'Female Viagra' Fails to Reach Climax Supporters Hoped For

Despite months of press, the long-awaited debut of Addyi—commonly known as "female Viagra"—was a flop, for multiple reasons. We talked to one of the drug's few vocal advocates about what, exactly, she sees in it.

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Nov 19 2015, 8:30pm

Photo by Claudia Guariglia via Stocksy

Addyi, the first FDA-approved drug that promises to boost women's libido, has utterly failed in generating US sales. According to Bloomberg, doctors have written a miserly 227 prescriptions for the drug during the first two weeks it was available, from October 17 to November 6; in contrast, nearly 600,000 Viagra prescriptions were filed the first month after it hit the market in 1998.

Designed to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), the "female Viagra" has been polarizing from the get-go, with some hailing its entry into the pharmaceutical market as a hard-fought victory for women's sexual equity and others calling it an over-hyped placebo that pathologizes a natural lack of interest in sex. The fact that it doesn't interact well with alcohol certainly hasn't helped its public image, either.

But despite all the controversy, the drug has at least one happy customer: Amanda Parrish. Since participating in the drug's clinical trials, she's talked about how Addyi changed her sex life in interviews on NBC Nightly News, Inside Edition, and the Today Show, as well as in an essay she penned for Time. She's become an unofficial spokesperson for the drug and, some might argue, its most-cited success story—a Google Search for "Amanda Parrish female Viagra" returns over 22,000 results. We talked to Parrish about how the drug has worked for her, her relationship with the drug company, and why she finds criticisms of Addyi patriarchal.

BROADLY: Why do you think Addyi has faced more scrutiny—and skepticism—than Viagra?
Amanda Parrish: I think Addyi has faced unreal scrutiny because HSDD cannot be seen with the naked eye as erectile dysfunction can. It's difficult for men, and women, to understand it is a legitimate physical disorder. What is seen are the emotional and physical effects of the chemical imbalances. If this were a men's issue, we would have had a solution long ago. Many men have ED not because of a physical condition but because they are not attracted to their partners, are drunk, or whatever. Yet they still can pop a Viagra if they want. So I believe sexism plays a part, but [so do] PhDs who believe talk therapy cures everything and who are pushing their own agenda.

How did you realize that you had hypoactive sexual disorder, and how were you able to rule out everything else?
I got divorced in 2004, early 2005, and I met my current husband in November of 2005. When we first met, everything was wonderful; we were like teenagers in heat. It was really good. But about three years into it, I just suddenly noticed that something wasn't right, and I found myself pretending to be asleep when he came back to bed, or making excuses to stay out late. At the time, I didn't understand that it was low desire—I couldn't understand what was wrong. We worked out together four-to-five days a week, nothing had changed with my job, and my kids were even older. When I went to my doctor that year for my annual checkup, I said, "Something seems to be wrong." He discounted it, said it was a normal part of aging, and that I should go buy a vibrator.

I told him that I don't have a problem with arousal; if he starts, everything works fine. But if he doesn't start, I'm not going to, and for all this time, I had been equally as initiative as [my husband] had. It was sad.

When did you find out about the clinical trials?
When I went to my doctor the next year, I saw a brochure for the trial [for the drug that would come to be named Addyi]. I read the series of questions, and it was like a bunch of light bulbs went off. I was given a diagnostic exam, and I was told that I had HSDD. It was thrilling, but it was also intimidating because I had to go home and have a conversation with Ben [Parrish's husband]. I told him the bad news is that I have a disorder, but the good news is that there's this clinical trial that might be able to help.

He had a mix of fear and relief; he told me that he had been afraid that I was seeing someone else and that I wasn't attracted to him anymore. He was supportive but incredulous that anything could work.

There are not enough chocolate, wine, or Tahiti trips that are going to make me want to have sex.

I started taking [the drug] in 2009. Just two weeks into it, I was talking to my husband by text one day and I got a flutter. I texted him, "Do you want to have me for lunch?" He's a very dry attorney, so he responded, "Well, I've already eaten lunch." We knew it was working. Really quickly, within a few weeks of that, I started feeling like myself again. I was initiating—I was the one suggesting that we skip dessert.

When I hear flutter I think of a heart palpitation, but I'm also a hypochondriac.
The flutter is a little further south than a heart flutter, and it really truly is. We don't have erections like you do, but we get that tingle or adrenaline rush; that's what happens in our vaginas. They start contracting and blood flows down there, going, "Hey, I'd like this," even if he's not in the same room as me. Before I would never have that desire.

Read More: The Men Who Fake Orgasms

Have you experienced any of the side effects, like dizziness, nausea, fatigue, or fainting spells?
No, and I drank socially the whole time I was on it. If I drank wine with dinner and took the pill when I went to bed, if I had any side effects, I slept through them. I also appreciate the daily dose; to me, the act of taking a pill before sex takes the spontaneity out of it. And women are very accustomed to taking daily pills.

I've read so many interviews with you about the drug. Are you in touch with the manufacturers? What kind of relationship do you have with them?
One of my doctors actually knew [Cindy Whitehead], who owned the [pharmaceutical] company. Back in 2011, [my doctor] said, "You know, I ought to put you in contact with them. They are desperately trying to get this drug approved." There were 11,000 women involved in the clinical trial, and at that point, none of them wanted to speak out because of the stigma attached.

All the advocacy I've done since has been because of my own passion. I've never been paid by them; I was trying to be a voice for the public. I spoke to the media, spoke to the FDA twice, lobbied on Capitol Hill. My husband and I took time off work and away from our family because we thought it was important that the public hear from someone who's actually taken the drug.

For those of us who really do have the problem, it'll work.

The critics were so negative, and [a lot] of them happened to [have] PhDs and were sex therapists. Several of them approached me and offered free sex therapy; they said that the pharmaceutical industry is trying to push their agenda [on women]. I said, "Aren't you afraid that the pill is going to come and put you out of business?" The fact of the matter is that [my husband and I] don't have a relationship issue; I'm comfortable in my own skin, and my husband is, too. There are not enough chocolate, wine, or Tahiti trips that are going to make me want to have sex. Those things don't work for me.

But there are probably a significant number of women who need to develop better communication with their partners about what's going on with them sexually.
Yes, and that's why it is mandatory that you answer questions honestly when you do the diagnostic work-up. I've told a few couples that I don't think they're candidates for it. For those of us who really do have the problem, it'll work.

Have the drug companies helped you craft your message?
No. If anyone contacts me, it's through Blue Engine [the PR firm for Even the Score, a lobbying group sponsored by drugmakers]. I don't go to the company; I'm very conscious about people trying to spin it the wrong way. We try to keep that as pure as possible.

So you think some of the overly cautious press coverage is from people having a paternalistic attitude towards women's health?
I do, and the only reason I say that is because in my opinion and in my experience, most of the harshest critics are female. Most of them have PhDs, and they clearly have an axe to grind.