Women's Sexual Desire: Challenging Narratives of "Dysfunction"



Graham CA, Boynton PM & Gould K (2017) Women's Sexual Desire: Challenging Narratives of "Dysfunction". European Psychologist, 22 (1), pp. 27-38.

Recent changes in the classification of female sexual dysfunction in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the first drug to treat low sexual desire in women (flibanserin) have highlighted the intense focus on sexual desire problems in women. We first discuss the rationale for the DSM changes and outline the DSM-5 criteria for Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder. We provide an overview of some of the key events leading up to the approval of flibanserin for the treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women, including the role of the “Even the Score” advocacy campaign, that accused the FDA of gender bias in not giving women with sexual desire problems access to treatment options. Incorporating narratives from testimonials of female patients attending the 2014 FDA Patient-Focused Drug Development Public Meeting, we examine some of the prevalent beliefs around sexual “normalcy” and the immutability of sexual desire. We critique how the media and pharmaceutical companies depict sexual norms and female sexual desire and how pharmaceutical trials often narrowly define and assess sexual desire and “sex.” We end with some recommendations for how researchers, clinicians, and journalists can better acknowledge that sex and desire have multiple meanings and interpretations with a view to women being offered a truly informed choice when seeking help for sexual problems.

sexuality; women; sexual desire; dysfunction; pharmacological treatment

European Psychologist: Volume 22, Issue 1

Publication date31/01/2017
Publication date online23/03/2017
Date accepted by journal30/11/2016