Sunday May 27, 2001
Anthony Browne, health editor
Women could get Viagra on the NHS after the first scientific trial to show that the drug helps female sexual dysfunction.
With almost half of British women admitting 'sexual frustration', it could have a far bigger effect on the nation's love lives than dishing it out to men.
A few women experimented with the drug after the powers it had on men of all ages attained worldwide notoriety. Kim Cattrall, the actress who plays sexually enthusiastic Samantha in Sex And The City, was one of the few to go public with her use of Viagra, claiming it made her multi-orgasmic.
However, the evidence of Viagra's powers has been only anecdotal. Now a rigorous clinical trial reported in the latest edition of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology shows for the first time that women with 'sexual dysfunction' who are given Viagra have more sexual fantasies, have sex more often, are more likely to enjoy it, and have far more orgasms. After it finished, almost all those who took part in the trial demanded carrying on taking the drug.
The study, conducted by the Centre for Sexological Research at the University of Catania in Italy, was conducted on 53 women, all under 40. They all had difficulty getting aroused and had an inability to attain orgasm, but were in long-term, otherwise satisfying heterosexual relationships. By the end of the trial, two of the women had to be excluded from the results because one had embarked on a lesbian relationship and the other had taken on a second male lover.
There is a growing body of evidence that female sexual dysfunction - an inability to attain or maintain a state of sexual excitement - is usually caused by physical rather than psychological problems.
Doctors now believe that the clitoris works in a chemically very similar way to the penis, with women suffering the equivalent of male impotence. Like the penis, the clitoris cannot become engorged with blood if there is deficient production of nitric oxide, which can be chemically remedied with Viagra.
The women in the trial were given a placebo, a mild or a strong dose of Viagra over three four-week periods, to take an hour before sex. The frequency of sexual fantasies went from virtually never to several times a week. The frequency of intercourse jumped from an average of once a week to several times a week, and the frequency of orgasm jumped to once or twice a day. The women would become aroused far more often, and would derive far more enjoyment from sex. More than 70% of women in the trial asked to carry on taking the drug.
The study makes it far more likely that NHS doctors will prescribe Viagra for women as well as men. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which sets out the guidelines on prescribing drugs, bases its decisions on their medical effectiveness and cost effectiveness only on such scientific trials.
The authors of the Viagra study said that far more research had been done into male sexual problems than female ones, and the balanced needed to be redressed. They suggested that many of the treatments developed for men could probably be adapted for women.