Campbell, an eager would-be user of the new drug, told the New York Times, “Critics say the improvement might only be modest, but, oh, what I would give for even a modest improvement.”