Have you ever wondered about the women featured in the Viagra commercials? Thought that perhaps the key to their sexual fulfillment does not lie in a treatment aimed at men? In an effort that is part quest for eternal youth (and the youthful ability to go at it all night), part equal rights for the female gender, medicine and pharma are working on surgical procedures and potency pills to ensure that both sexes are perpetually satisfied.
Take the G-Shot, designed for women. In this doctor’s-office procedure—not yet verified by published, peer-reviewed trials—collagen is injected into a woman’s G-spot to enhance sexual pleasure. If a woman wants “the works,” she can have the procedure in combination with Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation, intended to tighten the vaginal canal and make her sexual experiences even more intense.
Thirty-seven-year-old Violeta Estrada, a gentle-voiced real estate agent in California, is a fan of the new sex aids. She has had vaginal rejuvenation surgery to mend the damage of giving birth to two kids, a 10-pounder and a 12-pounder. She has also had the G-Shot and renews it every four months at more than $1,000 a pop.
“For a couple of months, I had a triple dose,” she says. Did it really improve her sex life? She has no doubts: “Oh yes, yes. I can now have three or four orgasms in a row at one time. My partner once told me that he didn’t have to put any work into it.”
For pleasure pioneers like Estrada, it seems that human ingenuity is perfecting our sex lives. The consequences are likely to go beyond the quest for heightened pleasure. Revising our biology could, in turn, revise the psychology and sociology of Homo sapiens, for better or worse. “These trends all lead to the question of what’s considered normal,” says Jennifer Fishman, an assistant professor of biomedical ethics at McGill University.
Current technological and scientific trends are building on each other, apparently moving us toward a world in which all of adult humanity, even great-grandparents, can have the sex drive of a high school senior. But is that really the standard of normal that we want to embrace?
For centuries, shysters have hawked ointments and oysters to the sexually insecure. Then Viagra came along and helped pull the sexual performance industry out of the back pages of porn magazines and onto prime-time TV. After Pfizer introduced Viagra in 1998 as a remedy for erectile dysfunction (ED), the drug topped $1 billion in sales in its first two years. For many men, swallowing an FDA-approved pill seemed infinitely easier (and more socially acceptable) than other medically sanctioned alternative erectile aids, such as vacuum pumps, injections, or inflatable tubes implanted below? the scrotum.
The perhaps inevitable letdown about Viagra and its family of drugs—known as PDE5 inhibitors—is that they may not be the great sexual cure-all many men were hoping for. In general, the drugs are effective for about 70 percent of those who take it, although Viagra does have side effects such as flushing, headache, heartburn, and, rarely, visual disturbances. The biggest disappointment may be the price: A 2007 study by Swedish researchers found that more than half the men for whom Viagra was prescribed had stopped using the drug two years later, often because it was too expensive. Others stopped because of side effects or unrelated health concerns.
Big pharma is now throwing resources into developing new sex drugs to keep the market growing. Part of that effort focuses on the half of humanity that is not male. Procter & Gamble has developed Intrinsa, a testosterone patch for women who have gone through menopause after having their ovaries and uterus surgically removed. The patch produces a 50 to 75 percent increase in sexual desire, according to company-sponsored studies. Intrinsa is already available in the United Kingdom (by prescription only) for women who have had hysterectomies. At the University of Arizona, chemist Victor Hruby and his colleagues have been tweaking a peptide hormone, Melanotan II, that can be squirted up the nose to induce hands-free sexual stimulation in both men and women. (It was originally developed as a sunless skin-tanning agent, but interesting side effects turned up during testing.) Nastech Pharmaceutical in Washington State is also developing a treatment that fosters desire in both sexes, a spray that works on the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Fishman speculates that the drug companies’ accelerated effort to find a sexual-desire booster for women is motivated by their sex-pill-popping male customers. “You’ve heard the urban legend of the Viagra divorce,” she says. “Well, I’m just conjecturing here, but with men all of a sudden able to do it and women not wanting to, you can imagine the pharmaceutical companies’ minds turning around all of this, thinking, ‘How can we get a drug to market that makes women want to, and then allows men to take more Viagra for it?’”
A Beverly Hills doctor named David Matlock is also on the case, targeting female desire from the surgical side. The man who invented (and trademarked) the G-Shot and Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation (LVR) is a 47-year-old, telegenic, board-certified gynecologist and obstetrician. He has appeared on E!’s Dr. 90210 interviewing young, nubile females to be his roommate, à la Hugh Hefner, but that TV persona does not seem to deter the hundreds of women who have asked him to alter their labia and birth canals at his Sunset Boulevard clinic. In addition to the G-Shot and LVR, he also does cosmetic surgery to the outer parts of the female genitals.
Unlike the makers of Viagra, Matlock does not claim to be treating a medical condition. “These procedures are for women with normal functioning,” he says. “They are simply enhancements.” The manufacturers of PDE5 inhibitors state that their drugs are meant only to aid dysfunction. But Viagra, too, has been embraced by the consumer as a modern-day love potion—an enhancement of sorts. “There are a lot of men asking for Viagra who don’t medically need it,” says Robert M. Romanoff, an internist who practices in Manhattan. “Young men, in particular, think they have ED problems when the real issue is performance anxiety or depression.” The global flood of sex-drug e-mail suggests that many online vendors are only too eager to satisfy the demand.
Matlock reports that he has already trained 200 doctors to execute his procedures. There are no reliable statistics on the prevalence of this type of female genital surgery, since it is a doctor’s-office procedure performed by physicians in a wide range of fields, but the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that more than 1,000 procedures for “vaginal rejuvenation” were performed ?in the United States in 2006 (the latest year for which the society has information), and again the anecdotal evidence points to a booming trend. “My patients are bringing all kinds of pornographic information into the office and saying, ‘I want to look like this,’?” Matlock says. “Someday these procedures will be as common as breast augmentation.”