A few years ago a friend of mine held a Pleasure Party. Think Sex and the City meets Tupperware sales pitch - we drank wine, giggled, and passed around a variety of adult products available by mail order. At the end of the night the sales rep invited us to sample a sensitivity-enhancing gel. One by one the braver of my friends went into the bathroom. And one by one they each emerged with the same report: "Ouch! When does this stop burning?!"
Apparently, other women have had greater success with such libidinous products, as Abby Ellin writes in the New York Times this week a rise in over-the-counter female sexual aids.
In the absence of a government-approved female counterpart to men's potency drugs like Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, many women are turning to over-the-counter products, including lubricants, arousal gels, massage oils, nutritional and herbal supplements, and vibrators. Drugstore chains are now selling these products right next to the bandages and heating pads.
This month LELO, an "intimate lifestyle line" sold in drugstores will roll out twenty-four new products. They include "nipple masks, nipple spray, and 'anti-aging and cellular renewal cream' for the vagina, clitoris and nipples and the skin around the inner thighs,'" Ellin reports. Like most over-the-counter sexual enhancement products for women, they lack medical studies supporting their effectiveness.
But how do you measure whether such treatments work for women? Female sexual dysfunction's not quite as straightforward as with male impotence. That may be part of the reason it remains a controversial subject. Some, like sex therapist and NYU psychiatry professor write it off as pharmaceutical industry-derived disease mongering.
Next year's issue of the DSM, the bible of psychiatric diagnoses, will include the dysfunction for the first time. Obstetrician Gynecologist Stacy Lindau of the University of Chicago agrees that womens' sexual concerns deserve greater attention. She recently published an article titled, "What We Don't Talk about When We Don't Talk about Sex" in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
"Sexual problems can indicate an underlying health problem," Lindau told me. "For example, a woman who was having pleasurable and comfortable vaginal intercourse for many years, who develops new onset pain, may be experiencing pain as a side effect of medication she's taking. She may be experiencing pain because of a fibroid in her uterus, or another problem that warrants further evaluation."
Hopefully, by bringing female sexual dysfunction concerns to the drug store, libido-enhancing products will also prompt more talk about such concerns at the doctor's office.
Photo: Dennis Brekke/Flickr