What is female Viagra? A look at the “little pink pill”

Medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last reviewed 23/03/2022
2 minute read
Medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson
Written by Adam
Last reviewed 23/03/2022
5 minute read
Book with desire text

Is there a Viagra for women?

The short answer here is: no, there is no Viagra for women. However, mention of the phrase ‘female Viagra’ usually refers to treatment for sexual problems for women. But it can be quite a broad term.

Whilst we’ve all heard of the ‘little blue pill’ and how it treats ED in men, what about Viagra for women? Does it even exist? 

Several medications have perhaps inadvertently adopted the moniker, because they treat some form of female sexual dysfunction (FSD). But in the UK there are no licensed medications to treat FSD. Head over the pond to the US and the list currently stands at two: Addyi and Vyleesi. Although in reality, they work quite differently to Viagra. Let’s find out a bit more about them.

What does female Viagra do?

The FDA approved Addyi was quickly nicknamed ‘female Viagra’. But unlike Viagra, Addyi (flibanserin) works to treat low libido in women. An actual female Viagra pill would be trying to make it more physically comfortable for women to have sex [1]. And it’s been pointed out that there’s already a pretty simple solution for this – lube.

Addyi was originally developed as an antidepressant. It targets neurotransmitters in your brain. Here it increases the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are linked to arousal, and lowers the release of serotonin, which is connected to inhibition. So although Addyi might be referred to as “female Viagra,” it doesn’t work like male Viagra at all.

Can women just take regular Viagra?

No. Viagra is only licensed for use in men and is not approved as a treatment for women. 

Because Viagra increases blood flow to the genitals, there have been theories that it could increase pleasure during sex for women. However, studies analysing the impact of Viagra on female sexual dysfunction have not produced consistent, promising results.[2]

Who is female Viagra for?

There are two prescription medications in the US that are commonly referred to as “female Viagra”: Addyi (flibanserin) and Vyleesi (bremelanotide). Neither of these medications are available in the UK. And they’re both fundamentally different from Viagra. 

Here’s how. When a man is prescribed Viagra, he still has a normal libido — meaning, he still wants to have sex. It’s just that the actual, physical mechanics of sex need a little help. Female Viagra, in contrast, is a treatment for low libido. That means it’s intended to boost desire, rather than make sex physically possible. 

You might be looking into treatment if you’ve been diagnosed with female sexual disorder, or low libido. The specific type of low libido that Addyi and Vyleesi address is called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, or HSDD. Both Addyi and Vyleesi are only approved to treat HSDD in pre-menopausal women.

Addyi vs Vyleesi: What’s the difference?

Because Addyi was approved by the FDA first, it’s usually what people think of when they hear the term “female Viagra.” However, there is now a second treatment called Vyleesi which also treats HSDD in women. 

Both work on neurotransmitters in the brain to help make you more aroused. Addyi comes in a pill form, and Vyleesi is an injection.

Info comparing Addyi vs Viagra

More about Addyi (flibanserin)

Addyi is a non-hormonal drug to treat Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, or HSDD, in women. It’s a pink pill designed to be taken every day. 

Addyi works on the chemicals in the brain. It turns down the ones responsible for inhibition, and cranks up the ones responsible for arousal. 

Addyi has a number of side effects, like dizziness, faintness, and a drop in blood pressure. The risk of side effects increases if taken alongside hormonal birth control or when drinking alcohol, so women who are prescribed Addyi are asked to abstain from alcohol and certain medications.

More about the Vyleesi injection (bremelanotide)

Vyleesi is the only FDA-approved treatment for HSDD[3] which can be taken right before sex. It’s different from Addyi in this way. It’s also safer to drink alcohol while taking Vyleesi. This makes it more convenient, but since it’s not intended to be taken daily, there are limits to how often someone can take it. 

To use Vyleesi, the injection is done at least 45 minutes before sex — however, this should be no more than once every 24 hours, up to a maximum of 8 times a month. 

According to the manufacturer of Vyleesi’s website, “The exact way that Vyleesi works isn’t fully known.” Like Addyi, it targets chemicals in the brain to stimulate sexual desire. 

Vyleesi can also cause serious side effects, like an increase in blood pressure or decrease in heart rate. More common side effects include nausea, reactions at the injection site, headaches and vomiting.

Figures about HSDD

Do I have any other options?

If you’re looking for “female Viagra” home remedies, your best bet is to pinpoint the cause of low desire before trying to treat it. While there are a number of herbal products that claim to increase female sexual function, these are not licensed or authorised treatments. 

Can you increase your sex drive?

Sex drive is incredibly complex, as you can tell by the media attention around “fixing” it. The best way to increase your sex drive, or stop it from being low, is by taking care of your health and wellness. 

Like your mood, your sex drive responds to your general wellbeing. Unhealthy habits like smoking and heavy drinking can reduce your interest in sex, so try cutting back on the weekend mimosas and keep to a mostly-healthy diet with treats in moderation. 

Stress and depression can also cause a lower sex drive. While stressful situations are not always under our control, do what you can to reduce stress in your life, get a good night’s sleep, enjoy the outdoors when possible and make exercise a daily habit, even if it’s just fifteen minutes of stretching or a walk outdoors.

If you think you’re experiencing depression, talk to your doctor. They might have suggestions for treatment, possibly including medication. 

Some medications can also change your desire for sex. Many women find that some types of birth control lower their sex drive, in which case it might be worth trying a different prescription. 

Contraception and low libido

In some cases it can be true  – the pill you take to keep you protected against pregnancy might be making you want to have less sex. And while that’s certainly one way to keep from becoming pregnant, it’s probably not what you had in mind. 

Because there are so many different types of birth control, and they each impact the hormones already in your body, the way you react to one might be completely different from how you react to another. They’ll all be equally effective at preventing pregnancy, but different pills can cause or treat acne, increase or decrease your appetite, stabilize or worsen your moods and, yes, change your sex drive. 

If you’re taking hormonal birth control and think it might be negatively affecting your sex drive, it’s time to find another pill (or patch, or ring). 

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