Viagra added $1 billion to the coffers of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and prompted women to speak up about their own sexual dysfunction. “What about us?” they asked. Finally, they may be closer to getting new answers.

“It’s not just Viagra anymore,” says pharmacologist Joe Graedon of the People’s Pharmacy books, radio program and columns. “The pharmaceutical industry has discovered that this is a very hot field. Female sexuality is sort of the next frontier, so there is a tremendous amount of research going on.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved EROS-CTD, a battery-operated device that uses gentle suction to increase sensation and lubrication of the clitoris. It is available by prescription. Elsewhere, drug companies and marketers are sponsoring studies and pushing herbal and over-the-counter products that claim to boost or enhance a woman’s sexual performance and enjoyment. Even Viagra has been tested on women, though with mixed results.

It’s about time the problem is addressed, says Dr. Pouru Bhiwandi, an obstetrician/gynecologist and international expert on women’s health issues. She says female sexual dysfunction is a common, complicated and poorly understood problem.

“I have women coming in all of the time complaining of low sex drives,” she says. “If you watch TV and read magazines, they make us believe that Americans have hot sex every night. And if a woman is not doing that, then she feels that something is wrong. Now with Viagra coming out and this being out in the open, I think a lot more women feel free to express this to their doctors than they did previously.”

For many of them, help is already available _ and it may not be found in a pharmacy. For others, new developments on the treatment front may soon offer solutions.

More than 40 percent of American women 18 to 59 report some sort of sexual dysfunction, such as lack of interest in sex, performance anxiety or an inability to achieve or delay orgasm, according to a 1999 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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