Judith Reid-Haff wore a dark blazer, a skirt and mile-high patent red platform heels for the big day.
It’s not every day, after all, that you get to tell a federal panel about your sex life.
Reid-Haff, 66, and two buses full of other brave women — and some equally brave men — descended on the Food and Drug Administration’s Silver Spring, Md., campus Monday with a group fighting for women’s health equity called Even the Score to demand that the agency take a more serious look at treatments for female sexual dysfunction.
In red heels, black pumps, comfort flats and combat boots, they marched through the FDA campus.
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These are women who want to want to have sex. But their bodies are telling them no.
You’ve heard of this, right?
Maybe the problem will sound more familiar if it’s “mansplained” — Viagra.
That pill was pushed through in a matter of months when it left a lab 16 years ago. And hallelujah, all these men could have sex again. Today, Viagra is a staple of health insurance plans, gauzy television commercials and Internet ads.
Even companies that don’t want to let insurance plans cover birth control hand out Viagra like Skittles.
And since the little blue pill hit the nation’s sex scene, more than 20 drugs to treat male sexual dysfunction have come to the market.
How many are there for women?
No such thing as a female Viagra.
“When I finally asked my family doctor about it, about not wanting to have sex, I couldn’t believe there was nothing I could take. It just didn’t exist,” said Katherine Campbell, 30, who came from Indianapolis to testify before the FDA this week.
“It’s in your head,” is what so many people told her. Or, “You already had kids, so that desire to procreate is gone,” others said.
It goes back to society’s maddeningly confused treatment of women, hypersexualizing every darn thing about us — from Halloween costumes to sandwich ads — but wigging out when women want to talk about their own sex lives.
“At first, it was: ‘Here, take an antidepressant,’” Campbell, the mother of two little boys said. “I was happy, sure. But I still didn’t want to have sex.”
But there was something wrong. It’s called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), and the FDA is holding its first-ever public workshop this week on patient-focused drug development for it.
“It’s important that the FDA focus on women’s needs,” said Reid-Haff, who came to Washington from Temecula, Calif., with her husband, Derek Haff.
After surviving breast cancer, Reid-Haff noticed her sexual libido drop. And it was a long road to find a doctor who would listen to her.
Same thing happened to Carmon Friedrich, 53. Doctors had a hard time believing there was something in her biology that could be fixed.
Heck, I had a hard time believing she’d ever want to have sex again. Friedrich, from a small town in California gold country, has 10 children and has been married to her husband for 30 years.
They had “duty sex,” she said. But both of them wanted it to be more. “The Bible says don’t deprive one another,” said Friedrich, who is active in her church and is training to become a Christian sex therapist.
“We want to have a good marriage and that intimacy, that connection. That togetherness you have with sex is part of a good marriage,” she said.
Whatever the reasons for wanting to have sex, the treatment of this disorder by the FDA is where the outrage in this story lives.
Susan Scanlan, a longtime women’s advocate on Capitol Hill, has been fighting inequity in women’s health care for years, from spending on breast cancer research to the inclusion of women in clinical trials.
There are plenty of clinical trials for drugs that could treat low sexual desire in women. But, Scanlan said, the FDA doesn’t approve the drugs because of the possible side effects, like “drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness and dry mouth.”
Earlier this year, the FDA approved Xiaflex,the 24th drug out there to treat male sexual dysfunction. The possible side affects of that puppy? “Heart attack. Sudden death. And my personal favorite, penile rupture,” Scanlan said.
The advocates arrived at the FDA on Monday morning with a letter signed by 80 experts in men’s sexual health from across the country urging the administration to approve a treatment.
“As clinicians, we see on a daily basis the impact that sexual dysfunction has on the affected woman as well as her partner,” the letter said.
“As scientists, we have witnessed that the approval of novel drugs and devices for men’s sexual health has led to a greater understanding of human sexuality and overall health,” they wrote.
“As humans, we believe in gender equality and while we appreciate that our understanding of women’s sexual health has lagged behind that of the male by at least two decades, we are catching up.”
It’s about time.
© 2014, The Washington Post