You may have seen this ad on your TV in recent months. If you haven’t, take a look. The ad is for Osphena, the first FDA-approved pill specifically intended to treat painful sexual intercourse due to the vaginal changes that occur during menopause. In my view, what makes Osphena unique is that it is a sexual health drug for women that is not focused specifically on aiding (like fertility drugs) or preventing (like oral contraceptives) reproduction. All this drug does is help women remain sexually active and improve the experience of sexual intercourse for women.
Some have criticized the ad as being too graphic to air during times when children may be watching. But given the flood of Viagra and Cialis ads out there, I don’t think the mention of sex is the issue here. If we have become numb to hearing abour four-hour-long erections, the mention of the word “vagina” shouldn’t be any more scandalous. In my opinion, people’s discomfort with the ad comes from the fact that the it features a woman talking about sexuality rather than a man, or that the ad specifically features post-menopausal women acknowledging that they still have sex even after their childbearing years are over.
While the media is used to portraying women as the objects of sexual desire, there is still a double standard about women’s sexuality – especially when it comes to older women. So if Viagra commercials are any indication, in a few more years it may not be so taboo to hear more people talking about sexuality after menopause. That’s not to say there aren’t other issues with the ad – the video, as well as the company’s website, only features attractive, affluent, white women (Shionogi Inc., the makers of Osphena, has obviously narrowed down their target audience).
Worth the risks?
One of the stated benefits of Osphena is that the pill doesn’t contain estrogen. This has become important to women and their doctors after it came to light that hormone replacement therapies (HRT) containing estrogen could increase risk for serious adverse events like stroke, heart attack, and breast cancer. Following this research, the USPSTF recommended in 2012 that HRT not be prescribed to women to prevent chronic conditions, saying that “benefits of combined estrogen and progestin do not outweigh the harms in most postmenopausal women.” Nonetheless, Osphena comes with its own list of side effects, including cancer, stroke, and blot clots. Feel free to listen to the laundry list of potential complications at the end of the video if you want to hear them all!
Only a pharmaceutical ploy?
A Newsweek article that came out about a year ago, right after the FDA first approved Osphena in 2013, questions the need for the drug. Some have doubted whether “female sexual dysfunction” is an actual disease, and if it is, exactly how prevalent the condition is. The FDA, however, concluded that the drug “showed a statistically significant improvement of dyspareunia in Osphena-treated women compared with women receiving placebo” after 12 weeks of treatment.
It’s surprising that it took so long for the pharmaceutical industry to respond to the host of drugs meant to treat sexual dysfunctions in men by making a version for women. If drugs are helping men stay sexually active until later in life, then why shouldn’t women have the same option to help them enjoy sex in their later years? Certainly as the baby boomer population ages, the demand for a drug like Osphena will prove a financially beneficial endeavor. I would be willing to bet that although Osphena is the first to be approved and marketed, many more are soon to follow.