Womens Health

Women with Low Sex Drives have Different Brain Activity

| by Kate Wharmby Seldman

A study of women with low sex drives shows that their brain activity is different from that of women who have normal libidos.

Salon.com and Britain's Telegraph report that researchers at Detroit's Wayne State University conducted an experiment in which they measured the brain activity of 26 women. Nineteen of them had received a clinical diagnosis of hypoactive sexual desire disorder, or HSDD. The remaining seven women had what was referred to as "normal sexual function."

The researchers had the women watch TV for half an hour. Every minute, the programming alternated between erotic videos, regular non-sexually-charged programs, and a blank blue screen. While they watched, their brains were monitored using MRI technology, which measures brain activity by seeing which areas are receiving bloodflow. 

Researcher Dr. Michael Diamond said: "The study indicates that there are some similarities between women with normal sexual function and those with HSDD, but that there are certain areas of the brain that have different characteristics. There are some parts of the brain that light up, and other regions that are the opposite."

This research could give more weight to the argument that sexual problems, in both men and women, are physiologically based. Critics of Viagra and Cialis say that doctors have over-medicalized sexual dysfunction, and are ignoring non-biological reasons that a person's sex drive might be flagging - such as societal cues and learned behavior. However, Dr. Diamond says, "Being able to identify physiological changes, to me provides significant evidence that HSDD is a true disorder as opposed to a societal construct. This study provides a physical basis suggesting that it is a true physiological disorder."

What's the next step? For many pharmaceutical companies, it's what's referred to as "pink Viagra." Companies are champing at the bit to get a sexual dysfunction drug for women onto the market. They cite studies saying that up to 43 per cent of American women suffer from some sort of sexual dysfunction. Critics of these studies argue that the sample groups in the experiments - and in the 26-woman Wayne State study - are too small to determine accurately whether almost half the U.S. female population has sex issues -- and, if they do, whether their low sex drives even cause them concern.

Still, the market for pink Viagra is bound to be somewhat large, as there are sure to be curious women - perhaps even those who consider themselves to have normal libidos - who want to see if a pill is capable of kicking their sex drives up a notch or two.