German drug giant Boehringer Ingelheim will host a “roundtable” of s-x experts later this week, at the exclusive Tower Bridge Hilton in London, to discuss a new drug being tested in women with low s-xual desire.

According to the company’s marketing material, up to one-in-ten women suffer from a condition of low desire called “hypoactive s-xual desire disorder”, which is described as one form of “female s-xual dysfunction.”

In an emailed invitation to the meeting sent by a public relations company, s-x experts were offered an honorarium, meals and “a room for the night”, in return for their attendance at a forum about the drug and the s-xual disorder.

As Pfizer celebrates a decade of Viagra, many companies are racing to develop drugs for what they regard as the potentially lucrative “female s-xual dysfunction” market. In Europe, Proctor & Gamble has successfully launched Intrinsa — its testosterone product for women — but it has so far failed to win approval in the United States.

Boehringer Ingelheim’s experimental new s-x drug “flibanserin” — to be debated in London this week — is thought to act on the serotonin receptors in the brain, and has been previously described as a potential anti-depressant.

New York University s-x researcher Dr Leonore Tiefer says that in her view “hypoactive s-xual desire disorder” is not a genuine condition, despite it being listed in the psychiatrists’ manual of diseases.

“Everybody has ups and downs in their interest in s-x,” she told me.

Tiefer is a well-known critic of the “medicalisation” of women’s s-xual difficulties, and has exposed the corporate involvement in the promotion of little known conditions like “female s-xual dysfunction” — which is claimed to affect almost one-in-two women.

Tiefer argues the Boehringer Ingelheim meeting in London this Wednesday and Thursday is about “preparing the market” for its new product.

“The drug company plans to milk experts for their insights, which will then be used in marketing the drug.”

A spokesperson from Boehringer Ingelheim would not comment on Tiefer’s views, but said the company had first discovered the potential s-xual benefits of the drug, when it was being tested as an anti-depressant.

Meanwhile, another German drug giant, Bayer, has recently gained approval to market one of its pills in Australia for another little known condition — “Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder”. A flurry of media reports a couple of weeks ago announced the arrival of the new drug, and some stories suggested up to one-in-ten women suffered from PMDD.

A brief look at the history of PMDD suggests it is just as controversial as “female s-xual dysfunction”, with some experts saying PMDD does not actually exist. For its part, Bayer says it has gone to pains in its marketing not to blur the line between PMDD and ordinary pre-menstrual problems.

Peter Fray

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