Bioethics Blogs

The Disordered Logic of Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder

Tamara Kayali Browne suggests that the diagnosis of female sexual desire disorder is problematic.


In a recent Impact Ethics blog, Fugh-Berman and Hirsch show why flibanserin (Addyi) is not the feminist drug its proponents would have us believe. Recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drug can be prescribed to treat “female sexual interest/arousal disorder” (previously known as “hypoactive sexual desire disorder”). Here, I add more grist to the mill.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) the symptoms of female sexual interest/arousal disorder are “deficient (or absent) sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity” that causes “marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.”

The FDA’s press release states that Addyi is only approved for “low sexual desire that causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty and is not due to a co-existing medical or psychiatric condition, problems within the relationship, or the effects of a medication or other drug substance.”

Władysław Podkowiński, Szał (Frenzy), (1983)

There are a few things wrong with this characterization of female sexual desire/ interest.

First, there is no objective assessment of what, if anything, constitutes the “right” level of libido. As such, there is clearly a value judgement being made in the decision to classify low sexual desire as a disorder in need of treatment. Yet no justification has been given as to why, when there is a mismatch of libido in a couple, it is the individual with the low libido who is deemed to have a problem and not the individual with the higher libido.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.